Dr Ted Nelson visits the University

Author: Thomas Davidson 
Recently, WWW pioneer Dr Ted Nelson came to the University of Southampton to deliver a web science lecture; entitled ‘Two Cheers for Now’. Broadly speaking, this was a fascinating lecture covering the progress of the web to where it is today, alongside an examination of some of the alternatives that were developed alongside the world wide web (and some information from Dr Ted Nelson).
No matter any given persons technical knowledge, many will be familiar with one of Dr Ted Nelson’s most famous ‘creations’ – the terms hypertext and hypermedia. These are often used in conjunction alongside any discussion regarding the web, with the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) being one of the key protocols in the web functioning as we know it today. However, Ted Nelson spent much of the lecture discussing one of his largest projects he worked on – Project Xanadu.
Xanadu was intended to be an alternative to the web, with some useful advantages – it would be able to succeed exactly where HTML fails; such as the maintenance of visible links between resources, a lack of version/rights management and the ability to trace links through documents.
Much of this concept was focused around the idea of being able to view two documents simultaneously, with the Xanadu able to display a visual connection as a drawn line between two connected sections on the documents. According to Nelson, this functionality would greatly increase productivity, and as thus Xanadu was better than the web we have today.

Nelson was by no means coy when it came to critiquing the web – he was very open about flaws with the internet and went as far as to state ‘The World Wide Web was a success because of two mistakes I made’. To what extent this is true we may never know, but it is certain that Nelson feels strongly about the shortcomings of the web.  Despite the apparent invitation to controversy, the lecture itself was a fascinating insight into fundamental aspects of web science, and one of the major precursors to the web. Dr Ted Nelson certainly knows how to deliver an exciting lecture, with the audience loving every moment.
Below is a Storify of tweets from the lecture, and an audio recording – which forms a brilliant representation of some of the best quotes and happenings!

 

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