Kudos To a Deserving Geek …

by Sachin Balagopalan on January 11, 2009 · Comments

No, not Bill Gates but Ted Nelson! That’s right … Before there was Bill Gates and the personal computer or Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web there was Ted Nelson who nearly fifty years ago came up with the idea of linking a “web of objects including text,audio and video”. In fact he even had a word for it … “Hypertext”. Ted Nelson was the inspiration for the WWW as we know it today and I can’t wait to read his new book called “Geeks Bearing Gifts: How the Computer World Got This Way” - I ordered it today from here. While people like Gates and Berners-Lee amassed all the fame and fortune they could ever handle, Ted Nelson has pretty much been in the background for the most part. He is mostly known for his Xanadu project back in the sixties where he espoused the idea of computer screens replacing paper and he floated the idea based on theories by Vannevar Bush and the Memex project back in the forties.

The notion of hyperlinking was originally put forth by Ted Nelson which as the NYT explains …

NYT: The Web, after all, can be seen as a bastardization of his original notion that hyperlinks should point both forward and backward.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, organized all the world’s content through a one-way mechanism of uniform source locators, or URLs. Lost in the process was Mr. Nelson’s two-way link concept that simultaneously pointed to the content in any two connected documents, protecting, he has argued in vain, the original intellectual lineage of any object.

One-way links can be easily broken, and there is no simple way to preserve authorship and credit, as was possible with a project called Xanadu that Mr. Nelson began in the 1960s. His two-way links might have avoided the Web’s tornado-like destruction of the economic value of the printed word, he has contended, by incorporating a system of micropayments.

Yeah! Yeah! - you can use the back button on your browser … But that’s not the point. The absence of a two-way link concept is especially frustrating when hyper linked documents are moved or deleted from their existing domains causing a “broken link”.

I think it’s about time he deserves some credit and if it’s in the form of a book where he claims some of the credit for himself - so be it! As the NYT piece puts it …. “The computing world, however, forgets its past at its peril. Indeed, it may be worthwhile for the self-congratulatory computing industry not only to read Mr. Nelson’s new book closely, but also to take another look at his more recent software design ideas. They may still point the way forward”.

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