From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Mon Apr 09 2001 - 19:34:40 MDT

Dan Fabulich wrote:
> ... the not-so-famous Ted Nelson... is a truly fascinating
> character in his own right.
> Writing before there was an Internet, or even before there were
> personal computers, Nelson envisioned a world in which people would
> sit at computer screens in their own homes and read books on those
> screens... But the book they would be reading... would be hypertext.
> ...However, his project was considerably more difficult than he had
> imagined. Some parts, the first parts, were easy. There were many
> hard parts, however. Too many. He failed miserably.

I e-mailed a friend quite recently:

> Ted Nelson..., decades ago, imagined the world's literature
> being linked into a hypertext database. He worked on his own
> version of this dream -- the Xanadu system -- for years and
> years. It was going to do everything **right** -- permit quoting
> and commenting on copyrighted material while still compensating
> the authors. There was a none-too-flattering article in _Wired_
> magazine a few years ago about Nelson and Xanadu and the history
> of all the wasted brilliance invested in that system. Then, the
> Web popped into existence overnight, in an extremely anarchic
> way. Nelson has been reduced to an embittered curmudgeon reminiscing
> about the way things might have been, and harrumphing about the
> way they are.

If you're connected with computers and of a certain age, Ted Nelson
is likely to have been a big deal in your life. I know that
running into _Computer Lib_ in 1977 made as big an impression on me as
running into Eliezer Yudkowsky's _Staring Into the Singularity_ did
in 1997 (and let's hope that the parallels between Nelson and
Yudkowsky end right there! :-/ ).

The _Wired_ article about Xanadu is a very sad story indeed, and
probably cuts a little close to the bone for a lot of folks on this
list. It's now available on-line at:

Ted Nelson's Web articles and grumps are at:

And for an analysis that claims that any tightly-designed,
do-it-right approach to networked hypertext was doomed to failure,
and that all the things that are bad about the Web as we know and
love it (such as unidirectional links) were actually **necessary**
to its success, see:

Jim F.

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