We call the whole system of publication "open hypermedia publishing" because anyone can link to, and re-use, materials of any kind throughout the network.  

 Prehistory  | Internet | CERN | Next Step | Birth of Web | Hypertext | Living History  | Xanadu | Stats | Conclusion

History of Internet and World Wide Web:
The Roads and Crossroads
of Internet  History
by  Gregory R. Gromov

 Early History of  Hypertext



We believe that Xanadu Open Hypermedia Publishing is the publishing medium of the future, combining all forms of media -- text, graphics, audio and music, video, simulations, data structures -- into tomorrow's new information world.


Xanadu: The Information Future
Ted Nelson






Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client's interest. The physician, puzzled by its patient's reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology. The chemist, struggling with the synthesis of an organic compound, has all the chemical literature before him in his laboratory, with trails following the analogies of compounds, and side trails to their physical and chemical behavior...

Vannevar Bush - As We May Think - The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945



If you think you're living in a revolutionary period now, wait till you start getting unsolicited e-mail from the Bolsheviks or Mao, or find yourself on Catherine the Great's home page...
World Wide Web will sound like an awfully modest enterprise.

You laugh?
Go ahead.
They laughed at Galileo.

Not to mention the Internet.

Philadelphia Online:Philadelphia Inquirer : Books, November 1996


50 years of HYPERTEXT concept's EVOLUTION
The Foundation of WWW Science

Hypertext Timeline

1945: Vannevar Bush (Science Advisor to president Roosevelt during WW2) proposes Memex -- a conceptual machine that can store vast amounts of information, in which users have the ability to create information trails, links of related texts and illustrations, which can be stored and used for future reference.

"As We May Think "
This article was originally published in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly...
Like Emerson's famous address of 1837 on ``The American Scholar,'' this paper by Vannevar Bush calls for a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of our knowledge.

The Vannevar Bush's hyperlink concept:

Bush's pictire Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing.
When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome.
Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.

The human mind does not work that way.
It operates by association.

With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.

It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.

Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he certainly ought to be able to learn from it. In minor ways he may even improve, for his records have relative permanency.
The first idea, however, to be drawn from the analogy concerns selection. Selection by association, rather than by indexing, may yet be mechanized. One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage.

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library.

It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ``memex'' will do.

A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.

It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk...

On the top of the memex is a transparent platen. On this are placed longhand notes, photographs, memoranda, all sort of things. When one is in place, the depression of a lever causes it to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film, dry photography being employed.

There is, of course, provision for consultation of the record by the usual scheme of indexing. If the user wishes to consult a certain book, he taps its code on the keyboard, and the title page of the book promptly appears before him, projected onto one of his viewing positions.

Frequently-used codes are mnemonic, so that he seldom consults his code book; but when he does, a single tap of a key projects it for his use. Moreover, he has supplemental levers. On deflecting one of these levers to the right he runs through the book before him, each page in turn being projected at a speed which just allows a recognizing glance at each. If he deflects it further to the right, he steps through the book 10 pages at a time; still further at 100 pages at a time. Deflection to the left gives him the same control backwards.

A special button transfers him immediately to the first page of the index. Any given book of his library can thus be called up and consulted with far greater facility than if it were taken from a shelf. As he has several projection positions, he can leave one item in position while he calls up another. He can add marginal notes and comments, taking advantage of one possible type of dry photography, and it could even be arranged so that he can do this by a stylus scheme, such as is now employed in the telautograph seen in railroad waiting rooms, just as though he had the physical page before him...

1965: Ted Nelson coins the word Hypertext

ted3.jpg (3343 bytes)

By 'hypertext' mean nonsequential writing - text that branches and allows choice to the reader, best read at an interactive screen.

Ted Nelson, Literary Machines


1967: Andy van Dam and others build the Hypertext Editing System ...

      The first working hypertext system was developed at Brown University, by a team led by Andries van Dam.
      The Hypertext Editing System ran in 128K memory on an IBM/360 mainframe and was funded by IBM, who later sold it to the Houston Manned Spacecraft Center, where it was used to produce documentation for the Apollo space program.

1981: Ted Nelson conceptualizes "Xanadu", a central, pay-per-document hypertext database encompassing all written information. ...


The words "hypertext" and "hypermedia" were coined by my friend Ted Nelson in a paper to the ACM 20th national conference in 1965, before I (Andrew Pam) was even born! Although I had come across occasional articles Ted had written for Creative Computing magazine, my first exposure to his legendary Xanadu project did not occur until 1987 when I purchased the Microsoft Press second edition of his classic book Computer Lib / Dream Machines... , which outlined his idea of a "docuverse" or universal library of multimedia documents.

As an avid science fiction reader, my imagination had already been captured by this idea of a universally accessible computer storage and retrieval system as presented in the 1975 novel Imperial Earth by Arthur C. Clarke... But here was someone actually involved in trying to create such a system. I immediately sent off a US$100 donation to Project Xanadu to reserve a Xanadu account name, and also purchased the 1988 edition of Ted's self-published book Literary Machines... and the Technical Overview video describing the Xanadu project in detail...


        All the children of Nelson's imagination do not have equal stature. Each is derived from the one, great, unfinished project for which he has finally achieved the fame he has pursued since his boyhood. During one of our (Gary Wolf) many conversations, Nelson explained that he never succeeded as a filmmaker or businessman because "the first step to anything I ever wanted to do was Xanadu."

        Xanadu, a global hypertext publishing system, is the longest-running vaporware story in the history of the computer industry.

        It has been in development for more than 30 years.

        This long gestation period may not put it in the same category as the Great Wall of China, which was under construction for most of the 16th century and still failed to foil invaders, but, given the relative youth of commercial computing, Xanadu has set a record of futility that will be difficult for other companies to surpass.

        The fact that Nelson has had only since about 1960 to build his reputation as the king of unsuccessful software development makes Xanadu interesting for another reason: the project's failure (or, viewed more optimistically, its long-delayed success) coincides almost exactly with the birth of hacker culture.

        Xanadu's manic and highly publicized swerves from triumph to bankruptcy show a side of hackerdom that is as important, perhaps, as tales of billion-dollar companies born in garages.

        Among people who consider themselves insiders, Nelson's Xanadu is sometimes treated as a joke, but this is superficial. Nelson's writing and presentations inspired some of the most visionary computer programmers, managers, and executives - including Autodesk Inc. founder John Walker - to pour millions of dollars and years of effort into the project.

        Xanadu was meant to be a universal library, a worldwide hypertext publishing tool, a system to resolve copyright disputes, and a meritocratic forum for discussion and debate.

        By putting all information within reach of all people, Xanadu was meant to eliminate scientific ignorance and cure political misunderstandings.

        And, on the very hackerish assumption that global catastrophes are caused by ignorance, stupidity, and communication failures, Xanadu was supposed to save the world.

In the poem "Kubla Khan", by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a "magic place of literary memory" appears and is called Xanadu. The Xanadu vision of Ted Nelson was to create a unified literary environment on a global scale, a repository for everything that anybody has ever written.


Go To the next Page: next Page

Prehistory  | Internet | CERN | Next Step | Birth of Web | Hypertext | Living History  | Xanadu | Stats | Conclusion

The Index:
  • Prehistory of the Internet
  • Internet Before World Wide Web
  • World Wide Web as a Side Effect of Particle Physics Experiments.
  • Next Crossroad of World Wide Web History
  • Birth of the World Wide Web
  • Early History of Hypertext
  • "Living History" of Hypertext.
  • Xanadu Plan
  • Growth of the Internet: Statistics
  • Conclusion

  • Suggestions, thoughts, questions? Contact us...

    Copyright 1995-2011 Gregory Gromov