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Ted Nelson

Ted Nelson

Overview
Theodor Holm Nelson is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 sociologist, philosopher, and pioneer
Innovator
An innovator in a general sense, is a person or an organization who is one of the first to introduce into reality something better than before. That often opens up a new area for others and achieves an innovation.-History:...

 of information technology
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

. He coined the terms "hypertext
Hypertext
Hypertext is text displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references to other text that the reader can immediately access, usually by a mouse click or keypress sequence. Apart from running text, hypertext may contain tables, images and other presentational devices. Hypertext is the...

" and "hypermedia
Hypermedia
Hypermedia is a computer-based information retrieval system that enables a user to gain or provide access to texts, audio and video recordings, photographs and computer graphics related to a particular subject.Hypermedia is a term created by Ted Nelson....

" in 1963 and published it in 1965. He also has been credited with first using the words transclusion
Transclusion
In computer science, transclusion is the inclusion of a document or part of a document into another document by reference.For example, an article about a country might include a chart or a paragraph describing that country's agricultural exports from a different article about agriculture...

, virtuality
Virtuality (software design)
Virtuality is a term used by Ted Nelson for what he considers the central issues of software design. "Virtuality" refers to the seeming of anything, as opposed to its reality. . Everything has a reality and a virtuality. Nelson divides virtuality into two parts: conceptual structure and feel...

, intertwingularity
Intertwingularity
Intertwingularity is a term coined by Ted Nelson to express the complexity of interrelations in human knowledge.Nelson wrote in Computer Lib/Dream Machines :EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED...

, and teledildonics
Teledildonics
Teledildonics are electronic sex toys that can be controlled by a computer to reach orgasm. Promoters of these devices have claimed since the 1980s they are the "next big thing" in cybersex technology...

.

Nelson founded Project Xanadu
Project Xanadu
Project Xanadu was the first hypertext project, founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson. Administrators of Project Xanadu have declared it an improvement over the World Wide Web, with mission statement: "Today's popular software simulates paper...

 in 1960 with the goal of creating a computer network with a simple user interface. The effort is documented in his 1974 book Computer Lib / Dream Machines and the 1981 Literary Machines
Literary Machines
Literary Machines is a book first published in 1980 by Ted Nelson, and republished 9 times by 1993. It offers an extensive overview of Nelson's term "hypertext" as well as Nelson's Project Xanadu...

.
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Quotations

You can and must understand computers now!

Slogan. (The insistence that ordinary people need to understand computers is remarkable for its era: the first personal computers were not available until 1975.)

Everything is deeply intertwingled.

Computer Lib p. 42 / Dream Machines p.45

I see Professionalism as a spreading disease of the present-day world, a sort of poly-oligarchy by which various groups (subway conductors, social workers, bricklayers) can bring things to a halt if their particular demands are not met. (Meanwhile, the irrelevance of each profession increases, in proportion to its increasing rigidity.) Such lucky groups demand more in each go-round - but meantime, the number who are permanently unemployed grows and grows.

Computer Lib

If computers are the wave of the future, displays are the surfboards.

Dream Machines, p 22.

Everybody has only a 24-hour day. Most people, if they increase consumption of one medium (like magazines or books) will cut down on another (like TV). This drastically reduces the sort of growth some people have been expecting.

Dream Machines
Encyclopedia
Theodor Holm Nelson is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 sociologist, philosopher, and pioneer
Innovator
An innovator in a general sense, is a person or an organization who is one of the first to introduce into reality something better than before. That often opens up a new area for others and achieves an innovation.-History:...

 of information technology
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

. He coined the terms "hypertext
Hypertext
Hypertext is text displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references to other text that the reader can immediately access, usually by a mouse click or keypress sequence. Apart from running text, hypertext may contain tables, images and other presentational devices. Hypertext is the...

" and "hypermedia
Hypermedia
Hypermedia is a computer-based information retrieval system that enables a user to gain or provide access to texts, audio and video recordings, photographs and computer graphics related to a particular subject.Hypermedia is a term created by Ted Nelson....

" in 1963 and published it in 1965. He also has been credited with first using the words transclusion
Transclusion
In computer science, transclusion is the inclusion of a document or part of a document into another document by reference.For example, an article about a country might include a chart or a paragraph describing that country's agricultural exports from a different article about agriculture...

, virtuality
Virtuality (software design)
Virtuality is a term used by Ted Nelson for what he considers the central issues of software design. "Virtuality" refers to the seeming of anything, as opposed to its reality. . Everything has a reality and a virtuality. Nelson divides virtuality into two parts: conceptual structure and feel...

, intertwingularity
Intertwingularity
Intertwingularity is a term coined by Ted Nelson to express the complexity of interrelations in human knowledge.Nelson wrote in Computer Lib/Dream Machines :EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED...

, and teledildonics
Teledildonics
Teledildonics are electronic sex toys that can be controlled by a computer to reach orgasm. Promoters of these devices have claimed since the 1980s they are the "next big thing" in cybersex technology...

.

Career


Nelson founded Project Xanadu
Project Xanadu
Project Xanadu was the first hypertext project, founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson. Administrators of Project Xanadu have declared it an improvement over the World Wide Web, with mission statement: "Today's popular software simulates paper...

 in 1960 with the goal of creating a computer network with a simple user interface. The effort is documented in his 1974 book Computer Lib / Dream Machines and the 1981 Literary Machines
Literary Machines
Literary Machines is a book first published in 1980 by Ted Nelson, and republished 9 times by 1993. It offers an extensive overview of Nelson's term "hypertext" as well as Nelson's Project Xanadu...

. Much of his adult life has been devoted to working on Xanadu and advocating it.

The Xanadu project itself failed to flourish, for a variety of reasons which are disputed. Journalist Gary Wolf
Gary Wolf (journalist)
This article refers to the journalist and contributing editor for Wired magazine. For the novelist and creator of the Roger Rabbit universe, see Gary K. Wolf.Gary Wolf is a writer and contributing editor at Wired magazine...

 published an unflattering history on Nelson and his project in the June 1995 issue of Wired calling it "the longest-running vaporware
Vaporware
Vaporware is a term in the computer industry that describes a product, typically computer hardware or software, that is announced to the general public but is never actually released nor officially canceled. Vaporware is also a term sometimes used to describe events that are announced or predicted,...

 project in the history of computing". Nelson expressed his disgust on his website, referring to Wolf as a "Gory Jackal", and threatened to sue him. He also outlined his objections in a letter to Wired, and released a detailed rebuttal of the article.

Nelson claims some aspects of his vision are in the process of being fulfilled by Tim Berners-Lee
Tim Berners-Lee
Sir Timothy John "Tim" Berners-Lee, , also known as "TimBL", is a British computer scientist, MIT professor and the inventor of the World Wide Web...

's invention of the World Wide Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

, but he dislikes the World Wide Web, XML
XML
Extensible Markup Language is a set of rules for encoding documents in machine-readable form. It is defined in the XML 1.0 Specification produced by the W3C, and several other related specifications, all gratis open standards....

 and all embedded markup
Markup language
A markup language is a modern system for annotating a text in a way that is syntactically distinguishable from that text. The idea and terminology evolved from the "marking up" of manuscripts, i.e. the revision instructions by editors, traditionally written with a blue pencil on authors' manuscripts...

 - regarding Berners-Lee's work as a gross over-simplification of his original vision:
HTML is precisely what we were trying to PREVENT— ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can't follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management. – Ted Nelson


Nelson co-founded Itty bitty machine company, or "ibm", which was a small computer retail store operating from 1977 to 1980 in Evanston, Illinois
Evanston, Illinois
Evanston is a suburban municipality in Cook County, Illinois 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, bordering Chicago to the south, Skokie to the west, and Wilmette to the north, with an estimated population of 74,360 as of 2003. It is one of the North Shore communities that adjoin Lake Michigan...

. The Itty bitty machine company was one of the few retail stores to sell the original Apple I
Apple I
The original Apple Computer, also known retroactively as the Apple I, or Apple-1, is a personal computer released by the Apple Computer Company in 1976. They were designed and hand-built by Steve Wozniak. Wozniak's friend Steve Jobs had the idea of selling the computer...

 computer. In 1978 he had a significant impact upon IBM
IBM
International Business Machines Corporation or IBM is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and it offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas...

's thinking when he outlined his vision of the potential of personal computing to the team that three years later launched the IBM PC.

Ted Nelson is currently working on a new information structure, ZigZag
ZigZag (software)
ZigZag is Ted Nelson's trademark on a data model he has designed for computer interaction, both for users and between programs. The design is centered around an information structure called a zzstructure and its interactive visualizations...

, which is described on the Xanadu project website, which also hosts two versions of the Xanadu code. He also developed XanaduSpace, a system for the exploration of connected parallel documents (an early version of this software may be freely downloaded).

Education and awards


Nelson earned a Bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree
A bachelor's degree is usually an academic degree awarded for an undergraduate course or major that generally lasts for three or four years, but can range anywhere from two to six years depending on the region of the world...

 in philosophy from Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College is a private, independent, liberal arts college in the United States with an enrollment of about 1,500 students. The college is located in the borough of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia....

 in 1959, a Master's degree
Master's degree
A master's is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice...

 in sociology from Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 in 1963 and a Doctorate
Doctorate
A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

 in Media and Governance from Keio University
Keio University
,abbreviated as Keio or Keidai , is a Japanese university located in Minato, Tokyo. It is known as the oldest institute of higher education in Japan. Founder Fukuzawa Yukichi originally established it as a school for Western studies in 1858 in Edo . It has eleven campuses in Tokyo and Kanagawa...

 in 2002. In 1998, at the Seventh WWW Conference in Brisbane
Brisbane
Brisbane is the capital and most populous city in the Australian state of Queensland and the third most populous city in Australia. Brisbane's metropolitan area has a population of over 2 million, and the South East Queensland urban conurbation, centred around Brisbane, encompasses a population of...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, Nelson was awarded the Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award
Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award
The "Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award" was a prize that was awarded annually at the International World Wide Web Conference. Yuri Rubinsky, in cooperation with the International WWW Conference Committee, presented the SoftQuad Award for Excellence to Doug Engelbart at the Fourth International WWW...

.

In 2001 he was knighted by France as "Officier des Arts et Lettres
Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres is an Order of France, established on 2 May 1957 by the Minister of Culture, and confirmed as part of the Ordre national du Mérite by President Charles de Gaulle in 1963...

". In 2004 he was appointed as a Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford
Wadham College, Oxford
Wadham College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, located at the southern end of Parks Road in central Oxford. It was founded by Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham, wealthy Somerset landowners, during the reign of King James I...

, and associated with the Oxford Internet Institute
Oxford Internet Institute
The Oxford Internet Institute is a multi-disciplinary institute based at the University of Oxford, England, and housed in buildings owned by Balliol College, Oxford. It is devoted to the study of the societal implications of the Internet, with the aim of shaping research, policy and practice in...

, where he was a visiting fellow from 2004 through 2006.

In 2007 he celebrated his 70th birthday by giving an invited birthday lecture at the University of Southampton
University of Southampton
The University of Southampton is a British public university located in the city of Southampton, England, a member of the Russell Group. The origins of the university can be dated back to the founding of the Hartley Institution in 1862 by Henry Robertson Hartley. In 1902, the Institution developed...

.

Personal life


Nelson is the son of Emmy Award
Emmy Award
An Emmy Award, often referred to simply as the Emmy, is a television production award, similar in nature to the Peabody Awards but more focused on entertainment, and is considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards .A majority of Emmys are presented in various...

-winning director
Television director
A television director directs the activities involved in making a television program and is part of a television crew.-Duties:The duties of a television director vary depending on whether the production is live or recorded to video tape or video server .In both types of productions, the...

 Ralph Nelson
Ralph Nelson
Ralph Nelson was an American movie and television director, producer, writer, and actor.-Life and career:...

 and the Academy Award
Academy Awards
An Academy Award, also known as an Oscar, is an accolade bestowed by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers...

-winning actress Celeste Holm
Celeste Holm
Celeste Holm is an American stage, film, and television actress, known for her Academy Award-winning performance in Gentleman's Agreement , as well as for her Oscar-nominated performances in Come to the Stable and All About Eve...

.

His parents' marriage was brief and he was mostly raised by his grandparents, first and Chicago and later in Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village, , , , .in New York often simply called "the Village", is a largely residential neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City. A large majority of the district is home to upper middle class families...

. He is of Norwegian
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 and Swedish
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 descent.

Nelson earned a BA from Swarthmore College in 1960. He began graduate work at Harvard in philosophy. During college and graduate school, he envisioned a computer-based writing system that would provide a lasting repository for the world's knowledge and also permit greater flexibility of drawing connections between ideas. He later attributed this ambition, in part, to his need to track his disjointed mental activity brought about by attention deficit disorder.

The project became the overriding concern of his life. In 1965, he presented a paper at the Association for Computing Machinery in which he coined the term hypertext.

Populitism


Populitism is a neologism coined by Nelson, a portmanteau combining "populism" with "elite." The word suggests the society-of-text envisioned by theorists like Shoshana Zuboff and Jay David Bolter, a writing space in which traces of authority persist only as local and contingent effects, the social equivalent of the deconstructed author-function. A "populite" culture might mark the first step toward realization of Jean-Francois Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard was a French philosopher and literary theorist. He is well known for his articulation of postmodernism after the late 1970s and the analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition...

's "game of perfect information" where all have equal access to the world of data, and where "[g]iven equal competence (no longer in the acquisition of knowledge, but in its production), what extra performativity depends on in the final analysis is 'imagination,' which allows one either to make a new move or change the rules of the game." This is the utopia of information-in-process, the ultimate wetware dream of the clerisy: discourse converted with 100 percent efficiency into capital, the mechanism of that magical process being nomology or rule-making—admittedly a rather specialized form of "imagination".

Works

  • Life, Love, College, etc. (1959)
  • Computer Lib
    Computer Lib
    Computer Lib is a book by Ted Nelson, originally published in 1974 by Nelson himself, and packaged with Dream Machines, another book by Nelson...

    : You can and must understand computers now / Dream Machines: New freedoms through computer screens—a minority report
    (1974), Microsoft Press, revised edition 1987: ISBN 0-914845-49-7
  • The Home Computer Revolution (1977)
  • Literary Machines
    Literary Machines
    Literary Machines is a book first published in 1980 by Ted Nelson, and republished 9 times by 1993. It offers an extensive overview of Nelson's term "hypertext" as well as Nelson's Project Xanadu...

    : The report on, and of, Project Xanadu concerning word processing, electronic publishing, hypertext, thinkertoys, tomorrow's intellectual revolution, and certain other topics including knowledge, education and freedom
    (1981), Mindful Press, Sausalito, California; publication dates as listed in the 93.1 (1993) edition: 1980-84, 1987, 1990–93
  • The Future of Information (1997)
  • A Cosmology for a Different Computer Universe: Data Model, Mechanisms, Virtual Machine and Visualization Infrastructure. Journal of Digital Information, Volume 5 Issue 1. Article No. 298, July 16, 2004
  • Geeks Bearing Gifts
    Geeks Bearing Gifts
    -Mentions of Wikipedia:Nelson states in the introduction that he used Wikipedia for a lot of research for the book itself. In Chapter 20 he provides some criticism and praise for the site. He critiques that owing to the strong peer-review nature of Wikipedia that editing is really a misnomer where...

    : How The Computer World Got This Way
    (2008; Chapter summaries)
  • POSSIPLEX: Movies, Intellect, Creative Control, My Computer Life and the Fight for Civilization (2010), autobiography

Quotes

  • “Most people are fools, most authority is malignant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong"
  • “A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within ten seconds.”
  • “We should not impose regularity where it does not exist.”
  • “I hope, that in our archives and historical filings of the future, we do not allow the techie traditions of hierarchy and false regularity to be superimposed to the teeming, fantastic disorderlyness of human life.”

External links