The best way to predict the future is to invent it
Peter Cochrane, British Telecom Laboratories


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

History of Internet and WWW:
The Roads and Crossroads
of Internet  History
by  Gregory R. Gromov

USA to Far East - The Xanadu Plan






The "Xanadu" Plan 

"I was right for some wrong reasons
or whether I was right,  ..."

Ted Nelson, Wired, 3.09

"Explaining it Quickly", by Ted Nelson

The   "Xanadu: The Information Future"  that  was compiled from the writings of Ted Nelson by Katherine Phelps of Xanadu Australia


The   Xanadu in some more detail:

    The Xanadu database makes it possible to address any substring of any document from any other document.

    This requires an even stronger addressing scheme than the Universal Resource Locators used in the World-Wide Web.

    Every single byte (character) in every document (in the whole world) needs a unique address.

    Xanadu will never  delete any text.

    It keeps a permanent record of all versions of every document. This is necessary because someone may have created links to parts of a specific version of a document, which may no longer be present in later versions of that document.

    Xanadu uses a sophisticated versioning system that requires only one version (the current one) of a document to be stored completely. By keeping a record of the changes made to the document, other versions can be generated on the fly.
    Ted Nelson and Xanadu, by Paul De Bra


    After all as it can be seen below the Xanadu promised basic solution of the currently most popular  Broken Link's problem  ("...error 404") and more...

Where World WideWeb Went
by Andrew Pam"

    Lack of transparent support for mirroring
    Lack of an underlying distributed file system
    Lack of bivisibility and bifollowability
    Lack of versioning and alternates
    Limited support for metadata
    Limited support for Computer Mediated Communication Cyberspace/"Hyperspace" as a pervasive user interface metaphor
    Limited support for transclusions
    Transcopyright - the Xanadu solution for business on the Net - New financial instruments for the new media


    Nelson: Trying to fix HTML is like trying to graft arms and legs onto hamburger...

    "The problem is how to clean up the mess that is
    strewn around us.... We have the World Wide
    Web with all sorts of marvelous new conceptual
    methods proposed every month, all of them
    contradictory," said Nelson.

    "I come from a slightly different position [than the
    Web], where we have long presented and
    implemented an integrated solution for all of these
    problems in parallel, which will eventually prevail
    once people understand it," Nelson said.

    Hypertext Guru Has New Spin on Old Plans, Wired, James Glave

    Xanadu Timeline:

    1960 Ted Nelson's designs showed two screen windows connected by visible lines, pointing from parts of an object in one window to corresponding parts of an object in another window. No existing windowing software provides this facility even today.

    1965 Nelson's design concentrated on the single-user system and was based on "zipper lists", sequential lists of elements which could be linked sideways to other zipper lists for large non-sequential text structures.

    1970 Nelson invented certain data structures and algorithms called the "enfilade" which became the basis for much later work (still proprietary to Xanadu Operating Company, Inc.)

    1972 Implementations ran in both Algol and Fortran.

    1974 William Barus extended the enfilade concept to handle interconnection.

    1979 Nelson assembled a new team (Roger Gregory, Mark Miller, Stuart Greene, Roland King and Eric Hill) to redesign the system.

    1981K. Eric Drexler created a new data structure and algorithms for complex versioning and connection management.

      The Project Xanadu team completed the design of a universal networking server for Xanadu, described in various editions of Ted Nelson's book "Literary Machines" ...

    1983Xanadu Operating Company, Inc. (XOC, Inc.) was formed to complete development of the 1981 design.

    1988XOC, Inc. was acquired by Autodesk, Inc. and amply funded, with offices in Palo Alto and later Mountain View California. Work continued with Mark Miller as chief designer. ..

    1992 Autodesk entered into the throes of an organisational shakeup and dropped the project, after expenditures on the order of five million US dollars. Rights to continued development of the XOC server were licensed to Memex, Inc. of Palo Alto, California and the trademark "Xanadu" was re-assigned to Nelson.

    1993 Nelson re-thought the whole thing and respecified Xanadu publishing as a system of business arrangements. Minimal specifications for a publishing system were created under the name "Xanadu Light", and Andrew Pam of Serious Cybernetics in Melbourne, Australia was licensed to continue development as Xanadu Australia.

    1994 Nelson was invited to Japan and founded the Sapporo HyperLab...

...epic tragedy:

    It was the most radical computer dream of the hacker era.

    Ted Nelson's Xanadu project was supposed to be the universal, democratic hypertext library that would help human life evolve into an entirely new form.

    Instead, it sucked Nelson and his intrepid band of true believers into what became the longest-running vaporware project in the history of computing -

    a 30-year saga of rabid prototyping and heart-slashing despair.
    The amazing epic tragedy.

    The Curse of Xanadu, Wired 3.06, 1995,  by Gary Wolf


Wolf calls the general idea that we need freedom and availability of information to avoid disaster a "very hackerish assumption." Perhaps. But it is an ideal I believe in, bound up with the ideals I learned from the Pledge
of Allegiance in grade school. Ironically, that ideal seemed to be what Wired stood for. Wolf's piece is a perfect example of such a disaster.

Nelson and his colleagues of Project Xanadu pioneered in issues of distributed hypermedia, distributed documents and evolving edit systems. It can be argued that HyperCard, World Wide Web, Lotus Notes and much of "multimedia" all derive from this work.

Nelson's theories of software center around arbitrary Virtuality, which he divides into conceptual structure and feel. He condemns "metaphors" as presently used, and instead advocates the design of deep new construct logics

    Ted Nelson, Be-In, 1996

    I continue to hold exactly to my original vision, that transclusive hypermedia will be the publishing medium of the future, under whatever brand name.

    There are far more varieties of interactive media than anyone has yet tried; but I believe that open transmedia - unique in power to aid understanding and to solve the copyright issue - represents a vital singularity in the great family of media cosmologies; until this is disproven,
    I continue to stake my life and career on it. If I am right about the centrality of transclusion to the media of the future, it may all have been worth it, and we will see who understood media design after all.

    Ted Nelson, Wired, 3.09


    One profound insight can be extracted from the long and sometimes painful Xanadu story: the most powerful results often come from constraining ambition and designing only microstandards on top of which a rich exploration of applications and concepts can be supported.

That's what has driven the Web and its underlying infrastructure, the Internet.


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  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