“It was the most radical computer dream of the hacker era. Ted Nelson’s Xanadu project was supposed to be the universal, democratic hypertext library that would help human life evolve into an entirely new form. Instead, it sucked Nelson and his intrepid band of true believers into what became the longest-running vaporware project in the history of computing – a 30-year saga of rabid prototyping and heart-slashing despair. The amazing epic tragedy.” Please note that this is an older article, from 1995, and that it is 27 pages long.
The Curse of Xanadu
About The Author
Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda
2005-09-13 6:33 pmzerblat
…and they’re both named after Kublai Khan’s summer residence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanadu
Either design something properly and code it, or just stop.
I don’t personally know Ted Nelson, but I think that the world needs people like him. Sure me may not be able to complete anything on his own, but there are plenty of implementors out there who, who to save their lives, could never think of something worth implementing. I’m not saying that Ted’s idea’s are great, but some aspects of some of them may be.
Gary Wolf is an interesting fellow himself. When I read is work I generally find myself smiling. Not that I totally disagree with what he is saying, but I find his undertone of superiority amusing. Just as Ted can work himself into an idea frenzy, I think Gary is just as capible of working himself into and superiority frenzy. Almost as if the way he writes about something is more important then what he is writing about.
exploring the future of computing.
This article signals a sad new low in the blogification of OSNews
Not OS related articles are fine when they’re topical and interesting, but an 11 year old article ? Even worse is that there isn’t even a shortage of real news, but it just goes unreported here.
2005-09-13 7:33 pmThom Holwerda
“This article signals a sad new low in the blogification of OSNews
From the “Contact us” page:
Our goal is to inform our readers with the latest news on a vast range of operating systems and computing environments, [blaat] it’s important to stress that though our focus is operating systems, there will always be other computing-related news that catches our attention.
Something tells me you haven’t read this 27-page article at all. It might be about the history of computing, but top understand the future, one must know the past.
Just don’t the read the articles you don’t like.
When reading the article (which incidently engulfed a good part of my afternoon) it was obvious that the developers were not misguided…they were too ambitious and close-minded for their own good. The hardware to support such a mindshare will not exist for another 20 to 50 years – from now. Now, I’m not usually one of those people who says that computing power is as fast as it needs to be (I hate it when people say that) or that a certain idea may not be worth it to implement, however, after taking an honest look at the progression of the web (and now it’s stagnation in the form of browser incompatibilities) we already are beyond the relevancy of a Xanadu ideal. Google has done incredible work, the wikipedia idea is great, every major site has xml-friendly apis, etc. The only difference is that the Xanadu developers made the mistake of thinking that ONE entity can control and hold all information. That, to me, is hubris. Imagine one company being able to do all that every web company is doing today. The web is an open architecture in which services and information flow seamlessly. We are doing more than just archiving text now. Xanadu lost it’s relevancy in the early 90’s.
2005-09-14 5:03 pmAnonymous
Imagine one company being able to do all that every web company is doing today.
I think that is what Microsoft hopes to do, along with other things.
Having followed the Xanadu project for many years the one thing that has always struck me was that the programmers have been saying that it would only take another two or three weeks to get the system to work.
Without knowing what the ‘Enfilade’ was, TN seemed to want to keep the mechanics of this close to his chest, it was imposible to work out if he simply could not explain what it was in a way that programmers could use or that the whole concept was simply broken.
It’s not much more than a historical curiosity now.
Xanadu as a project may have failed, but as an inspiration, it lead many others to work on the Web. Much of what he wants, even the vast amount of information that he crams into his pockets, can be carried in a PDA or at least accessed via a PDA with a web connection. Clearly, we don’t have direct access to the Library of Congress, but this is a social issue, not a technical one, we could easily digitize these books and share the text (and images) online if we valued public access to the data more than we valued protecting copyrights. So, while the vision of Xanadu has only been met imperfectly, the creators of the web were inspired by the vision of Xanadu. Xanadu is a dream, how is this a failure?
The Wired article in question has been labeled by Ted Nelson and friends of, as a slam.
CR: There was a recent article in Wired magazine which took a very critical view of the whole Xanadu project to date. I know I’ve received email from you where you were saying that you thought the article was almost libelous…
TN: Not almost, definitely.
CR: OK, definitely libelous. Would you care to comment about your objections to the Wired article, which many of our listeners probably have access to?
TN: Sure. Well it comes down to a great deal to personal viewpoint and personal integrity. People see the world differently and the reporter, whose name is Gary Wolf, makes his biases extremely clear in the article, but they were by no means clear when he so charmingly inveigled his way into my confidence. Now of course I’ve generally taken the point of view that posterity would like what I did and so I’ve trusted journalists as sort of ambassadors from posterity and this has been a mistake in general but, ahem, Mr. Wolf did not make his biases in any way evident when we saw each other. It turns out that the three things he most dislikes as far as I can tell are idealism, untidyness, and immodesty, all three of which he found in profusion in the Xanadu project. For myself, I have always hated things in people, well the people who I’ve regarded as shallow, conventional, pompous, and smug. So each of us hit the jackpot in the other. But as I say, he got to strike first, in this extremely scurrilous and nasty piece.
He emailed me recently saying, gee I seem to have overlooked all the positive statements, which is interesting because in my eight or so readings of the article I did not find one positive statement which was not immediately taken back by sarcasm or innuendo. What I object to as actually libelous in the piece of course has nothing to do — well of course it has something to do with it — but is not directly a matter of its tone or its nastyness. Libel consists of damaging, false statements which are being promulgated either maliciously or negligently. Now as a reporter your standards for negligence may be rather slippery but this man had definite access to a great deal of information and I believe he was extremely, shall we say, disingenuous in the use of that information and how he passed it on. For example he very amusingly talks about us as if we are blundering hobbyists and says that computer scientists would not have agreed with us, therefore according to Wolf we were not computer scientists, right. He says of Roger Gregory, my good friend whom he impugned and was much nastier to than me, he says Roger Gregory was not an elite researcher or computer scientist. Yet a few paragraphs later he mentions that Roger had developed a new addressing scheme based on transfinite arithmetic. Now I do not know what Mr. Wolf means by computer science, but within my world, someone who invents an addressing scheme based on transfinite arithmetic is not stamp collecting. That’s computer science, or it was that week, and this is serious stuff. By elite researcher I suppose he means “annointed researcher” such having PhD’s or working at Xerox PARC or being licensed to kiss the feet of so-and-so. But we basically, on our own, were doing important, strong work at the forefront and Mr. Wolf has made a point of trashing us and ignoring any indication we were not a bunch of deranged hobbyists. For example, he does not mention the contributions of Eric Drexler to the team precisely, I think, because eveyone agrees that Eric Drexler is a scientist, and therefore obviously doesn’t fit into Mr. Wolf’s thesis.
sounds a bit like wikipedia, really.
As long as your device has inter-web access, -and wikipedia, wiki something, then its pretty much xanadu in a nut shell!
You know I’m right.
(hums to self while doing moon-walk)
Oddly enough Xanadu was the private estate of Charles Foster Kane on that movie.