April 3, 2008

Programs Ted Nelson Likes

by Nick Montfort · , 6:37 pm
Nelson at WVU

I just got to hear Ted Nelson (inventor of the term “hypertext,” author of Computer Lib/Dream Machines and Literary Machines) kick off the Codework workshop with his talk here at West Virginia University. I did not take notes during Nelson’s talk. The basic ideas he expounded (as one might guess) were the ones expressed in his books and in the last talk of his that I heard, in 2001 at Brown. He showed some examples of cross-document connections and transclusion in Xanadu Space, and demonstrated the underlying data representation, ZigZag.

I will mention, though, the question I asked and the answer Nelson gave. I wondered if he – so influential in communicating to people how computers can be used to enlarge the mind and liberate people – could tell us a few programs that he encountered that showed him that potential. He mentioned the programming langauge Prograph and a language that gives the capability to produce executables for PC and Mac, REALbasic. When I pressed him to mention any programs – including small-scale ones like games – that influenced him, he said he wasn’t a game guy and just mentioned some other “full platforms” that aren’t computers: Tinderbox, Emacs, and Flash. Well, on the one hand, I was hoping to learn about smaller-scale non-applications that showed the potential of the computer. (Did he like Eliza? The animals “AI” game? Anything like that?) But, Nelson is not a games guy – he’s a meta guy, interested in platforms, programming languages, and development systems. So this was a fair answer. And I’ll have to check out Prograph and REALbasic.