DaveNet email on Wed, 25 Aug 1999 20:14:04 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Ted Nelson Returns

>From Scripting News... It's DaveNet!
Released on 8/24/99; 8:22:26 PM PST

   ***Good evening!
I just got back from the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Monterey, and
I had a wonderful time. So many interesting things to say, my mind is
buzzing. There's been a change in the Internet software industry, in a way
this was a coming out party for it. 
The O'Reilly conference was like an Apple or Microsoft developer
conference, but there was no Apple or Microsoft. Yes, each open source
community has a dictator, Larry Wall for Perl, Guido van Rossum for
Python, John Ousterhout for Tcl, Brian Behlendorf for Apache, Eric Allman
for Sendmail, Linus Torvalds for Linux. But the fascinating thing about
this conference is that the dictators only got a slice of the time on
stage, the rest of the work is done by developers, and get this, they have
a lot of independence. 
Independence is what I wanted, sitting in the audience at Apple'sdeveloper
conference, year after year in the 80s and early 90s. A chance to pitch my
peers on a new idea. Ask the people who know me from the Macintosh
community, this is what I never liked about being captive to a platform
vendor. They do all the talking, you're supposed to listen, and a lot of
good ideas get flushed down the toilet. 
I'll certainly have more to say about this, but having just returned from
the conference, before eating dinner and retiring for the evening, I
wanted to scoop the rest of the news sites, because Ted Nelson did
something surprising and historic at the show, and very few people tuned
into it. 
   ***Ted Nelson
I ran into Jon Udell, the veteran technical columnist for Byte.Com, on
Monday evening. He said he had just attended a very strange Birds of the
Feather meeting, led by Ted Nelson, one of my mentors in my formative
years as a software developer. 
Nelson wrote a classic book that had huge influence on my generation of
software engineers and designers. The book was Computer Lib/Dream
Machines. For me, it was confirmation of what I suspected -- that
computers were part of the hippie revolution of the 60s and 70s. He said
that computer power didn't have to reside exclusively in the corporate
world, that they could be used to foster free expression and empower
people where earlier forms of communication, TV, radio, and print, were
largely one-way, hierarchic, and disempowering. 
In those days these were radical ideas. Today, they're not as radical, the
web opens up the technology, but they're still out of the box, not the
norm. Real communication is rare, but not as much as it was, thanks to
computers and networks of computers. 
Ted Nelson was and is the prototype for all computer visionaries. He had
the vision that computers could be an area where vision could be applied.
He described the strange world of hypertext that I understood, in my
youth, at an intuitive even visceral level. 
   ***Nelson makes history
After writing his book, where he talked about a hypothetical system called
Xanadu, Nelson recruited a team of believers to actually implement it.
Now, twenty years later, and ten years after all work on the system had
ceased, Nelson and his band of believers have released the source code to
the Xanadu system. And my friend, Udell, had been one of a small number of
people present for the unveiling, the only other reporter was from Upside.
(I bet they have a longish lead time, even for their website.)

This morning I asked Jon to write the story. He clearly got the scoop. So
we went to the machine room at the Doubletree where he wrote the story and
I accumulated historic background links on the Scripting News home page.
While we were doing this other people in the room discovered what we were
doing and started refreshing the Scripting News home page. Then Jon posted
his story and I linked to it: 
   The Xanadu software can be downloaded from this site:
   Go get it!
   ***The golden age of journalism?
Even though Jon and I get our paychecks from different sources, we worked
together as I imagine people in the golden age of journalism (whenever
that was) worked together. Get the story and pull out all the stops. Damn
the torpedos. Whatever. It's an energizing attitude. 
Let's get the story out! I kept saying, in a good-natured way of course. 
We were trying to beat the imaginary competition. And now, many hours
later, we still have the opportunity. The web moves s-l-o-w-l-y at
latching onto a news story that isn't fed to it via a big corporate press
release from a big corporate PR firm. 
Eventually they'll get a clue and they'll be scouring the web for hot new
stories. You just watch, over the next week this very curious story will
percolate its way into your life. Remember where you heard it first.
   ***Roger Gregory
Later in the day I talked with Roger Gregory, the lead developer of
Xanadu. I had met him a few times before, he's a good guy. I asked him if
the software really works. He said it does. I asked what his goal is. He
wants to see the ideas out there. I recognize the sentiment. I promised to
You can help by spreading the word. Let people know that the Udanax site
exists (Udanax is Xanadu spelled backwards.) Let's crawl thru this bit of
history and see how they did. 
   ***Antique software
I'm sure that Dan Bricklin's release of VisiCalc, and our release of the
antique outliners in July were not directly related to Nelson's release of
the Xanadu code, but it surely follows the trend. 
Another way to think about it. Do we still listen to music created ten
years ago? We do. Should we look into software ideas that were explored
and then abandoned ten years ago? Of course. 
   Dave Winer

Scripting News: <http://www.scripting.com/>

--- Backwarded

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@bbs.thing.net