Theodor “Ted” Nelson (1937 – ) is a sociologist, philosopher, and pioneer of information technology. He founded his most prominent project, Xanadu, in 1960 with the goal of escaping the prison of paper and creating new forms of unprintable documents with visible connections between pages. Project Xanadu was intended to be a worldwide electronic publishing system that would have created in essence a universal library for the public, “a magic place of literary memory.” Nelson documented his work on the project in his books “Computer Lib/Dream Machines” (1974) and “Literary Machines” (1981).
Despite Nelson’s efforts and unwavering vision, Project Xanadu has not materialized. Nonetheless, Project Xanadu’s intellectual presence in the field influenced research and catalyzed the evolution of hypertext systems.
Nelson is also credited with coining the terms “hypertext” and “hypermedia” in 1963 and publishing the terms in 1965. The first uses of the words transclusion, virtuality, intertwingularity, and dildonics are also attributed to Nelson.
Nelson’s creative impact has been recognized in the 1998 Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Web Award, World Wide Web Conference, which is “… presented to an individual who has a lifetime of achievement in the ‘care and feeding’ of the global information infrastructure.” He was knighted by France in 2001 as “Officier des Arts et Lettres.”, which is “…presented to individuals achieving distinction in the arts and literature throughout the world.”
In 2014, SIGCHI awarded Nelson a Special Recognition Award, which recognizes individuals whose vision or achievements have significantly influenced and broadly shaped conceptions of human-computer interaction. The ACM Special Interest Group on Hypertext and the Web presents the Ted Nelson Newcomer Award at its annual conference for the best paper written by authors who have never published in earlier Hypertext proceedings.
In 1988, I wrote the following about Ted Nelson (Shneiderman, Ben, Hypertext on Hypertext, Hyperties disk with 1Mbyte data and graphics incorporating July 1988 CACM, ACM Press, New York, NY): “A pioneering visionary of universal hypertext systems including the social and legal structures; keynote speaker at Hypertext ’87 Workshop. Ted Nelson’s creative visions are amply displayed in his lively books, Computer Lib/Dream Machines and Literary Machines, which detail his hypertext vision. Nelson understood that major social and legal changes would be necessary to realize his concept of universal hypertext environment. His XANADU system supported enormous “docuverses” including complex links among literary sources, quotations, critiques, etc. and a vast global network accessible from community-oriented computer centers.” Then in 2015, I wrote two poems to honor him (Shneiderman, B., Ode to Ted Nelson, in Dechow, D. R. and Struppa, D. C. (Editors), Intertwingled: The Work and Influence of Ted Nelson, Springer (2015), 7-11).
Ted Nelson’s intertwingled brains,
spawn repeating rhythmic trains
Telling stories in poetic scenes
From ComputerLib and Dream Machines.
His restless mind reveals a lyric vision
Shining brightly with intense precision.
His playful, play-filled frantic imagery
Expands my mind with his skullduggery
Masquerading as intended trickery
But always making planful mockery
Of those who believe in standard crockery.
Oh this must sound like jabberwockery.
But honestly I speak without temerity.
I merely wish to add to his celebrity
And honor him for his celerity
A joyful sprite of youthful clarity.
Slippery fun to invent words that capture bold ideas
Smorfing flinks transclude reality.
Twinkling, awesome Nelson
Transpire, conspire, inspire
Transclude, conclude, include.
Persistent commitment to
A life with one clear purpose
Ted’s never met a limit he didn’t want to break
He’s never found a rule he didn’t want to fake.
Self-confident clarity, true to his beliefs
Original visions, zigging-zagging
Fresh humping, bumping
to what Markoff called “his grander ideals”.
– Ben Shneiderman
- Ph.D. in Media and Governance, Keio University (2002)
- M.A. in Sociology, Harvard University (1963)
- B.A. in Philosophy, Swarthmore College (1960)
- Project Xanadu
- Visiting Professor, University of Southampton, England (2012)
- Visiting Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute (2004 – 2006)
- Visiting Fellow, Wadham College, Oxford (2004 – 2006)
- Co-Founder, Itty bitty machine company (ibm) (1977 – 1980)
- Founder, Project Xanadu (1960 – Present)