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Ted Nelson is one of the theoretical pioneers of the world wide web who is best known for inventing the concept of hypertext and hypermedia in the 1960s. As one of the early theorists on how a networked world would work, Nelson proposed a system where copying and linking any text excerpt, image or form was possible. However, in Nelson’s system, the links were permanent, allowing users to follow the trail to the original, and even compare versions of that original side by side. Users could also insert their own links and comments.
Nelson was not the first to demonstrate the concept of hypertext. Douglas Engelbart provided the proof of concept independently from Nelson’s work. Nelson began work on a hypertext system that would operate using micropayments to the authors when anyone copied a part of their work for use somewhere else. This ambitious project was called Project Xanadu. The project rambled on for decades, changing hands, gaining funding and losing funding, when Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web and took away the market Xanadu was attempting to create. Xanadu is still being developed, but whether it will yield a superior web or continue to be an interesting “what if” side note remains to be seen.
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