TOPICS is a system for computer-based information exchange among a network of people who share certain areas of interest. The system supports simultaneous discussion of many topics at once by allowing members to raise brief, pointed topics/inquiries and then to enter responses to those inquiries. The responses are shared with all members who express an interest in each topic by selecting it. The system is designed to facilitate the flow of inquiries and responses without overloading members with irrelevant or uninteresting information.
Nested within the Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES), this tailored communication system written in the INTERACT programming language helps regulate the flow of information by allowing network members to select those topics of interest after receiving the brief topic-raising inquiries. Members receive responses only for those topics which they select, and thus most of the irrelevant information is filtered out by the computer. As new topics are raised, they are delivered to members who are given the option of selecting them or not.
In addition, each topic is assigned keywords by its author. An alphabetic index of these keywords is kept up to date by the computer so that members can scan it or search it for specific keywords to find particular topics, even old ones that were not interesting when first raised. Furthermore, if many responses are waiting to be delivered to a user who is in a hurry or otherwise wants to see those on a specific topic only, the system will deliver responses by keyword or topic number, if desired.
Finally, through its membership and access structure, the information flow in the system can be tailored to meet differing needs of specific groups. Topics and members are organized into separate exchanges so that a particular group of people can exchange among themselves while other groups do likewise in other areas without overlap. Within an exchange, topics may be open to all or directed to specific people only. Furthermore, members may be grouped and topics directed to only specific groups of members. Membership in an exchange is available to regular EIES members as well as holders of EIES sub-account memberships who are using a multi-user account.
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Computerized Conferencing & Communications Center; Johnson-Lenz, Peter; and Johnson-Lenz, Trudy, "Guide to the topics system" (1981). Computerized Conferencing and Communications Center Reports. 13.