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Keynote for Xanalogical Workshop, Hypertext 2009 Confernence, Turin

Theodor Holm Nelson, Oxford Internet Institute

and Project Xanadu

All electronic documents are currently represented as lump documents in lump files. This is based entirely on naive technical traditions--

- the tradition of representing paper (WYSIWYG), and no more than paper can show, as the predestined and final form of documents

- the tradition that a document's lump file contains the whole document and nothing but the document

- the tradition that the lump file is made up of virgin characters whose previous origins are unknown-- quotations are not technically recognized or handled

- the tradition that the lump file's virgin characters are in their final presentational sequence

- the tradition that all documents are hierarchical (or should be) and that their underlying representation, too, should be hierarchical

- the tradition that formatting (if any) should be embedded and encoded among the characters, rather than on the side

- the tradition that formatting (if any) should not be allowed to overlap

- the tradition that links (if any) should be embedded and encoded among the characters, rather than on the side, and therefore only 1-way outward

- the tradition that links (if any) should not be allowed to overlap, making only a small number of links possible

This tangle of naive tradition makes some things easy. Lump documents are portable and require no outside connectivity. It is easy to distribute documents (as lump files) and change them (simply by replacing the lump file). Unfortunately, these traditions confound the deeper problems of document structure and maintenance--

- distributing document changes without breaking links

- allowing marginal notes and comments (nonexistent today)

- allowing side-by-side comparison of documents with visible connections (nonexistent today)

- referring to portions of text from outside, especially as versions change

- allowing third-party links

- allowing and showing multiple overlapping links and overlays

- allowing alternative uses and organizations of content

- allowing alternative markup of content

- showing the origins of content

- comparing versions

- merging changes

and more.

The naive traditional methods can only handle such problems individually, with clumsy workarounds. These are mutually incompatible, leaving no chance of solving all the problems at once.

Yet these problems may all be simultaneously solved by indirection, through xanalogical structure-- transclusions overlaid by links. This may be most cleanly implemented by

- caching transclusion: maintaining cached portions of content with original stabilized addresses of their original sources

- content linking: addressing all links and overlays to positions in the original sources

We will discuss such a format and show a prototype system.


Ted Nelson is an idealistic troublemaker who (despite 49 years in the field) continues to strive for a radical form of deep, parallel electronic literature with visible connections.





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