Published in IW as a Letter the the Editor, to make known some Ted Nelson / Hypertext historical facts, versus what was printed in their Jan. 97 issue.

Dear Internet World,

Stephen Satchell was headed in right direction but didn't go far enough when he said (IW, Jan. 1997, "The Kantor Group" column, p. 114) that Ted Nelson "proposed hyperlinked text in 1988 at the Hacker's 4.0 Conference and was part of Xanadu when it tried to make that work." He then asks "Why is this never mentioned in Web history?" I often wonder that too.

In fact Ted originally conceived hypertext much earlier. His paper "The Hypertext" was first published in 1965 (correct: sixty-five) in the Proceedings of the World Documentation Federation. That same year he published a related document, "A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate" in the Proceedings of the 20th National Conference of the ACM. Numerous other publications by him on the subject followed these but failed to attract much interest.

Ted then conceived and started Xanadu in order to implement a hypertext network, and first publicly demonstrated a working back-end system in Washington in April 1981 and a full system with front-end (human interface) at the Computer Culture Conference in Toronto in Nov. 1981.

From our conversations during that period, Ted's major impetuses for developing hypertext, as I understood them, included his desire as a writer to be able to better accommodate the many-structured associative thought processes that humanity had for so long been forced to try to represent within the constraints of sequencial text, and the desire to allow then-unprecedented kinds and levels of interactivity with existing works, through a universal ability to link new or additional materials of one's own (comments, references, information, related works...) to existing works.

Yes, it is appalling how few people, even experts, know this field's history.

- Laurie Spiegel
Jan. 1997
New York City, NY

Copyright ©1997 Laurie Spiegel. All rights reserved.
back to Laurie Spiegel's writings page | go to Laurie Spiegel's home page