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Setting Up a Stand

Back to our open hypertext publishing. "The notion of a [clearly delimited] document is an important one, really a social and psychological mechanism, fine, we keep that because literature is a system of documents which works. Xanadu will provide the feeder, storage and delivery mechanism that will enrich and electronify this system, with linkage and transclusions providing a representation for the previous implicit [idea-inter-] connections. Before we could say ‘such and such author has said so and so and now I would like to show why and where she is wrong,’ but now in Xanadu you can simply add ‘such and such author has said it’ and bingo!, you can go there and see it right away." Indeed, he thinks of Xanadu as of "that magic place of literary memory where nothing is [ever] lost."

Among the most important aspects of the system is the automatic royalty due on every fragment delivered. "Every document will contain a built-in ‘cash register’ […] but the system only works if the price is low. If the price is high then different users will [use and] hand each other dated [paper] copies. If the price is low it’ll be more convenient for each user to get [same] material anew from the system." Indeed, the cost of fetching and reading a document from the system should be minute in comparison with other methods. And the royalties for accessing that document will be advanced to all the authors of there transcluded fragments, if applicable, in proportion to the byte-content of their respective contribution.

In fact, the very act of ‘publishing a document’ will mean signing a [written] contract with a Xanadu storage vendor, in which the author (i.e., the publisher) explicitly gives permission for anyone to link to, to transclude his or her material freely. Nelson explains that "you have no control over that. However, you have absolute control over the integrity of your document and you can give instructions to the reader as to how they should view it and so on. Of course, since it is sent down the line to the viewer we have no idea whether they’re gonna do that… but that’s OK, the whole point is they’re buying the rights [to view it] every time."

When an author publishes a Xanadu document, he or she pays a small fee to a Xanadu storage vendor for three years’ minimum storage on the disks (on three different servers, for backup and mean distance content distribution reasons). The author decides what gets published, when and where. The author also bears the sole legal responsibility for that publication’s content. If the document includes something that "wrongs other people or wrongs the government, breaks the law, [then it is you, not the vendor] who gets caught." The vendor’s legal position is that of "a contract printer’s or a truck driver’s."

So how does one become a storage vendor, which is almost like getting a license to print money, anyway? The Public Access Xanadu organization, which Ted Nelson still owns, will empower national licensing organizations, which will in turn license (or franchise) individual operators, the storage vendors, franchising being the fastest method to expand without losing control of an enterprise. And here’s where the magic ends and real life begins: "to set up a Xanadu stand you’ll have to put up [some] $200,000 and then HAVE TO WORK PERSONALLY in the stand, 10 to 12 hours a day… we’re gonna go strictly by McDonald’s rule (of personal daily participation by the owner). Different places will handle the problem of food and snacks differently though… also my lawyer reminds me to tell you that this is not an offer to sell, merely a conjectural discussion."

Though "the objective is to create one mighty server for the whole world" it by no means follows that all the servers on the network have to be alike. On the contrary, many different types of servers will be possible, and many will be present: "computers that are set up to deliver certain kind of things, render-servers for graphic images, file-servers for the normal documents and so on," all running the same back-end feeder software, delivering fragments across the network, keeping track of dues. Nor will the Xanadu organization be creating/publishing the literature, filling the network with the food for thought and income-fodder. For that individual entrepreneurs will be needed.

If a future Xanadu vendor believes there is better return in, say, deliveries (sales) of weather-data, fine, let his set up say, a ‘Boreas Real-Time Weather Server’ on the network and start courting weather-data producers to make their results available to the public by publishing them on his server. Then the vendor can attract users of such data, and get them to request the data at whatever intervals they might require, for whatever purposes they might have, in whatever forms or contexts they might desire.

Thus a following flow of income could be envisioned (provided that there is a market demand for said type of data): owners of the weather-images become publishers for a fee proportional to the physical size of their data on the storage vendor’s media. The storage vendor will wish to maximize his sizeable initial investment by making his own premises attractive for the public to visit and appealing to prospective future publishers, who are looking for suitable/genre-specialized storage sites to publish at/rent space from. It is in the vendor’s self interest to try to find potential users for the deposited weather data and to promote use of them, since ultimately he’ll be receiving a percentage on each and every fragment sent to and from his server. Nothing, of course, hinders the publishers from promoting use of their data themselves. The publishers receive royalty on each fragment delivered, proportional to the requested fragment’s size, which accumulates in their account, thus covering the costs of publication and storage and, hopefully, making a profit. The users, finally, get to view/use their data and have a shot at subsequent (part-)royalties on any material that they elect to enhance via linkage and/or publish themselves (for a fee, etc…).

Furthermore: any user without access to a personal terminal will be able to open an account at a local Xanadu vending stand, with facilities for browsing, reading, viewing and printing out the requested fragments (the facilities meaning primarily high resolution, high quality, high speed, ergonometric terminals and peripheral equipment in a "pleasantly painted," futurico-spacey setting, "the bridge of the Enterprise, […] with a pleasant helper in a polyester suit nearby" [not joking]). The monthly bill will then consist of a basic fee, as well as fees for connect time, data delivery (data delivery will include royalty on every fragment), storage fees (if Xanadu disks are being rented) (for the deposition of private data, mail, etc.), and possible publication fees, MINUS royalties (if publications have been read, linked to, or transcluded).

With the system not yet in existence it is difficult to predict the monthly cost for a Joe or an Adina User. Still, as Nelson repeatedly points out, the system has to be affordable to the general public. He’s not worried about lack of potential users either; "his problem is with dealing with the demand [that] he already has… 100,000 people out there who want it tomorrow, TOMORROW. The first XU stand will only have 30 ports [modem lines, with another perhaps 20 terminal points inside the store], and in six months [the network] may grow to at most 500 ports, 1000 ports, which is not enough to service the people he already has, already wanting the service, and certainly not enough to service the number of people who will want it by then." To be exact, "there are more than 50 people, who have already paid 100 dollars each for a Xandle, a user-name on the network" (mentioned in LM 87.1 0/-10), the very same one that has yet to come into being, and then "may yet turn out to be a flop."

Similarly with the critical mass of documents… there is already so much available online in existing electronic networks. Still, he’ll be out there, "preaching and proselytizing to potential publishers, trying to find the most leverage in terms of getting it off the ground. One group [that] he’ll be approaching will be the free-lance photographers, because here is a group [of people] that have a lot of bits to distribute and no existing channels except for magazines. So they have to go through editors, spend a lot of money making portfolios to leave with editors for a time, and maybe the editor looks at it and maybe he doesn’t. So Xanadu publishing gives them an immediate new way to get their photographs out there where other people can see them." Camera owners, do take note.

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