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Ted Nelson Discovers Hypertext

ACM incorporates a principle similar to one named “transcopyright” by Ted Nelson. ACM will hold its copyrighted works on its servers and will give free and unlimited permission to create and copy links to those works or their components. So that readers can locate the context from which an excerpt was drawn, ACM will provide a way of linking a component to its parent work. Readers following links will gain access upon payment of a fee or presentation of a valid authorization certificate to ACM or ACM’s agent; ACM or its agent will issue a personalized certificate of ownership to that reader.

– Association of Computing Machinery; ACM Interim Copyright Policy; Version 2; 1995-11-15.

Ted Nelson invented
hypertext, the concept behind links on the web, influencing several developers
the Internet,
most notably Tim

Ted Nelson’s mother was an actress, and his father was a director. He went to Swarthmore College in the
late 1950’s, where he became a film maker. He then went to graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1959, followed by Harvard University in 1960, where he took a course in computer programming using an IBM 7090 computer and began to think about writing a document management
system to index and organize his collection of notes.

As he considered
the design of this system, Nelson applied his experience as a filmmaker with the conception of complex motion picture effects, moving from one shot to another, and conceived of the idea of hypertext. He became profoundly convinced of the enormous value of such a system, and has been thinking and talking about it ever
since (page once at http://web.archive.org/web/20001202050700/www.sensemedia.net/993).

Nelson’s first
job was as a photographer and film editor at a Miami laboratory where John Lilly
was carrying out research on the intelligence of dolphins, using LINC microcomputers
to analyze their talking, as fascinated by acoustics as J.C.R. Licklider. Nelson then moved to a job teaching sociology at
Vassar College.

word “hypertext” was first coined by Nelson in 1963, and is first found in print
in a college newspaper article about a lecture he gave called “Computers, Creativity,
and the Nature of the Written Word” in January, 1965:

Ted Nelson's first use of term "hypertext"
Mike Joyce’s Ted Sed

later popularized the hypertext concept in his book Literary Machines.
His vision involved implementation of a “docuverse”, where all data was stored
once, there were no deletions, and all information was accessible by a link from
anywhere else. Navigation through the information would be non-linear, depending
on each individual’s choice of links. This was more than text — it was hypertext.
The web realizes part of this vision, except that there are deletions, and some
information is stored in more than one place.

has continued to develop his theory, and instantiates it with Project
, a high-performance hypertext system that assures the identity of
references to objects, and solves the problems of configuration management and
control. Anyone is allowed to reference anything, provided that references are
delivered from the original, and possibly involving micro payments to the copyright

For example,
the Xanadu system would enable an artist to post their work in electronic form
and let it be accessed any number of times, without having to worry about suddenly
receiving an insupportable bill for network bandwidth costs. By adding useful
structure, the system frees up the information and makes it available to everyone.

Nelson has also worked on the following systems:

    — Interactive Non-Linear Undo and Versioning — A rich compatibility standard
    for interconnection between different types of software.
  • Transpublishing
    — A web enabled copyright and delivery method allowing people to republish other’s
    work freely. Nelson’s picture at the top of this page is transpublished.
  • Zigzag
    — A multi-dimensional system of interconnections between all sorts of objects,
    processes, and documents, with a shareware version for Linux.

of the organizations Nelson has worked with are listed below:

  • The Xanadu Group. Nelson first used the term “Xanadu” to
    refer to his hypertext vision in 1967. In 1979 Nelson convened The Xanadu Group,
    Stuart Greene, Roger Gregory, Roland King, Eric Hill, Mark Miller, and K. Eric
    Drexler, to work on the design for a database and file system to implement a
  • Xanadu
    Operating Company
    . Nelson created the Xanadu Operating Company, Inc. (XOC)
    in 1983.
  • Hypertext
    . The first
    hypertext conference
    was held in 1987, supported by 23 companies, including
    Apple Computer, Bell Communications Research, Harvard University, and Xerox PARC,
    and published 29 research papers.
  • Autodesk. In February, 1988, the company Autodesk bought the Xanadu project and the Xanadu trademark. In August, 1992, they licensed the rights to the XOC software to Memex,
    Inc (later “Filoli”), named after Vannevar Bush’s system,
    and the “Xanadu” trademark was given back to Nelson.
  • Serious Cybernetics.
    In 1993, Nelson reformulated his ideas as a system of business publishing relationships, and licensed the specification to Serious Cybernetics in Australia as Xanadu
  • Sapporo
    . In 1994, Nelson moved to Japan and founded the Sapporo HyperLab.
    The latest specification was licensed to what was then SenseMedia
    as Xanadu America. One of the last pages is here.
  • Keio University.
    In 1996, Nelson became
    a Professor of Environmental Information at Keio
    University at Shonan Fujisawa, Japan.
  • Oxford Internet Institute. In 2004, Nelson was the first recipient of a new Visiting Fellowship at Wadham College linked to the Oxford Internet Institute (OII).

Nelson also maintains a home page on hyperland.com.

Resources. Nelson’s hypertext ideas influenced the Hyper-G and Microcosm projects, Apple HyperCard — the first commercial hypertext system developed by Bill Atkinson, and the Lotus Notes workgroup software.