The software concept known as DRY, for "Don't Repeat Yourself" (a.k.a. "Single Point of Truth" programming) is a philosophy of computing that I believe should be applied widely within the field of communication.
The computing philosophy contends that allowing multiple expressions of the same individual piece of information decreases clarity, hurts efficiency and increases opportunity for error.
Restated in the context of human communication, DRY suggests that every factual claim on the Web should be hyperlinked (either directly on in a chain of succession) to a distinctly singular statement or definition. This chain of meaning could then be examined by any reader, and differences of opinion could be traced back to original disagreements over specific facts or beliefs.
Writing non-fiction from a DRY standpoint is time consuming, but I believe it could be possible for professional and academic writers to begin generating (and, then, sharing) their own libraries of definitive statements. Such an exchange could eventually grow into a community project, or be undertaken by various institutions.
I would expect such a system to produce not one but many jointly administered, interwoven "libraries of fact," with each library competing via accuracy, track record and usefulness. Over time, such libraries could evolve interesting relationships to each other.
Though my original writing on the subject of DRY journalism was far too convoluted, it was an attempt at imagining how such a system might work. My experiments failed largely because the tools to support it did not then, and do not now, exist.
To work efficiently, a DRY writer would need:
- Real-time machine access to a library of statements, each threaded back to original factual statements (essentially, a word processor linked to a fact-library in much the same way that modern word processors are linked to a dictionary).
- A way of marking up the metadata of facts in context for semantic use.
- A means of creating new definitive statements of fact, or expressions of concepts.
- A means of publishing these statements with distinct URLs.
- A user-interface that creates as many threaded documents as necessary.