Computers and Science: part 4 Hypertext Secret History

Under construction

The Secret History of Hypertext
The conventional history of computing leaves out some key thinkers.
© Mundaneum, Centre d’archives (Belgium) Alex Wright May 22, 2014 TechnologyAA017980

When Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” first appeared in The Atlantic’s pages in July 1945, it set off an intellectual chain reaction that resulted, more than four decades later, in the creation of the World Wide Web. In that landmark essay, Bush described a hypothetical machine called the Memex: a hypertext-like device capable of allowing its users to comb through a large set of documents stored on microfilm, connected via a network of “links” and “associative trails” that anticipated the hyperlinked structure of today’s Web.

Historians of technology often cite the Bush essay as the conceptual forerunner of the Web. bushAnd hypertext pioneers like Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee have all acknowledged their debt to Bush’s vision. But for all his lasting influence, Bush was not the first person to imagine something like the Web. In the years leading up to World War II, a number of European thinkers were exploring markedly similar ideas about information storage and retrieval, and even imagining the possibility of a global network—a feature notably absent from the Memex. Yet their contributions have remained largely overlooked in the conventional, Anglo-American history of computing.

Chief among them was Paul Otlet, a Belgian bibliographer and entrepreneur who, in 1934, laid out a plan for a global network of “electric telescopes” that would allow anyone in the world to access to a vast library of books, articles, photographs, audio recordings, and films.
“This synthesis of knowledge upon which you are working is the necessary beginning of a new world.”  Read it all

The word “hypertext” was first coined by Nelson in 1963, and is first found in print in a college newspaper article about a lecture he gave called “Computers, Creativity, and the Nature of the Written Word” in January, 1965:

Ted Nelson’s first use of term “hypertext”ted nelson
Mike Joyce’s Ted Sed Page

Nelson later popularized the hypertext concept in his book Literary Machines. His vision involved implementation of a “docuverse”, where all data was stored once, there were no deletions, and all information was accessible by a link from anywhere else. Navigation through the information would be non-linear, depending on each individual’s choice of links. This was more than text — it was hypertext. The web realizes part of this vision, except that there are deletions, and some information is stored in more than one place.

Nelson has continued to develop his theory, and instantiates it with Project Xanadu, a high-performance hypertext system that assures the identity of references to objects, and solves the problems of configuration management and copyright control. Anyone is allowed to reference anything, provided that references are delivered from the original, and possibly involving micro payments to the copyright holders. Readit all:

Wiki: Theodor Holm “Ted” Nelson (born June 17, 1937) is an American pioneer of information technology, philosopher, and sociologist. He coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia in 1963 and published them in 1965.[1] Nelson coined the terms transclusion,[1] virtuality,[citation needed] and intertwingularity (in Literary Machines). …Nelson founded Project Xanadu in 1960, with the goal of creating a computer network with a simple user interface. The effort is documented in his 1974 book Computer Lib / Dream Machines and the 1981 Literary Machines. Much of his adult life has been devoted to working on Xanadu and advocating for it… Nelson has stated that some aspects of his vision are being fulfilled by Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web, but he dislikes the World Wide Web, XML and all embedded markup – regarding Berners-Lee’s work as a gross over-simplification of his original vision: Read it all

Summary of Hypertext Issues Ted Nelson: Ted Nelson

The Mother of All Demos
Douglas Engelbart independently began working on his NLS system in 1962 at Stanford Research Institute, although delays in obtaining funding, personnel, and equipment meant that its key features were not completed until 1968. In December of that year, Engelbart demonstrated a hypertext interface to the public for the first time, in what has come to be known as “The Mother of All Demos”. Funding for NLS slowed after 1974.

the “Mother of All Demos”, a demonstration of experimental computer technology that in one afternoon introduced us to the mouse, video conferencing, email, hypertext, and word processing to name only a few.

Guide was a hypertext system developed by Peter J. Brown at the University of Kent in 1982. The original Guide implementation was for Three Rivers PERQ workstations running Unix. The Guide system became the third hypertext system to be sold commercially, marketed by Office Workstations Ltd (OWL) in 1984 and later by InfoAccess. “Guide” won Brown the British Computer Society’s award for technical innovation in 1988. He retired in 1999 and died of cancer in 2007, according to a tribute page at the University of Kent website.[1] Wiki This seems to be the software used by Tim Berners Lee

Ian Ritchie, founder of OWL, presented a Ted talk in 2011 describing his missed opportunity to convert Guide to a graphical browser for the Web at its inception in 1990, titled “The day I turned down Tim Berners-Lee.” [2]

In September 1986, Guide was ported by OWL to the Apple Macintosh, and in July 1987 to Microsoft Windows. (In 1987 Apple had begun giving away its own graphical programming system, HyperCard, which had some hypertext features.) According to news reports in 1988,[3] OWL announced plans to release a version of Guide for the IBM PS/2 line of computers under the name “Hyper Document,” in competition with Hypercard on the Apple Macintosh. Wiki

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