What is Xanadu?
Ultimately it may take an astrologer or a sun-spot specialist to find a plausible explanation for the remarkable two weeks in the fall of 1960 when Ted Nelson figured it all out. Because that’s when he first defined what may eventually be recognized as the true beginnings of the coming new paradigm, The Age of the Unified Data Structure.
The Unified Data Structure is an entirely new world-class paradigm all of Nelson’s own doing, even though his life achievements up to now have mainly consisted of making visionary waves, giving new meaning to the term ‘vaporware’ and siring probably the most stolen book in history [‘Computer Lib’]. He’s also know for generally muddying the clear minds of inexperienced programming youth. Some may recall a similar accusation that once did in Socrates, bringing him the death sentence in due democratic process by his peers. Or were they really his peers?
Had you been reading this in Xanadu chances are that you’d never finish the rest of the sentence, instead zooming off to dictionary entries on Socrates, source writings on Athens democracy, and collections of commentaries by later contributors. All that and more, the entire written, whispered, telegraphed, and filmed record of the civilization as we know it, instantly available at the fingertips from your own Xanadu home terminal or from a nearby Public Access Xanadu vending store at Desolution Hwy and Fifth.
Because that is exactly what Nelson’s paradigm promises: the tablets of Babylon, the scrolls of Alexandria, the NFL polls of all seasons, down to the preserved napkin-doodles of Einstein, Curie, and Springsteen, all in one LOGICAL, easily accessible place at the end of an existing-bandwidth telephone wire.
That’s Xanadu in a nutshell, and it finally appears to be on the verge of fulfillment after 30 years spent in the realm of gee-whiz ideas. Moreover, what it will eventually confront us with will be an entire new type of literature, a "transclusive fragment writing and publishing system," first defined in those fateful weeks in 1960.