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Xanadu Publishing

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Then there is the problem of the many modalities available for presentation. Many are available, but none are on speaking terms with each other. Text documents are those made up of words on paper. Motion-picture documents, which we call 'movies,' consist of picture sequences that have been recorded on film. Sound documents, which could be words and melody, mumbled by a voice to music on an LP, all are different modes of conveying the information that they contain. Still, all these belong to the same "word-picture-continuum" and to Nelson are of one realm. Therefore we need to have facilities to be able to treat them as such. "That means a paradigm shift which in turn means our being able to deal with change in a new way."

As far as paradigms are concerned, Tomas Kuhn's work, 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,' has always fascinated and influenced Nelson. Kuhn tells of "the real arguments between scientific opponents being all about paradigm boundaries. If one sees an existing paradigm as a coordinate space, a finite area, then a radical new idea may be perceived as a paradigm threat, and the distance between the old and the new one termed 'the paradigm gap'."

Consider WYSIWYG [What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get], "the most inane propaganda, the foolish, defensive response to tie a computer down, the 'paper simulator' used to enshrine two-dimensionality of paper on a computer screen" [right on, man!]. By recognizing the limitations of the existing paper-as-record paradigm we prepare ourselves for the coming new literature, one that's accessible in a uniform and painless way, one that allows us to contribute to it on equal terms, rather than those defined by the technological constraints of production and distribution.

In open-hypertext publishing "anyone will be able to add [publish] a document which links to or quotes from any other [existing] document. Freely. Anybody, or else we'd have to decide at the system level who would be a worthy contributor and who would not, and neither you nor I are fit to decide who that might be. The only alternative is to say that everyone is a worthy contributor, everyone's contributions are in principle welcomed."

And those contributions may then be in the form of the contributor's own choosing an essay by someone enhanced with voice comments (How? That's a front-end input problem.), a video sequence accompanied by blow-ups with notes, a diagram attached to a screenful of data, pointing out your own (r)evolutionary insights, all instantly available on the network from the moment they are published.

These contributions will be available as an ordinary byte-stream, easy to distribute at the speed of the delivery network of the day, which is bound to get faster and faster as technology progresses. Available in a network that might eventually contain most of our ever-recorded intellectual heritage, that might grow to allow unlimited number of simultaneous users, consist of unlimited number of servers, documents, links, transclusions and fragments requested. And all of these fitting within the logarithmic-shape 'soft corridor' [LM 87.1 4/2] of the performance degradation curve, so that delivery times will NOT increase proportionally with the size of the 'docuverse.'

Indeed, if delays doubled in step with the doubling of the available document mass, "maneuvering through this vast and forever growing forest of vines" would become unthinkable. "The way that this curve deteriorates is a fundamental point which had to be addressed in the initial design of the data structure and the algorithms." Thus Xanadu has been "designed backwards from the performance requirements of [such a future] network scale-up" [with allowances for additional delays from servers in space, where "speed-of-light considerations become significant" - LM 87.1 2/57].

Closer to Earth, any published (or MADE PUBLIC) document will be accessible almost instantly from any Xanadu public access location, or from any connected terminal of a suitable type. Obviously, some general-purpose, relatively unsophisticated home computers might be able to run a front-end to Xanadu, but be unable to handle all types of documents (such as animated video). Still, one would most certainly have an option to display named stills from linked video sequences along with the streaming-text data on the same monitor.

Or, rather, on a high-resolution TV screens. Upon taking a college course in 'Computers for the Social Studies' during those weeks in 1960 Nelson discovered that "they've got it all wrong, these were not some 'computer terminals,' these were great MOVIE PROJECTORS, behind whose screens one could create chambers where all the thoughts could be found."

Indeed, the world of movies has a lot in common with that of software design - the latter in itself a highly structured form of creative writing. To be exact, Ted Nelson considers software design to be a branch of cinema. "The cinema-analogy is not an analogy, it is a statement of fact. Software design ought to be taught in film schools. Do you know who'd have made the greatest software designer of the century? Orson Welles, no doubt about it, if he'd understood what it was about. Because writing software requires cinematic imagination with the grasp of the possibilities of writing, a grasp of the possibilities of diagrams, a grasp of the possibilities of animation, a grasp of the possibilities of interaction. And Welles was a superb writer..."

 

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