An evening with Ted Nelson: visionary prerequisites for a vision

by Andy Oram

I'm at a unique symposium this week named Codework, which I do not dare to describe because it has barely begun. I can only say that snagging Ted Nelson to deliver the opening talk was not only a great motivation for attendance but an exquisitely appropriate historical marker for the workshop, which bills itself as "Exploring relations between creative writing practices and software engineering." Nelson, of course, is one of the first people to recognize the benefits literature and computing could offer each other.

Readers have plenty of ways to learn about Nelson's famous Xanadu and his more recent project Zigzag, one of the best ways being to hear him speak as we did in a full hall last night. Thanks to the World Wide Web that Nelson perennially maligns, he is much more famous than he otherwise would be, and also has much more opportunity to spread his views. But here I'll just jot down a few observations I haven't seen others offer about Nelson's ideas, and that aren't immediately obvious from his talks, fascinating and well-argued as they are.


laurie taylor
2008-04-07 19:07:54
I was at the Codework workshop, too (Hi, Andy!) and I also thought Ted Nelson's work was still really relevant, important, and useful. It's amazing to think that he came up with an interface only now modeled in science fiction (like the perfect police visualized database systems in Minority Report and in shows like CSI). That combined with his ideas on copyright, his emphasis on ease of use and sustainability are things we're working on now--albeit problematically--in many fields like digital preservation. Plus, he's a great storyteller and it was wonderful to hear him speak about Xanadu, hint at other projects he's working on, and weave stories on the culture of the early days of computing.
Ted Nelson
2008-04-10 00:30:13
You say of my original view,
"Granted, he may have underestimated the amount of information to be generated in a wired world..."

You may be confusing me with Vannevar Bush, whose estimates were way low. I think my estimates were on target.

Best, Ted Nelson

2008-05-10 22:33:38
read the article on by gary wolf on Ted Nelson (27 pages!). I think Ted's come up with some awesome ideas, but he's not been able to profit from them. (yet!).