Excerpts from Ted Nelson, Possiplex, 2012, self-published.
The myth of technology is the myth that the software issues are technical; whereas what matters is communicating to the mind and heart of the user, and that is not a technical issue at all.
The embedding of markup is a one-way ticket to hell.
realized: Every idea needs a good word to swing it by.
now know that this is considered a pathology: ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ means having too many ideas (as far as someone else is concerned), which are irrelevant (as far as somebody else is concerned), and that there are too many of them (as far as someone else is concerned). When you are supposed to be concentrating on one thing, a different idea—especially if it is fascinating—gets in the way of the agenda. But suppose you don’t care about their agenda?
he sparks of mind go in all directions, some with deeply interesting trajectories, and unless you can catch them you miss some of the best.
What I envisioned was very like today’s DLP digital projectors. But those were far in the future, and still none is battery-operated, or the size or shape of a gun.
Fuzzy shapes passed underneath. I studied the water's crystal softness. The water was opening around my fingers, gently passing around them, then closing again behind. I considered the different places in the water and the connections between them, the places that at one instant were next to each other, then separated as my fingers passed. They rejoined, but no longer in the same way. How is it, I wondered, that every instant's arrangement, in the water and the world, can be so much the same as just before, and yet so different? How could even the best words express this complexity? How could even the best words express what systems of relationships were the same and different? And how many relationships were there? I could not have said "relationships" or "systems" then, let alone “particles” or “manifolds” or "higher-level commonalities," but those were my exact concerns. My
questions and confusions were always exact, and fine distinctions concerned me greatly. They still do. In this book I will try to say exactly what I was thinking at different times: exactly, that is, in my vocabulary of now.
The insight was sound. Profuse connection is the whole problem of abstraction, perception and thought. Profuse connection is the whole problem of expression, of saying anything. It is the problem of writing. It is the problem of seeing-- we see and imagine so much more than we can express. Trying to communicate ideas requires selection from this vast, ever-expanding net. Writing on paper is a hopeless reduction, as it means throwing out most of the connections, telling the reader only the smallest part in one particular sequence. And this is what I have hoped to fix, or at least improve, through most of my life, giving the world a greater and better way to express thoughts and ideas. And that is what this book is about.
Obviously libraries were not to be trusted. You had to find the information wherever you could. Clearly people were misled about libraries. They had lions of stone but feet of clay.
He said the educational system was horrible—I totally agreed; and he wanted to fix the world by design—the design of his magnificent car, the design of his house that would come in by helicopter and be lowered on a pole.
t could replace two different units that conveyor belts banged against: the guide (a wheel that held the belt in place vertically) and an idler (a bumper wheel to hold it in place horizontally). Since it was both a guide and an idler, Pop suggested to his brother the name Guidler. That is still its trademark today.* * It is now a U.S. company, Guidler.com, still based on Danckert’s original patents.
On that walk my alienation galvanized: my boiling resentments of school, of middleclass stuffiness, of the inconvenience of life, of the shallowness and complacency of my classmates, crystallized into what would be my adult point of view. I think my atheism happened as I went down the stairs; and my alienation grew as the walk proceeded.
I considered their silly legend of a vain, vengeful god (with a gender, even though he’s alone!)-- a god who is especially interested in one species that supposedly looks like him (how long is His, er… nose—and what’s it for?); the silliness of what was said about Heaven, a pointless and impossible afterlife, flapping around endlessly in vacuous celebration of that egotistical man-shaped deity; all this against the evidence of the rocks and the fossils and the telescopes. It was asinine and not to be compromised with.
Which is inturn a special case of parallel documen
You have to be able to compre the original. The original of a work has special status, and must not be lost, though the offspring may be legitimate as well. This became fundamental to all our work on the Xanadu project.
nterested in technicalities that support presentational effects. The important thing was not the technicalities but the presentation, but the technicalities had to be considered for whatever you wanted to present.
he defined a nexialist as 'someone who finds connections.'
WRITING IS MOSTLY REWRITING REWRITING IS MOSTLY REARRANGEMENT
Rudofsky’s notion of challenging everything greatly appealed to me. I wanted to redesign human life entirely.
This kind of simplicity and elegance deeply appealed to me
rom this I learned: be open to project possibilities as they unfold; be ready to steer the project to follow your vision as required, but take heed of where the project wants to go.
he reporters would come in whenever they chose, type their stories, and then cut and paste them—that is, they would take scissors and cut apart the paragraphs or pieces, rearrange them,add new material in handwriting, and paste them down. That is what real cut-and-paste meant.
had been excited by Whorf’s hypothesis--that language fundamentally shapes the way people think. (I believe his famous example was that Eskimos have forty different words for snow, and thus think differently about it; but Whorf went further, conjecturing that this applies to grammatical structure as well as linguistic categories.)
As I recall it, the book was intended to prepare the reader—likely to be an army corporal on a Pacific Island-- to analyze the language and give it a writing system in two weeks.
Bloomfield’s 1942 Outline Guide for the Practical Study of Foreign Languages,
system of traditions only—traditions associated with education, class and power. (As expressed in the wonderful slogan, A language is a dialect with an army.)
The paper is wacky and unintelligible. Yet the ideas behind it, I believe, were actually at the cutting edge. I believe it is an early work on what is called “knowledge representation”, roughly parallel to what was going on at MIT and Stanford at the time.* * This is further discussed in my PhD thesis (Philosophy of Hypertext, Keio University, 2001).
Everything can be represented as discrete models of units and relationships, or graph structures. • We can imagine such a system of representation for large templates or individual connective components, snapping together. • We can reduce all forms of knowledge and abstraction to such models. • Processes of cognition, abstraction and scientific method can be represented as operations in such spaces.
Olgivanna Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s third wife, was a ferocious organizer and ally in his wrangles. I would find them all, but not at the same time.
I was hyperambitious, but I did not know for what. I knew a lot about media (the term had not yet been popularized) and their creation. I was good at writing, photography, stage direction, calligraphy; I had won prizes for poetry and playwriting, published my own magazine and my first book, created a typefont (as paper cutouts) and produced a long-playing record. (I had not yet tried the one remaining medium, the one I loved most.)
The sheer excitement of all the world’s ideas still filled me. And in these four years I had found my way to the new edges, the precipices of thought: Bruner in psychology, Whorf and other linguists (Bloomfield, Chomsky); romantic extenders of the linguistic ideal (Whorf, Edward Hall, Pike. What more new ideas would be out there? (Nothing that would get into the intellectual laymen’s magazines like Harper’s or the Atlantic.)
Some call this procrastination, but I call it late closure.)
And here were my central talents, which I’d come to know at Swarthmore: I believed I could analyze anything, show anything and design anything. And I could innovate, imagining what no one else could, and bringing that new thing forth through projects of new
As never before, I kept all parts of the problem in my mind, working very fast. I will never forget the clarity and the excitement of making up that scene as I fought the clock, positioned and directed the actors, took the shots, dismissed the actors, and narrowed down to only Slocum. I became a different person. I HAD SUDDENLY BECOME THE PERSON I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE. And I have always wanted to be that person again.
had shot maybe two to one (ratio of film shot to used—pretty good!), but I edited 200 to one (ratio of editing time to running time). That’s the problem with caring too much.
The standard silly game theory, beloved of economists, assumes two perfect adversaries—what one wins the other loses—and no communication. This perfect rivalry is perfectly asinine, as Schelling demonstrated in his examples and tables, though he was much more polite about it. Real-life situations are always mixed; adversaries almost always have interests in common. Thus the most important things about conflict, said Schelling, are often the areas of mutual interest, and how adversaries communicate in real-life situations.
chelling got the Nobel in 2005. In his speech he said, ‘The most important event of the twentieth century is one that did not happen.’
Bales made the most trenchant remark on computers I ever heard. ‘The computer is the greatest projective system* ever created’, Bales said to me. Meaning that anyone looking at the computer would think they were seeing reality, but would see something projected from their own mind. *A projective system is something which, like a Rorschach test, invites people to project on it their own personalities and ideas, often unwittingly. For fifty years since then, I have marveled at how everyone projects onto the computer their own issues and concerns and personality. I did too.
Computers were electric trains! Why did guys like electric trains? Because you can make them do things—plan them and build them and watch them go around! The computer aroused all the same masculine desires to control and to putter. I wanted a computer; that told me every guy would want one.
The idea of “the paperless office” is widely derided and called an impossible myth. I totally disagree: it’s entirely possible. But paperlessness is impossible the way they’re thinking of it. Today’s systems imitate paper! You can’t have a paperless office unless you go to completely different representations and rich connective systems.
A fundamental idea came to me this way. For three years I had been keeping notes on file cards, and I already had a terrible problem with these notes. Many of my file cards belonged in several places at once— several different sequences or projects. Each card—call it now an entry or an item--*should be stored only once. Then each project or sequence would be a list of those items. Each entry would seem to be in each of its different projects, but it would only exist in one place, and the lists would point to it. * Or in Doug Engelbart’s terminology, a statement.
This concept is now called transclusion., referring to-- - re-use by pointer - the same thing in many contexts, with access to the original - content re-use with path back to the original It is fundamental to my work. But we’ve gone through so many words for it, trying to get the idea across— • quote-window • transquotation •• various others I can’t remember right now, and worst of all, • equolateration. The present definition: content re-use with path back to the original. It has many uses. No conventional document systems (like Microsoft Word or the Web) will support transclusion.* * di Iorio and Lumley have done an excellent technical analysis of alternative methods of transclusion for the World Wide Web, and why they don’t work. See Angelo Di Iorio and John Lumley, "From XML Inclusions to XML Transclusions," Proceedings of the Hypertext 2009 conference, ACM.
It would be a virtual document, meaning it had no existence in a file, but that hardly mattered, since it could be reconstructed at the instant wanted.
• first I wanted to have the same file cards in multiple sets. Each of these sets would be represented internally as a list of pointers. • second, this would make the content safe—if you store it and leave it alone. • then, it was the idea that you could compare sets of file cards side by side to see which ones were in both sets. • then came the idea of fine-grain editing by pointer. • this meant full text documents could be compared side by side, to see what contents they shared (transclusion).
what I actually did was to separate the content from the structure. This allowed a couple of really neat things, including: • The text was always intact, allowing easy processing by things like compilers, spell checkers, mail, and anything requiring clear text. • A document with a corrupted structure (remember how that happened?) was relatively easy to repair. • The same document could have multiple, different structures. • One was not bound to a single, hierarchical tree structure. You could slice it and dice it anyway you want. • It took much less space and processing to store and manipulate a document this way (this was once important.) The editor which I wrote originally ran on a Data General Nova in 8 KB (that's 8,000 BYTES), was lightning fast (complete screen refresh in well under 1/2 sec), and supported all of the entities used by NLS (statement, branch, plex, group, etc.) yet allowed there to be missing 'pieces' in the hierarchy, i.e. there could be missing branches on the tree. It also supported links, words, visibles, the keyset, and the mouse. It had a useful life of over 20 years (it was ported several times and eventually ended up on the Alto, courtesy of Smokey Wallace, where it was called UGH (Uncomonly Good Hack). There were not extensive text formatting features (mostly due to the state of the art at the time.)
needed a word for all these ideas. (It did not come soon. Sometime in spring 1961, I think, I came up with splandremics. By which I meant— • the design of presentational systems and media • the design of interactive settings and objects • establishing conventions and overall frameworks for these designs The place where you would work—your screen setup and computer, or whatever else it would contain—I wanted to call a splandrome. Nobody could imagine what I was talking about. *It started with the "spl-" pseudo-morpheme, which connotes splintering, and splendor, and other outgoing situations. And “emics” from “phonemics” and “morphenmics.” And it sounded good, I thought.
esign and abstraction of imaginary worlds.
We would be freeing both reader and author. The author would not have to choose among alternative organizations; the reader could do that, choosing among the author’s different organizations and perhaps adding his own. (What system of order would allow this was still not clear.) We could also free up the educational system. If readers could choose their own paths through a subject, they would be far more interested (as had been my own college experience, skimming and flipping excitedly rather than slogging sequentially). The educational system could still have tests and strong criteria of learning; but we could give the student freedom to choose the means and style of learning a subject. This would be a very powerful motivator. (It had been for me.) Unfortunately, pre-college education as we know it (and inflict it) is a bureaucratic system for fulfilling lists-- scheduling seats, classrooms, student movements, teacher movements, and tests. It is intrinsically and deeply hostile to what I am talking about here.
But if we can have parallel document structure,* the different event-streams can be in different text streams, coupled sideways; this structure should make clear all the relationships to the reader.
In case the reader doesn’t get to that point in the book, I would like to acknowledge here that this design was finished, or perfected, by Gregory, Miller and Greene in 1979-80.
ome, like a certain vicious journalist, have implied that I could not have known in 1960 that a world-wide electronic publishing system of interconnected documents could ever be possible. That is ridiculous. Data transmission was in the air, it was discussed everywhere. It was not standardized or generally available, but it was going to happen in some form, and whatever form it came in, I intended to use it.)
The question was how to transpose copyright to this new world of on-line electronic documents, and whether this transposition would be beneficial and benign, or ugly and clumsy and forbidding. A micropayment system would be needed— not just for whole documents, but for little pieces of documents. Why should you have to pay for a whole document—especially since documents might go on forever, since there were no space restrictions?
- Note: Tim Berners-Lee said I proposed a link to every quotation (see 1999). That would be impossible and just as ridiculous as he seems to think. The way to do it is through transclusion of the quoted content, so it is delivered to the user from the original and the transaction of paying for the quotation is with the server of the original document. This would settle the issues of permissions, and plagiarism, and context, all in one fell swoop. (And since you’d be able to look from any quote to its origin, nothing would be out of context—in this new sense of ‘context’ being another document zooming up* next to the quotation.)
HERE IS THE POINT: by this system, all content could be made easily re-usable with complete fairness. Everything would be paid for to its source publisher, and it would all add up correctly if each user’s system buys each tiny portion as delivered from wherever. Moreover, the original context of quotation would be available immediately, clarifying issues of • author’s meaning and surrounding issues • credit and “moral right” (a term I did not know at the time) • plagiarism— indeed, extensive offhand quotation would become legitimate Conventional publishers would not have to join this system—they might resist it at first— but soon they would want to. The elegance, clarity and power of this vision have driven me to continue fighting for it for the last fifty years. I later coined the word “micropayment” for the miniscule payments I foresaw. Purchases of thousandths of a cent, or less, should be possible; I have been aghast to see people recently use the term “micropayment” for payments over a cent, even up to a dollar.
Almost every living document needs repeated revision. Indeed, the tradition of completion in publishing is fundamentally based on two things-- • the nature of the printing press and print runs, which all have to be the same; • the nation of canonical versions in literary analysis. In this structure, the canonical version can be the whole docuplex of versions.
All content would be • reusable • linkable • annotatable I foresaw a client-server system, though the term did not exist then. Content would stay on the servers and appear on the screens; it would not be downloaded to the user. (The terms “upload” and “download” did not exist then either.) If a user purchased content—in any amount, even a sentence-- it would stay on the server, but now that sentence would be registered as belonging to him, so he would not have to purchase it again. If a user bought part of a document, a table would be created for that user of exactly what parts of it he owned and could re-access at any time.* * This was implicitly the design from 1960-1, though I’m not sure when it became this definite. But because everything in the system could be rearranged and recomposited by pointer—the awful term ‘mashup’ did not then exist—you could re-use anything once you owned it! This is because you could include it in your own document, as a pointer to whatever original you knew about it. (You could, in principle, also re-use original content you didn’t know about, but how could you point at it?)
As soon as you have a curriculum, some people are “ahead” and some people are “behind,” and nobody can slow down to enjoy the parts they like or speed over what they understand already. As long as there is a fixed schedule and path of learning, education cannot be improved. Having to do things in one sequence, with no variation for personal interests, is what makes school horrible. Now, in our new document world, we would fix that.
This would be a total change in study and learning, especially of history and literature. It could deepen our understandings of everything. We would think less in stereotypes.
What are movies? Events on a screen that affect the heart and mind of the viewer. What would the computer present? Events on a screen that affect the heart and mind of the viewer—AND INTERACT! The movie screen would fly into this new dimension of interaction, but the fundamental issues were the same: the heart and mind of the viewer. And who knew these better than a movie director? Interfaces and interaction are not “technology.” They are movies.
This is not a technical issue, but rather moral, aesthetic and conceptual. Finding the right abstractions is the deepest issue, and computer scientists wrangle endlessly over it.
This software had to be an entire literary system-- not just a document format or a transmission format, but it had to have -- • ownership (ownership of copyright and ownership of copies) • well-defined literary forms of connection • a complete system of commerce.
have generally had absolute confidence about the way my designs would feel, and I have generally been right. Indeed, I have designed backward from the feel I wanted to achieve. According to conventional wisdom, this is impossible. They say that you can’t know what software (or an interface) will be like until you try it. Ah, but you see, there are people with special talents. My favorite example is this: Hitchcock did not look through the lens. He knew how a shot would look, from a certain angle and with a lens of his choice, without having to look. (I have not heard this about any other film director.) It has been the same with my software. Shaping the design in my mind (sometimes wiggling my fingers on an imaginary keyboard), I can imagine each variant and what it will do to the feel. This is not to say I can imagine other people’s designs from a description; only that I can work out the feel of my own in advance.
The main thing was for interfaces to be cinematic and swoopy, not niggling and fiddly and boxed-in. But beyond that—the issue was not just “interface”, a term which assumes a structure that is already decided and being interfaced to. The real issue is designing a clean structure behind the interface that the user could understand. (The conceptual structure and the interface together I call the virtuality.
t was an exceptionally happy atmosphere. We cooked by rotation, announcing the menu; you could invite as many people as you like, the cook would buy enough groceries on the day for everyone signed up, and you would be billed according to the number of your guests in the kitchen accounting. This facilitated many happy dinner parties with people from all over. (You could also snack freely-- in the sense of free speech--, billing yourself for the value of whatever you ate, provided you did not snack from the planned dinner provisions.) The system worked amazingly well, social engineering at its best.
key point about Herman Kahn: he was one of the few people who predicted that the Soviet Union would implode from its own internal problems. That outcome almost everybody. And his thinking contributed to everyone’s facing reality about nuclear weapons. This may have helped Schelling put in the hot line.
or all too short a time I had an illustrious office-mate named Gregory Bateson. Famed anthropologist and psychological theorist, he was exceptionally warm and pleasant. He smoked his cigarettes to very short stubs and swore frequently but charmingly in a way that American academics did not, in those days. “Oh, fuck! Fuck and damn!” he would say, most charmingly. His very wrinkled face may have had to do with the smoking. He and the Lillys once came to dinner our over-garage apartment (by this time I was married). I wish I had known how little time I had with him. We had only a couple of conversations. I once spoke of Margaret Mead, his ex-wife—“Oh, Margaret!” I remember him saying, with great enthusiasm for her.
Bateson and I talked about words: I think we talked about the famous phrase Bateson had coined, “double bind”. He told me his father had also coined an interesting word: “metamerism”, meaning the biological multiplication of successful units, such as the segments of a millipede or centipede, or the scales of a fish. (Bateson did not mention that his father also coined the word “genetics”.) I wanted to talk to Bateson about my interest in social strategics, and I spoke very carefully because I venerated him so. ‘It seems to me,’ I said, ‘that greeting behavior is essentially a gateway procedure that changes the context of an encounter into a different social state.’ “Of course,” said Gregory Bateson. I think he left CRI shortly after that, and I had no further chance to talk to him, which I greatly regretted.* *There is a footnote. The famous phrase “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” originated with my great friend Charlie Harris. It started as “a man without faith is like a fish without a bicycle”, and I put it in one of my musicals at Swarthmore. Charlie has traced the history of the phrase after that; apparently the line went from Bateson to Herb Caen to Gloria Steinem, who switched it to “a woman without a man.” I think it will have been I that passed the phrase to Bateson, as a link in that immortal chain.
Paolo Soleri was like Frank Lloyd Wright and Corbusier and Bucky Fuller -- all wanting to improve our lives with new structures and ways of being. But
units of text • correspondence and side-by-side comparison between documents Indeed, it was very like my first thinking of 1960, where the idea was for one file card (a unit of text) to be in two different places. It was still my 1961 design, not well thought out. It was just text units on chains, with sideways links or transclusions between the units.
to multidimensional irregular list structures (hyperthogonal structure, or ZigZag).
TRANSCLUSION IMPLIED. Slide from my oral presentation to the ACM, Cleveland, 1965 (not in the paper as published). === Summer 1965 (I turned 28)
My big talk in Cleveland, presenting before the ACM, was the biggest moment in my career.* * This is sometimes called “starting at the top.” The problem is that it can be downhill from there.
There was enormous applause. (For years, people would occasionally tell me they had been impressed or inspired by my presentation.)
aylor asked me if I’d heard of Douglas Engelbart. Engelbart, he said, was also working on interactive text systems with screens. (I had thought I was the first; only now did I know there were two of us.) Taylor did not tell me that he himself was Engelbart’s principal sponsor. What would Steven Furth have said? 1965 What would Bob Taylor have said? (2) 1965 That night, after my big talk, there was a gathering with drinks, and I happened to be with Steven Furth of IBM and Bob Taylor. We talked on various subjects. Then Furth asked me, “How come you know so much?” I didn’t know how to answer; Bob Taylor answered for me. “He reads,” said Taylor laconically. (The Actual First Hypertext Paper) While the ACM paper of August 1965 was my really major paper, I had already published a definition of hypertext elsewhere, in D.C., at a conference of the International Documentation Federation (FID, I believe, at that time). "The Hypertext." (In full.) Proceedings of the World Documentation Federation, 1965.
People had not imagined what I predicted on the screen and told me, at various times, that they had found my slides very inspiring. I just thought I was saying the obvious, but it meant a lot to others.
Theodor H. Nelson, “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Indeterminate.” Proc. ACM 20th National Conference, 1965. (Refereed.)
I went to see J.C.R. Licklider, whom everyone called Lick. He was extremely warm. “Will there be one hypertext, or many?” he asked. That stopped me. I had to think. I think I said both. The answer, of course, is that we can think of a given hypertext (created by an individual or team) as one hypertext, but then all the hypertexts unite, conceptually, into one grand hypertext, comparable to ‘the whole of literature’.
As far as I know, nobody has yet arranged the retrieval of shots by text description. A mystery to me.
They showed me editing and linking. His system, NLS, was controlled with a little alphabetical language, and was hierarchical. This was the opposite of the swooping kind of interface and non-hierarchical structures I favored, but I was there to learn. Doug showed me his new pointing device, the mouse. Until that minute I had assumed we would be using light-pens, or putting a pistol-grip on a light pen for comfort and machismo. But Doug and Bill English (who had built the thing) showed me their little box on two knife-like wheels, and how easy it was to use, and I was at once persuaded. Okay, it’ll be the mouse, I figured.
The mouse was for one hand. For the other, Doug had a little one-handed keyboard with which he typed straight ASCII—exactly what I’d planned to build with Richard DeVore in Miami three years before!-- except this one wouldn’t work surreptitiously in your pocket. This made me more determined to get my portable unit.
But this skateboard was a something new. They had taken soft high-traction rubber wheels out of a Xerox copier—wheels whose friction pulled the paper along—and put them onto a skateboard board, with mountings that steered by tilting. (The New York skateboard didn’t steer, except by pushing it sideways.) This skateboard was entirely new. I was convinced. I had always wanted a portable vehicle. I had tried spring-shoes as a boy and a unicycle in graduate school, in hopes that it would be convenient. It was not. Now, Smoky assured me, the skateboard would be everything I wanted in a portable vehicle. I believed him.* * Later, at the age of forty, I took up skateboarding and found that it was not practical, any more than the spring-shoes and unicyling which I had tried with similarly high hopes. What is really needed was a bicycle that folded into a dispatch case. That was a spec I had come up with in high school.
Some business guy took me to lunch in Manhattan. I took along my annotated copy of “As We May Think.” I had found it only in 1964 or 1965, and realized it was the closest thing to my ideas. I had covered it with notes.* * I do suspect my family read it out loud from the Atlantic when I was eight, and that I saw the reprint in LIFE a few months later, so it may have implanted itself in my psyche those decades before. But there is no way to be sure.
The author persuaded the HES group at Brown, with some difficulty, that a series of addresses on a stack, plus a BACK (and FORWARD) button, would be help hypertext users travel around (such traveling was not yet idiotically called by the nautical term 'navigation'). Multiple windows on a screen were not possible at that time-- -- indeed there were only a few hundred interactive screens in the country; the BACK and FORWARD buttons were a simple way to jump around. They still are. (This was not a screen menu but a proposed layout for the button-box of the IBM display.) This illustration by the author somehow made the concept more plausible to the team. (Note that “LINK”, on the right, means “jump on link”, and “RETURN” is now called BACK. There is no FORWARD button here
believe I read Bush's "As We May Think" when it came out in 1945-- twice, indeed; first in The Atlantic, which I think was read aloud around the Saturday lunch table at our farm; and then when it was reprinted in LIFE. (Since I was eight when it came out, there is no knowing, but my family subscribed to both magazines and the article was certainly on my wavelength.) In the Vassar days of the mid-sixties, as I stepped up my computer reading, I found the article cited repeatedly in the artificial-intelligence literature, to which it was supremely irrelevant. But I cited it in my foundational hypertext articles, and it became the semi-official Beginning of the Hypertext Field. In 1968, I think it was, I was at the Spring Joint Computer Conference in Boston. I got a handful of change and picked up the payphone and simply called information. Vannevar Bush was listed in some Boston suburb. He himself answered the phone. I told him I was working on ideas similar to his memex and would like to get together with him to discuss it on some later trip. He wanted very much to discuss it with me, he said.
What would Nicholas Negroponte have said? (1970)
I met Tom Kuhn under very unusual circumstances. I was getting advice from an extremely bright group of computer-savvy kids, who unlike stuffy adult computer scientists would listen and consider what I said, and they were very smart. One, John Levine, was a particularly good adviser; at sixteen, he were near professionals, working on Princeton's PDP-6 on their own processor for the TRAC language.*
Nat, the most amusing member of the group, was twelve, but a very bright twelve, and we exchanged a lot of banter. I told my girlfriend of the time about him. "What did you say his father does?" she asked. "He's an historian of science," I said. "You know that book on your bed-table that I lent you?" she said. It was indeed The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Tom Kuhn's central book. The Kuhns had me to dinner. Thomas Kuhn had been a Junior Fellow at Harvard, an honor I had yearned for. Junior Fellows get a full stipend and Harvard privileges for three years, with two requirements: they join the group for lunch once a week, and they not work toward a degree. I said, 'You know, it has seemed to me that the careers of former Junior Fellows could be summarized in one sentence.' I reeled off names-- I think Skinner, Chomsky, Birkhoff, William Foote Whyte, and others I was able to remember at that time
- However, a couple of years later there would be a stunning counterexample, a former Junior Fellow, economist and Marine who risked his freedom to expose the truth and end the Vietnam war, one of the greatest men of our time-- Daniel Ellsberg. That’s still one sentence, but he deserves far more.
u70 used the Zip method, I think for the first time— with streams of pointers pointing at streams of text.
called this “babbling” (because streams babble). Realworld streams babble through beds, so wouldn’t a data stream babble through a bed (my playful word for a ring buffer) as well? And why would these terms not apply to the multidimensional streams I’d worked out?
One night I explained this to my date, an intelligent and lovely ex-nun. The next morning she left me a sweet note: May you babble in bed in all dimensions.
If I were to prove myself as a software designer, this was where I had to really deliver—to make this system smooth and easy to use. The problem had several levels-- • what would be the simplest and cleanest functions? • how would these feel easy to the user? • how would we show it?
*On BBC, I think, I heard this anecdote: composer Philip Glass, well known but not yet prosperous, was driving a cab in New York to make ends meet. One customer said to him, “Do you know you have the same name as a famous composer?” He played dumb.
He was pleased that I knew. ‘But I didn’t start out to invent an organ,’ he said. ‘I used to make clocks. They were synchronized with the line current by polygonal wheels, and I had a patent to show I had invented it. Then someone infringed, and I sued, and it turned out that had been invented in Germany the year I was born. ‘So there I was, stuck with a lot of little flat-sided wheels.’
Lemonade principle—If you’re stuck with lemons, make lemonade; and if you’re stuck with polygonal wheels, build a glorious musical instrument.
Computer Lib. That said it all. That gave the book its slant, its direction, its tone, its agenda. It would be a book of liberation. The reader and I would be setting the computer free— and ourselves. And I began to weep and weep. That title had set me free. Free to weep for Jean, the grandmother— the mother in all but the technical sense—that I had just lost forever. Computer Lib in the Living Room
New words that I put into Computer Lib included “intertwingularity” and “dildonics.” I didn’t expect them to catch on, but they did take off, about twenty-five years later. (The more common form of the latter is now teledildonics, someone else’s extension.) Computer Lib Delayed
My plan was to create a turnkey Xanadu operation. The franchisee would buy (or lease) computers and a building I would design, and put up the money for the operation. The Xanadu company would supply the software, accounting system, networking connections and so on. (Note that at this time there was no Internet; I assumed that leased lines would be required.) A customer would rent a screen, and, if wanting to save content, would set up an account. The contents stored by the customer would of course be available world-wide by modem or at other Xanadu stands.
Gory Jackal, the Xanadu-hating journalist, claims that “The Xanadu franchises were silly.” Let’s see, which part was silly? Here are some aspects of the Xanadu stands I was planning. These were unique services that no one else had thought of yet. Which aspect was silly, was it— • Public hypertext service? Gee, that’s sure caught on. • A company that would broker computer services to individuals? That’s now called an ISP, and very popular world-wide. • A place where a customer could rent a computer by the hour? That’s now called an “Internet café.” • Selling digital storage services to consumers? That’s also an industry. I believe I was the first to propose any of these. I guess we have to conclude that Mr. Jackal’s malice has gotten in the way of his objectivity.
efore my talk, Alan Kay showed me his version of Smalltalk of the time, telling me how children would be able to program it easily.
He called this process "XANADU."3 His whole message that evening was that communication and computer technology was moving in the direction of "making all information available to all people, no matter who they were, or when, where and how they wanted it."4 This is a concept that seems fairly simplistic in today's world of wireless communications and the Web, with Blackberrys and iPhones everywhere. But thirty years ago, it was revolutionary thinking.
When I said I wanted to smash the educational system, Marvin said, ‘You can’t eliminate the schools, what else is going to keep them out of the churches? What
- Content would be permanized, stored with a permanent address on every byte (or video frame or audio sample). 2. A document would be maintained as a list of pointers to that permanized content. 3. A document would not necessarily look like paper; there would be multiple views. A view that looked like paper would be only one option. Another view would show documents side by side, with their connections. New views could be programmed by users
- Overlaid on these documents would be links and other markers and relations connecting to other documents
inks in Xanadu are NOT EMBEDDED— they are overlays, utterly different from those of HTML (but like those of the littleknown Microcosm system, which did work and went through various generations.) These overlays—call them xanalinks-- could be of many types, including markers, relations and templates of many types. They could not be embedded because that would pollute the content for other uses.* * See my peer-reviewed article, “Embedded Markup Considered Harmful,” on line.
Links would be separately published and could be re-used on the same content elsewhere. 5. We would want to be able to see all the reuses of the same content everywhere. In hindsight, this last requirement was insane. Everything else on the list was simple, and still is. The last one killed us. (But not for a long time.) It is amazing how well we did it.
I am calling it here the Tumbler design because they created a unique new system of numbers, later called tumblers, for managing the entire system. That resulting design`is a masterpiece of originality. (Note that I am complimenting their design; I was just the instigator, they were the architects.)
had been puzzled about how to do links, on top of editing by pointer, for years. Here was their solution -- • as always in my Xanadu designs, represent the text by a list of content addresses to be fulfilled when the document is shown. (The result of editing by pointer.) • make the links another, separate list, to be applied to the content brought in by the first list.
The only problem was, this simple design was essentially incomprehensible, because of the upper layer of brilliant optimization (tumblers—two-part numbers based on transfinite arithmetic; permutation matrices, and three enfilades all built on tumbler mathematics).
An exception was an astronomy program sent in by an 11-year-old; I worked hard on that one, because being in a national magazine would be so important to him.)
He said software should be self-revealing, which I think says it best.
now use the trademark “ZigZag” for hyperthogonal structure. Hyperthogonal structure is a system of irregular multidimensional tables. All other data structures can be built from hyperthogonal structure. In addition, ZigZag offers many different possible views, which other general data structures do not. While we now have excellent videos (available on the net), the power of the concept has not yet reached most people.
he problem was: how represent the ever-changing multidimensional connections? This held up the project for over a decade. Mark Miller and his partner, Terry Stanley, actually worked on a storage manager for ZigZag. However, turned out not to be an appropriate direction for development.
Making sure the development went in the right directions and didn’t cut corners or betray the central ideals. That can happen easily. • Creating a publishing system where everything would be available for interconnection, annotation and quotation. Roger brought down a very fine guy, Phil Salin, who was a brilliant negotiator. Phil proposed that we divide Xanadu into two companies— • one company to own the technical rights, do the development and find backing (this would be Roger’s); • one company to own the publishing system and develop the service to the public (which was what I wanted to do).
"How is it different from The Source?" he asked
Now in 1984 came the Macintosh, with the famous commercial by Ridley Scott. I got one. The fonts were fun, but it stopped there. You couldn’t program it. You couldn’t rethink the windowing system. It was a locked environment. There were separate environments called “applications”, each controlled by a different company, but Apple controlled the whole thing. AND YOU COULDN’T HAVE YOUR OWN INTERFACES! Worst was something called “the clipboard”. But there was something else called “the scrapbook”, which I found incomprehensible, especially in its interactions with “the clipboard”. (It turned out that both these beastly mechanisms were much simpler and stupider than I realized. I was trying to make deeper sense out of them.)
The Macintosh had two operations for moving content around. One operation made something disappear and hid it. This operation was called “cut.” The other operation made the content chunk reappear. It was called “paste.” I was outraged. This was a total change in what those terms always meant. It misled users into thinking this was a decent way of editing text, somehow related to the Cut and Paste of old—that I knew from my grandmother’s Tolstoy story, from my highschool writing endeavors, and from my experience as a copyboy at The New York Times.
The Macintosh was of course the popularization of the PARC User Interface, or PUI. It dumbed down the computer.* *There is no space here to discuss the windowing system I had proposed in 1972, which explicitly shows connections between things inside the different windows. These are now called “transpointing windows”, and you can read about them on line.
Afterward I dined privately with Gates, Alan Kay, Chuck Simonyi (creator of Microsoft Word) and Dave Cutler (creator of NTFS, the improved file system for Windows). Gates said nothing, but seemed to be studying me intently. He just didn’t understand my world-view or motivation.
What would Murray Gell-Mann have said? ca.
What would Robin Williams have said? ca. 1986 It had been a wonderful afternoon. Tim Leary and I had met Robin Williams and his wife for lunch in San Francisco
To quit smoking had been terribly difficult for me too, I said, but I had worked out a system exactly based on his approach to the Hot Line. As I explained it his jaw dropped. Schelling was astounded, because he was hearing a perfect Schelling example that he himself had not thought of, on a subject that mattered to him.* * No time to include this, but it's on YouTube in my '70th birthday lecture' at the University of Southampton.
‘Ted Nelson is the Thomas Paine of the computer revolution.’ I kind of liked that; I had admired Paine since highschool. But the remark makes me just a writer, not a designer, which is where a lot of people want to pigeonhole me
My insistence on control of the publishing system wasn't about greed, of course. My central concern was to create a publishing system with universal quotability by transclusion, a concept I saw as vital, in the face of a great deal of shallow and dimwitted incomprehension. This seemed to me as vital for civilization as anything possibly could be. Roger, on the other hand, wanted creative control of the development. He was angry at my “interference” (tactical maneuvering around the politics of the system, and concern to understand and approve the technicalities). I was doing my best. Roger wanted control of the “technical” side, but no issues are purely technical. All technical decisions are political. As we found out in spades.
have always considered myself a truth-teller, the person who has to say what nobody else dares to say. So I said a few negative words about Ralph. "That's it!" came the voice of Jack Lemmon, followed by the sound of his slamming out the door. Next day I no longer had those brothers and sister. Easy come, easy go. But it made me very sad.
f course I wanted to have fun, but I was interested also in theoretical issues and social engineering: especially, how to set up a better sexual system for a whole society—i.e., more rational and intense than middle-class Protestantism allowed, such as open swinging—but still compatible with a happy home life and child rearing. The social engineering issues couldn’t get any more layered (as witness the various religious approaches with their strong prohibitions).
Like the 19th-Century Perfectionists, they set up a system of group marriage which appeared to be viable. (They also had a computer company, from which I bought a Macintosh at one point.) But the Keristan world imploded. I happened to be at a Kerista gathering on the night they launched into their founder, Jud Presmont, with a verbal attack from all sides, hitting him with years of reproaches. Kerista came to an end and the people dispersed. (Was it because they lost the strong leader?*) But Jud and I remained good friends. * John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Perfectionists, said a strong leader was necessary for a radical community to work. He should know. But that’s another story.
was not interested in discussions of interfaces, just in designing them singlehandedly.
knew Kevin Kelly as an amiable editor and paintball adversary, but not exactly as a deep thinker.
“It has wide acceptance.”
Taylor had famously said: 'I don't know what it will be, but I'll know it when I see it.' And it was paper simulation and fancy fonts on the screen. He was a great puppeteer, and he had chosen his puppets carefully, not hiring either Doug or me. (Doug is still in grief about losing of his team to PARC in 1974.) The world had praised PARC’s imitation of paper and fonts, and could not imagine the wavelengths of connection they were missing.
There was no one in the world I wanted more as a friend than Douglas Adams. Unfortunately, it was not to be. I met him gradually. Amazingly, Adams wrote me into a witty video documentary in 1988-- "Hyperland",* produced and directed by Max Whitby. I met with Whitby in San Francisco to record my lines (he didn’t tell me I had chocolate on my face, but O Well). In the final edit, I got the closing lines.*
I found Adams to be intense, skeptical and cynical, with deep anger-- not at all what I would have expected. (Takes one to know one, I suppose.) We had dinner a second time, and I unburdened my heart and my sorrows to him. I could tell at the end that I was too wacky for him. (Imagine! Too wacky for the author of the wackiest book of the twentieth century. O Well.
That is of course the way of it. Shallowness, conventionality and smugness defeat all innovation. Building codes are there partly to protect the public, partly to pad the fees of builders and unions, and partly just to make everybody live alike. Design innovations are smashed by conventionality and enforced by bureaucracy.
Only in software, it seems, is innovation possible any more; and little of that.)
At twenty-two she was teaching programming at IBM International. Her sweetness has not changed since this picture was taken.
To everyone, the World Wide Web came as a surprise. To billions of people it was a gorgeous, enlightening, magnificent new idea. But not to the hundred people who had been trying to create something better. To the Xanadu veterans, in varying degrees, it was a shock, a dumbdown and a disaster. (I speak for those Xanadu veterans closest to me; I have not taken a survey.)
Where were annotation and marginal notes? Where was version management? Where was rights management? Where were multiended links? Where were third-party links? Where were transclusions? This “World Wide Web” was just a lame text format and a lot of connected directories.
It took off precisely at the geometric rate of increase I’d predicted for Xanadu in a 1988 brochure. But it took years to for us Xanadu guys to believe that this “World Wide Web" was the competition we’d feared. It was just too loutish.
the web is not technology, it’s packaging—like email, like Windows, like the Iphone, like Facebook. Technology is TCP/IP, text display, graphic compression… but how you put them together is packaging. Enfilades– now, that’s technology :)
I thought Doug's appearance was one of the most blatant examples of product placement I've ever seen :-) "
First it was my credo in the nineteen-sixties, then it had slipped into being joke: “Xanadu will be done in six months.” This continued to be the refrain during the long twilight of the XOC endeavor, but the six months never ended—if indeed they had begun. No one had ever done a PERT chart or a serious attempt at planning. Jonathan Shapiro, perhaps the most realistic member of the team, finally put together enough information to make a realistic time estimate. Shapiro’s grim time estimate was this: it would take six months to find out how long the Ent project would take to finish. That was the grimmest joke of all.
The code for both major Xanadu efforts-- the Tumbler System and the Ent system-- were put into open source (1999), under the names “Udanax Green” and “Udanax Gold.” But, like most open source projects, they have languished there.*
- A noble collaborative project to document the Tumbler Project (Udanax Green, formerly xu88.1) and the Ent Project (Udanax Gold, formerly xu92) continues at Sunless-Sea.net. Unfortunately it is hard at this location to tell these two extremely different systems apart, and no mention is made of my continuing work and new versions under the Xanadu trademark— rather galling omissions
Since then I’ve been deconstructing the basic Xanadu system into a lean, mean simple version that doesn’t bother with far-flung transclusions. Of course it’s what we should have done all along, but it didn’t occur to us, and we reached way too fa
In 1972, indeed, with the JOT box, Xanadu was close to a full single-user system of the local kind, like the World Wide Web. It would have been easy to add links, as a layer independent of the content, but I wasn't quite sure how, and I wanted to finish the text layer first. In 1979, Roger and the gang figured out exactly how links and overlays on plain content should work, and that has been the design ever sinc
Jackal says of my 1960-1 hypertext ideas: “The notion of a worldwide network of billions of quickly accessible and interlinked documents was absurd, and only Nelson's ignorance of advanced software permitted him to pursue this fantasy.” How’s that again? I was somehow wrong to be correct??? It was too early for me to know about the possibility of world-wide hypertext in 1960, because computer scientists didn’t ??? This contorted assertion is beneath contempt.
he only kind of writing I want to do is in this new genre, the parallel xanalogical document. Every book I write, smashed into paper sequence and rectangularity, goes against what I believe in and what I want to create in my life. I want what I consider the real thing. Jackal doesn’t mention that. • Xanadu is a tool of organization and order. The Xanadu design intrinsically allows the user to bind together parallel-- •• pages •• outlines •• narratives •• threads •• time-lines •
- Good examples in the paper world are-- •The Histomap, created by John B. Sparks. It is still available.
expect a decent text system (Xanadu) to speed work by a factor of ten and help you (and me) do better work, too. I believe that having to work with today’s clumsy tools is an outrageous and extraordinary waste of time. Jackal doesn’t mention that either.
We would communicate by email, telephone or moonlight. Sharing the full moon from two far points on earth can be wonderfully warming.
Tim was extremely clever and quick-minded. He was also incredibly social and warm, but efficiently so: he could work a room fast, spent 30 seconds with everyone so they would always remember the conversation as if it had been half an hour.
NL had actually been developed at a major Japanese company. It is a very interesting language initiative, offering great hope for translation. UNL represents common meanings-- everyday semantics—in a way that can be easily translated outward into natural languages. In other words, if you translate a document from a natural language into the UNL kernel representation, you’ve essentially translated it into every language, since once it’s in UNL it can be spewed out as English, French, Tagalog and so on. (The outward translators are easy to build, the inward translators need help from humans.)
he breakthrough came when I asked Andrew what a hash database was. He explained that it was a database built from pairs of text strings— one string is an address to look up, and the other string is what you’ll find when you look there. THAT GAVE IT TO ME! I saw that we could store the connections as pairs of text strings. Using this method, we could state what cell was connected to which, and on what dimension.
efore starting the first ZigZag implementation, Andrew and I worked out the two-handed interface together. It works amazingly well, especially considering that we designed it before we had ever seen the software working.* We have scarcely needed to change it since. * This is now called the KBLANG interface (KeyBoard LANGuage). I acknowledge Andrew's considerable contribution to this interface design, his suggestions helped to unify it under simple rules. As with JOT, this confirmed my Hitchcockian, feel-it-beforehand, approach to interface design.
However, it wasn’t until some weeks later—when I had a spare hour, waiting in a doctor’s office in Tokyo—that I discovered how easy it was to build a family tree in ZigZag. That hadn’t been in the design. It was just a consequence of its structure.
As I have said often, software shouldn’t have features (added knobs and touches); everything should follow as aspects from the deep construct logic.
No one knows what these mean, so both students and professors have wonderful flexibility to do anything. This is how academia should be. (If strange terminology is needed to eliminate borders, so be it.)
mentioned to Robin the first time I had to fill out a form asking my occupation, when I was sixteen. I had thought a minute and put down “Poet, Philosopher and Rogue.”* * “Know thyself.”— Plato. Robin considered this. “Poet? Philosopher? Rogue? What’s not to like?”
That was for me a huge insight: it was a key to him and it was a key to the World Wide Web. He saw the issue not as depth but simplicity. Marc thought of his achievement as "simple", not seeing the problems that fan out from that seeming simplicty. Whereas I have always believed that simplicity and depth could be created together.
First, let me make it clear that I am in no way criticizing Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s packager and founder. At some level we have very much the same ideals. He is a very honorable man, idealistic and noble, a good and decent man in his heart, endeavoring to do right, and at some level of abstraction there are ideals we both share. I like and respect him as a human being, however much I deplore what he has done. That said, I hate HTML with every fiber of my being. It almost seems designed to prevent everything I believe in. It accomplishes the first 15% of hypertext and rules out the rest. I have wasted the last 15 years of my life trying to temporize with HTML. I am not saying I will never under any circumstances work with HTML again, but rather that I will go to the ends of the earth to try every alternative first. For much of the 1990s, I tried to figure out what I believed in using Web formats and HTML. We did a number of demonstration projects, such as HyperTransaction at Keio. But there’s no real way. If you say to me that HTML5, the latest, provides a canvas on which I can project the software and interactions I want, thank you very much, there are many more hospitable canvases elsewhere.
I like and respect Tim Berners-Lee. He is iron-willed but extremely simple-minded, which helps get things done. (People are smart in different ways.)
“Ted Nelson, a professional visionary,1 wrote in 1965 of "Literary Machines,"2 computers that would enable people to write and publish in a new, nonlinear format, which he called hypertext.3 Hypertext was "nonsequential" text, in which a reader was not constrained to read in any particular order, but could follow links and delve into the original document from a short quotation.4 Ted described a futuristic5 project, Xanadu[®6], in which all the world's information7 could be published in hypertext. For example, if you were reading this book in hypertext, you would be able to follow a link from my reference to Xanadu to further details of that project. In Ted's vision, every quotation would have been a link8 back to its source, allowing original authors9 to be compensated by a very small amount each time the quotation was read10. He had the dream of a utopian11 society in which all information could be shared among people who communicated as equals.12 He struggled for years to find funding for his project, but success eluded him.”
It is vital to point out that Tim's view of hypertext (only one-way links, invisible and not allowed to overlap) is entirely different from mine (visible, unbreaking n-way links by any parties, all content legally reweavable by anyone into new documents with paths back to the originals, and transclusions as well as links-- as in Vannevar Bush's original vision)
Not "all the world's information", but all the world's documents. The concept of "information" is arguable, documents much less so. I believe Tim is finding his concept of pure information, the "Semantic Web", much more difficult to achieve than hypertext documents.
Many people think I am against free content; nonsense. I want to create a shared world of mixable content both free and paid
He hesitated. “I’m… Roger Penrose,” he said. The Roger Penrose! Sir Roger Penrose! Discoverer of Penrose tiling, cosmologist who worked out black holes with Hawking! Thinking Penrose tiling was not unlike ZigZag, I had sent him a letter but had gotten no reply. Now he was at my mercy. I showed him ZigZag and Adam’s chemistry video. He was most interested. (He even emailed me afterward.)
After the Wired attack I asked Don Knuth, the world authority on algorithms, if he would please go through the Xanadu algorithms with me and state, as an objective observer, whether they were based on ‘ignorance’ or otherwise deficient, as alleged by Gory Jackal in that foul piece. By that time I had known Knuth for nearly forty year, in a way. (In fact we had both been first published nationally in the same journal.*) I read his first published piece when I was in college, though years later when I was aware of him as a computer professional I did not know it was the same person
"Creative control" sounds as though it's only about art. It's about the fulfillment of any vision that needs to be done right. "Creative control" is a Hollywood term that applies everywhere. The computer world, like Hollywood, is an eternal struggle for powers of creative control.
I never got along particularly well with authority, except where theater was involved. I was in plays from first grade or kindergarten, I believe, and in plays it was made clear that the director was in charge. I accepted this because it was for the good of the show. Any director was better than no director; without coordination the show would be a sprawling mess. Readers may be tempted to an Oedipal interpretation here, seeing that my father became a director when I was nine or ten. However, I had come to believe in theatrical directors much earlier. I had been in plays since I was four or five, and a rather knowing moviegoer soon after, and it became clear to me as a boy that someone has to be in charge of a theatrical production or movie.* Watching my father work later simply confirmed this view.
There can only be one driver of a car, one captain of a ship; in both these cases the person who steers should also adjust the speed. And in these cases there are only two parameters, speed and direction! How much more complicated it is in movies, media and the presentational arts, where there are hundreds of adjustments, each impacting the rest. One person has to manage all these parts together.
n publishing this person is called the author (who must often give way to the next one, the editor). In recording this person is the record producer, in symphonies the conductor, in museums the exhibition curator. But in each case (at a given time) this person tries to control all the parts, blending and balancing and reworking the whole, deciding how to make it all fit together into a unified whole that the viewer can understand and appreciate.
I observed my father, Ralph Nelson, playing pranks on “the sponsor’s man” who was out to give him a list of changes after the dress rehearsal. Ralph’s favorite trick, he told me, was to end the show with an intolerable surprise, and start his stopwatch. For instance, a 1957 episode of “Climax”, in which I had a walk-on part, was a shipboard drama— which Ralph ended unexpectedly with footage of the ship sinking. In seconds the sponsor’s man was there, demanding and imploring that Ralph not end the show that way. ‘By the time I allowed him to persuade me,’ said Ralph, ‘all his notes were forgotten.’
The reason most software is terrible is that nobody is in charge. The movie director can in principle select and change— • the actors • the camera angle • the music • the order of scenes and so on, All to make it look right to the user. Who has that authority in software? A few moguls like Jobs, Warnock and Ellison. Otherwise, software is made by permanently delegated individuals and teams, and judged to be successful if it fulfills a checklist—not for how it comes across to the user.
Creative control is not just about egotism and art. It’s about the integrity of ideas. Making sure that Xanadu is done right, above all.
As a producer-director of numerous software projects,* I always work from a particular vision. Working with the programmers, I would explain the vision and explore with them the technicalities that would be necessary, working out the detailed specs with them, and supervising the result according to the vision I had presented. This is essentially the same process I had used in all my media experiences before computers— immersing myself in the details of the available options and choosing. Except that programming technicalities are so much more complicated than printing or movie technicalities; the possibilities have to be discussed in stupefying detail for hours, sometimes months, sometimes conversations that continue for years.
Alas, none of my designs has so far reached the public. But will.
etting backing is a dance. The guy with the project has to supply phony business plans and phony financial projections, which everyone knows are phony, and then the backers insult him with slogans in order to beat down his share and harshen the terms. The first thing a backer wants is control; the second thing is the inventor OUT. Backers are not interested in elegance, power for users, destiny, literature or civilization. They just want to figure out how to get rid of you as soon as possible. In general, having a backer means four hands on the steering wheel, and it is the backer—with less understanding of the ideas than the inventor—who wins.
What they say now is: Do it in open source! Ah, but to run a project in open source you have to like email, and you have to be one of the boys.
Learning to program is not simply a threshold to cross, like learning to ride a bicycle or losing virginity. You don’t ‘learn to program’. You devote your life to it. It’s a perpetual uphill slog and requires hours a day, every day. (See Peter Norvig, “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years.” On the net.)
But I did what I was good at. I am a software producer-director. Disney did not draw.
My friend Kip Larson once surprised me with an astute observation: 'Marriage is the synchronization of agendas.' That's not how we usually think about it, but it's the real problem.
Creative endeavors, and business, are the same. When people have different agendas they pull in different directions, and then apart.* * In his epic poem, "The Hunting of the Snark," Lewis Carroll described a dozen voyagers hunting something called a Snark-- and each imagined the Snark to be something completely different.
TRADITION! Computer traditions and conventions were extended and extended and never questioned. These are: • Lump files • hierarchical structure • text made of sequential characters with embedded markup • every document is in a file (meaning that links can only point out)
• only one document per file
Unix, the saying goes, “made everything a file,”, and so big lumps with names (files), arranged in hierarchical directories, became the nature of the world. • Unix had a layer called the shell, created by Louis Pouzin, which allowed casual programming as an assembly of program pieces. Your shell program could tell different program pieces to feed results to each other. Shell scripts were taken away with the rigid “applications” in the Macintosh and Windows. • Unix invited you to arrange programs and files in particular ways, creating a sense of order. However, the hierarchical directories run wild in most people’s Mac and Windows systems, so nothing can be found except by flailing searches.
• As a counsel of despair, the new operating systems (like the Ipad) throw away any arrangement of storage and concentrate instead on searching through the user’s hopeless soup. • Xerox PARC—the guys treated as fabled heroes in all the speeches and writings-- dumbed down the computer (with application prisons) and took away the user’s right to program (shell scripts). • Xerox PARC defined documents as paper simulation, and dumbed down documents (removing all connective structure). Remember, Xerox wanted to sell printers.
• The two biggest packagers, Jobs and Gates, took the Xerox PARC dumbdown of computers and sugar-coated it for the public (calling it the Macintosh and Windows, respectively). Jobs’ genius was to sell the Xerox PARC package (under the name Macintosh) to people who considered themselves creatively defiant. Gates’ genius was to sell a very similar package (under the name Windows) to the shallow, conventional, pompous and smug.
ierarchical structure for your information, based on computer tradition. (The PARC dumbdown made the directories look like folders, but that did not affect the structure in the slightest) • what is not hierarchical is rectangular—spreadsheet, relational database, documents • the computer is dumbed down into a paper simulator! Documents are enforced into paper simulation—that is, rectangular and sequential structure, with trivial connectivity (one-way links). And everyone is encouraged to fiddle with fonts, which is like putting on costumes—an enjoyable form of play but with no important effect. (Fonts are used as a way of distinguishing things that should be structurally distinct.)
• because many people’s files are hopelessly mislaid, much new software emphasizes search through a user’s disorganized soup. The public sees these as issues of “technology”—the most misleading word in the world today. Most of what the public calls “technology” refers to conventions and packages and conventions you weren’t invited to choose.
My evolving answer was: we can represent every possible type of connection, interactively and with animation, to clarify every possible literary structure to the user.
Simonyi took Bravo to Microsoft and it became Microsoft Word. • Warnock started Adobe to commercialize Interpress, which was christened PostScript and later Adobe Acrobat. • Then Berners-Lee put paper simulation on the Internet with HTML, creating the World Wide Web. Bina and Andreessen put this into the PARC User Interface (PUI, often called “the modern GUI”), creating the “web browser” as we know it.
But I see it as the victory of typesetters over authors. Like the ancient Egyptian priests, who did not celebrate life but put people’s organs uselessly into canopic jars, we are sealing text into canopic jars of simulated paper (.doc files, PDFs and E-books) and pronouncing the matter handled.
Imitating paper is to me like tearing the wings off a 747 and driving it on the highway as a bus. WHERE ARE THE CONNECTIONS? On the Xanadu project we sought to represent every possible literary structure and connection. Mankind deserves no less.
We must be able to— • Underline anything (not just within one application) • Put sticky notes on anything (not just within one application) • Annotate anything • Make visible connections between parts of any documents, in any formats • Re-use and combine content from all formats, RETAINING CONNECTION TO THEIR SOURCES