Sir Ted Nelson, what a guy

Nelson was born in 1937. He has done a lot of work in the fields of philosophy and sociology. He is responsible for coining several terms, including  “hypertext”, “hypermedia”, “transclusion”, “virtuality”, “interwingularity”, and “teledildonics”. He started Project Xanadu in his first year of grad school at Harvard. It was the first hypertext project. It is said to be an improvement over the world wide web.  Current administrators of the project claim that our current interface promotes our reliance on paper, while this new interface stimulates our real creativity. He also seems to have quite an ego because his personal website is filled with quotes talking about how good his books are.

Nelson’s goal was to promote nonsequential writing, which is where the reader is allowed to follow their own path instead of simply turn pages. Along with this idea was the concept of zippered lists, which allow compound documents to be form from fragments of several different documents. The first demo of Xanadu came out in 1972 and followed seventeen rules:

  1. Every Xanadu server is uniquely and securely identified.
  2. Every Xanadu server can be operated independently or in a network.
  3. Every user is uniquely and securely identified.
  4. Every user can search, retrieve, create and store documents.
  5. Every document can consist of any number of parts each of which may be of any data type.
  6. Every document can contain links of any type including virtual copies (“transclusions”) to any other document in the system accessible to its owner.
  7. Links are visible and can be followed from all endpoints.
  8. Permission to link to a document is explicitly granted by the act of publication.
  9. Every document can contain a royalty mechanism at any desired degree of granularity to ensure payment on any portion accessed, including virtual copies of all or part of the document.
  10. Every document is uniquely and securely identified.
  11. Every document can have secure access controls.
  12. Every document can be rapidly searched, stored and retrieved without user knowledge of where it is physically stored.
  13. Every document is automatically moved to physical storage appropriate to its frequency of access from any given location.
  14. Every document is automatically stored redundantly to maintain availability even in case of a disaster.
  15. Every Xanadu service provider can charge their users at any rate they choose for the storage, retrieval and publishing of documents.
  16. Every transaction is secure and auditable only by the parties to that transaction.
  17. The Xanadu client-server communication protocol is an openly published standard. Third-party software development and integration is encouraged

According to “The Curse of Xanadu”, Nelson promotes four values: “most people are fools, most authority is malignant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong”. Interesting. He co founded IBM, which stands for Itty bitty Machine, and made it one of the few retail stores who sold the Apple 1. Later on, he had the kind of visions that inspired the same company to outline the notion of personal computing – this led to the production of the IBM PC.

Nelson is critical of the World Wide Web, html, and all embeded mark up, clalling them gross over simplifications. He has this to say about HTML:

“HTML is precisely what we were trying to PREVENT— ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can’t follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management. ”

In 2001 he was  knighted by France, and currently works with the Oxford Internet Institute conducting research. He is working on several projects, such as Zig Zag and Xanadu Space. Xanadu Space is a program for exploring connected parallel documents.



~ by scootielou on February 7, 2010.

One Response to “Sir Ted Nelson, what a guy”

  1. Jesus. That’s what I was trying to talk about.
    Dude sounds insane, but I’d say he’s onto something…
    It just makes we wonder though, how does Xanadu prevent dead links? If you don’t pay your server do they still keep your files online? How do links refer back to the original page if the two pages are made years apart?
    It would be nice to have links that you can follow to their origins.
    Who controls the royalties though? Does Xanadu get part of the royalties from “exclusive” sites and if not, who pays Xanadu? The users? How about commercial space, ads, and business pages? Shopping websites? Why can’t Xanadu exist within the internet?
    Although it would be nice to have a customized, networked internet system–seems like the Montessori school system’s answer to internet’s public school.

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