The Xanadu Dream

Links are the fundamental building blocks of the web. And every time I click on one, I can't help recalling the odd visionary who came up with the original idea of clickable links in text, aka hypertext, in 1963 -- Ted Nelson.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Hi there,

i know Ted Nelson (not personnaly), Xanadu and ZZStructures since a long time.

And i recently watched the Google I/O conference about Wave. Don’t you think it looks a bit like Xanadu ?

Good post anyway !

I’m not sure that level of “security” and authentication is even theoretically possible on something that open.

Why would I want Xanadu rather than the Web?

(That plus what Itay Maman said… and the contradictions of “let servers run without being on the network” combined with “always have access to everything and a payment and authentication mechanism”. Can’t have offline mode and have all of that, without every node having a copy of All Data In The Universe, including Secret Authentication Data.

That’s impossible with the levels of data that would be involved with even a trivial subset of the Web, even if we ignore the security issues.)

Jeff, Great to have a post from you.

For me, project Xanadu simply proves Ted nelson has been lucky exactly once. The fact that he’s had an influential following probably says something more about the software industry than it does about the web.

Sadly, the Internet would explode at the seams if this were implemented.

Haven’t you done a blog post very similar to this one already? Been going through the archives in reverse order but can’t remember where I saw it.

So EVERY time you click on a link you recall all that?

How do you get anything done?

Nevermind my comment, I just read an article by Dare Obasanjo a few weeks ago, also on the topic of Xanadu and for some reason thought I read it on here:

Jeff, a few corrections: Ted Nelson is not a programmer. Also, although Nelson coined the term, the concept of hyperlinks goes back to Vannevar Bush’s Memex.

@David I dont know… it seems he did do some programming along the way…

Links are one, albeit important, aspect of the web. But other dimension has become quite important: ability to deliver application functionality. I go to many web sites not so much to get links to other sites, but to access information and functionality from that site.

It appears that some of the more mysterious aspects of the Wired article have been since revealed: for instance, we now know what an enfilade is supposed to be, theoretically. I can’t figure it out, or whether it’s, as Nelson describes in the article, “hot shit”.

It’s interesting that most advances in technology are incremental. They nudge things along just enough for something else to piggy back something better on, rather than revolutionizing the world (I’m excluding the occasional thing that really does change everything, like the Segway). No, hyperlinks didn’t do it, the initial world wide web didn’t do it, but despite the clunkiness of the current state of things, it’s remarkable how all of the increments have combined to transform our lives (communicating, shopping, information sharing, etc.). Maybe it’s better to start with one small idea that will improve the state of things. You might actually ship that and give others something to build on, eventually changing the world.

I’m tired of these narcissistic posts, unsubscribe.

I’m tired of these narcissistic posts, unsubscribe.

The wired article is a great read. And the conclusion is even better. But something seems flawed with Nelson’s vision of Xanadu/Theweb: point of the whole server reliability seems to be to charge the user for anything done to data (reading, mashing up, copying or distributing). The web as we know it today might not be as close to Xanadu’s vision as we’d like it to be but at least we can swim in that ocean of data in a free and anonymous way. Even if the technology of Xanadu is ubercool from a geek point of view I don’t really buy it as a citizen/customer.
My 2ç. Oh, and there is a demo of Xanadu concepts with bible excerpts hanging somewhere on the web.

Andrew Dalke +1
Itay Maman +1

Xanadu wasn’t (isn’t?) a utopia. Not even a distopian dream caused by a “bad trip” after ingesting too much peyote, LSD whilst being in a room filled with marihuana smoke.

Worse than that: it was kinda RIA’s and MPAA’s heaven. Which means that would’ve been a TERRIBLE world to live at, for the rest of us.

And as Maman said, the fundamental premises were wrong. Had the project been shipped, it would’ve failed miserably trying to escalate, only to be replaced by something fundamentally simpler yet without the same problems - most probably, a system very much like today’s Web. Which I don’t find that bad, by the way. Actually I LOVE IT.

I’m sorry, I need to call shenanigans. It’s a little too coincidental that there was a post on Dare Obasanjo’s blog recently about exactly the same subject. I’m not going to come out and call this plagiarism, but it’s dangerously close. I think if this post was inspired by Obasanjo’s, you should, at the very least, make some mention of that.

So in other words, worse is better…

And by “hitting close to home”, does that mean that you think of yourself as “the archetypal borderline autistic, non-conformist, free-thinking technologist”.

Geez man, both your’s and Joel’s egos having really gone off the deep end lately…