Project Xanadu was the first hypertext project, founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson. Administrators of Project Xanadu have declared it an improvement over the World Wide Web, saying "Today's popular software simulates paper. The World Wide Web (another imitation of paper) trivialises our original hypertext model with one-way ever-breaking links and no management of version or contents." Wired magazine called it the "longest-running vaporware story in the history of the computer industry". The first attempt at implementation began in 1960, but it was not until 1998 that an implementation was released, and this was incomplete.
During his first year as a graduate student at Harvard, Ted Nelson began implementing the system which contained the basic outline of what would become Project Xanadu: a word processor capable of storing multiple versions, and displaying the differences between these versions. Though he did not complete this implementation, a mockup of the system proved sufficient to inspire interest in others.
On top of this basic idea, Nelson wanted to facilitate nonsequential writing, in which the reader could choose his or her own path through an electronic document. He built upon this idea in a paper to the ACM in 1965, calling the new idea "zippered lists". These zippered lists would allow compound documents to be formed from pieces of other documents, a concept named transclusion. In 1967, while working for Harcourt, Brace, he named his project Xanadu, in honour of the poem "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Ted Nelson published his ideas in his 1974 book Computer Lib/Dream Machines and the 1981 Literary Machines.
Computer Lib/Dream Machines is written in a non-sequential fashion: it is a compilation of Nelson's thoughts about computing, among other topics, in no particular order. It contains two books, printed back to back, to be flipped between. Computer Lib contains Nelson's thoughts on topics which angered him, while Dream Machines discusses his hopes for the potential of computers to assist the arts.
In 1972, Cal Daniels completed the first demonstration version of the Xanadu software on a computer Nelson had rented for the purpose, though Nelson soon ran out of money. In 1974, with the advent of computer networking, Nelson refined his thoughts about Xanadu into a centralised source of information, calling it a "docuverse".
In the summer of 1979, Nelson led the latest group of his followers, Roger Gregory, Mark S. Miller and Stuart Greene, to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. In a house rented by Greene, they hashed out their ideas for Xanadu; but at the end of the summer the group went their separate ways. Miller and Gregory created an addressing system based on transfinite numbers which they called tumblers, which allowed any part of a file to be referenced.
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