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Ted Nelson
Audio Excerpt
Generalized Links, Micropayment and Transcopyright
Ted Nelson
KIEO University

Doug Crockford: I would like to invite Ted Nelson, the inventor of various parts of hypermedia and also interested in how to distribute information.

Ted Nelson: Good day. I just got off the plane from Japan. People are finally about ready to listen. When I talked years and years ago about how millions of people would want to publish hypertext anarchicly on world-wide networks, they wouldn't stay for the second sentence. And what the second, third and fourth and the three-hundredth sentences were about was the right structure. Now that you are getting your fill of hypercard on the net, which is all the web is, how about the real stuff. Now a simple paradigm is not easy to explain. If you tried to explain to a 1920's geneticist about DNA, which we think of now as a simple paradigm, you would have a tough haul. And that is the situation I have always been in. But at last I think you are going to listen. It is obvious now in retrospect that millions of people wanted to publish anarchic, intertwined hypertext on networks. But why in the world am I the only person who predicted it. Maybe I knew something nobody else did and maybe I still do. So listen. A little of my background. I am not an engineer. I was in philosophy and showbiz. I will talk briefly about my philosophy work. I consider myself a serious intellectual and every serious intellectual is generally obsessed about some particular topic and all his or her work is a continued revision, reenveloping, reclarification of that work. I think of Marcel Proust, Sigmund Freud, everybody. These people are just turning the same ideas over and reworking. The idea system I have been working from a very early age was complex interconnection. When I was four or five years old I told this story often enough I don't really remember it. The story I can tell. I was in a rowboat with my grandparents. My grandfather was rowing, my grandmother was in the front and I had my hand in the water. I had an incredible epiphany. A hand passed through the water. Trying to imagine the moving shape of the water currents around my fingers. And how the fact the two particles, I didn't know the word particle, but two places that were together. On one side encountering my finger separated and then they would recombine somewhere else in some other adjacency relationship. And if something so small, intricate, hard to describe and hard to imagine, how much more small, intricate, hard to describe and hard to imagine was the entire universe. So trying to understand and elaborate on this has been the center of my intellectual work every since. As a junior in college I came up with what I now call general schematics, which is my philosophical work, which I hope to get some on the web this year. One branch of that I call flumatics, which is the study of the manifolds of sameness and their interconnection. And the predictability of these manifolds of sameness, but again I was working on this as an undergraduate in 1957. So that is the interesting point. The background I have. Another branch of general schematics which I call fleematics is about the reworking of structure in the light of changing set boundries, which is essentially what we are always doing in the process of induction and the processes of design. So that was the wavelength I was on intellectually. But at the same time, I had a very strong show business trait. Both my parents which I saw at different times since they were not married, were in show business and by the time I got out of college, I have been a professional actor on the stage, on television. I had produced the world's first rock musical at college, I edited newspapers and magazines, produced an LP and all that sort of thing. And I was furious at the process at writing and how long it took. The organizational problems and the arbitrariness of writing. The process that fascinated me most was cut and paste. Now, we are on delicate ground here because my blood boils when I think of what Apple did to those two words. For example, my grandmother told me an anecdote about Tolstoy. Tolstoy would have his daughters write out a whole version in long hand--he would dictate--but two copies. One he would cut up, put all over the floor, the other of course would be a record of that draft. Then this cut up rearrangement, looking at it all together is what most writers have done until the era of word processing. That is called cut and paste. That is the true meaning of cut and paste. The parallel consideration of a large number of things and there most appropriate relationship. So the fact that some bloody engineer at Xerox Parc or Apple changed the meanings of these holy words to mean hide and plug outrages me since it is C&B on the Macintosh, cram and bum it. This is a wonderful thing about the so called clipboard. This is what they call a metaphor. The clipboard on the Macintosh is a metaphor for something or other because it resembles an ordinary clipboard in every respect except you can't see it. Anything that you put on it destroys the previous contents. And so you can instantly lose what is on it if you are absent minded like me and the phone rings. So I say it is just like an ordinary clipboard in every other respect except there aren't any. So the fact that this asinine metaphor design was coupled with the redefinition of two very very important words so that now the public now thinks cut and paste is natural to computers. In all of my designs from the very beginning, the sacredness of human inspiration was the center. My typical user would come running in, rushing to the keyboard, no time to open the file, turn on the machine, or name anything. You start typing, then one thought interrupts and you start typing that other thing. And you keep backing up and returning and reweaving and every one of these should be stored on disk immediately whenever it is finished or put aside and printed out immediately whenever it is finished or put aside. So that in the event of total failure of the system, you are completely up to date. That was 1962 and 24 years later they brought the Macintosh with this abominable hidey-hole and they are convincing people that this is the way writing systems should work. So I took a computer course in 1960 and I was conflicted. Was I going to go into show business (I had made a movie and that was my true love) or was I going to stay in academia where I could talk fast and use long words without people saying, "Oh, that's a long word." I took a computer course and there was another epiphany because the engineers didn't know what they had created. People said these deal with numbers. Well, they were wrong. They dealt with my favorite thing -- arbitrary abstractions. Computers deal with arbritrary abstractions of many kinds. So the question is, "What arbitrary abstractions do we desire?" So we can design anything. Secondly, it was a show biz machine because you could put a screen on it. The screen could respond and therefore we could have a new responding literature. I am only saying what I have been saying for 36 years. It is very ironic to be talking in a conference called "New Paradigms." Right. So the issue then was not whether or not we would replace books, but making sure we replaced books with something better that lost nothing of the previous because I love books. Negroponte does not like to read, so what can he tell up about media? So the issue is how to manage all these new data forms in the evolving and emerging new media structures of the future, which will be interactive. The inspiration I had then, and this was between October and December 1960, the idea was all nailed by Christmas was the notion of transclusion as the cornerstone. People are just getting that now. You might look at Martin Haeberli's example of transclusion on the web. So that is the cornerstone. Now let me talk about transclusion. Let me talk identic relationships. The term identic you might enjoy looking up in the dictionary. I hope it does not have some mathematical definition. I am just trying use it here to mean some relationship showing the two data structures are the same. The number of different identic relationships in the computer field. A copy is in identic relationship with its original. An instance is in identic relationship with its original. A cached copy is in identic relationship with its original. A counted reference is in identic relationship with the places, the context, that reference it. So these are different identic relationships with different properties. Write-through cache, write-back cache. So now I want to tell you about another identic relationship. I am calling it transclusion. Think of it as hypersharing if you like. What it is is this. There is only one copy, one master copy of anything. Let's call it a cosmic original. Every other copy you see is a manifestation of this cosmic original. I use these terms because I don't believe they are currently in use. So when you see the Lord Shiva over the road, is it a copy of Lord Shiva? Of course not, it is the real guy. And so it should be with all text. We should never have to type anything twice. So this repurposes the entire computer system into a box which maintains the connections between all of the transitory and cached pieces whose identity is maintained with its original. There is a term I just learned from quantum physics. Two particles are entangled, supposedly when two photons are created, they are entangled so that if one is destroyed the other one disappears. No matter how far apart they are. So this entanglement between the cosmic original and all of its manifestations is the issue. Let me tell you some criteria for transclusion. Suppose you have a paragraph and you transclude it into another document and there is a link on the third word in that paragraph, that same link is on the third word in all manifestations of that paragraph. Furthermore, transclusions can be viewed side by side by side so you can intercompare context or you can do a transclusive rotation looking at a paragraph in different contexts and going on to another context. So that is the center and always was the center of the Xanadu project. What ticks me off is that people said that we were "bragging" when we said we could do this when it was a design requirement. So given this a lot of things come clear if you are willing to make the sacrifice. One of them is the copyright issue, which is as far as I am concerned very largely nailed. Because what I foresaw in the original model of 1960 was that millions of people would be publishing on networks, I didn't know what the network would be called, and freely able to quote. You see I believed in copyright. I had my first copyright certificates from my freshman year. And at the same time, I believed in the sentiments of the anticopyright people that here is all this great stuff that we can't reproduce, publish and recomposite. Why can't we reconcile these two objectives? With transclusion you may recomposite anything there is provided that the rights holder allows transclusion. Because you can recomposite that material by pointer. You simply include a pointer to the original. So moving now to my web page. 32 years I have pursued this objective. The Xanadu project which you may have heard of, has been the endeavored to create this publishing system. I did it with much consultation with computer people but I could never find anyone I agreed with, except the hardy few band of brothers who joined me in this Xanadu enterprise. But now because nobody wanted to hear about Xanadu any more and because we now have a functioning worldwide hypertext system, bad as it may be. We can begin to fix it. And so what I am proposing is I now call the Osmic Standard. We will now go to transcopyright. So I turned the whole Xanadu project inside out. I now own the Xanadu name again. In the old days Xanadu was going to be a Compuserve-like service where everybody would be able to publish, everybody would be able to read, and the respective royalty from each portion would go to its originator. Satisfying both of the objectives -- the copyright people and the anticopyright people. Free to recomposite, everything retraced and carrying a royalty. So the transcopyright doctrine is an endeavor to turn the old Xanadu model inside out. You would have been required to publish under this copyright system had the old Xanadu service been put into operation as foreseen. Now the transcopyright doctrine I have worked out with lawyers essentially poses in a legal framework the same proposal. Transcopyright is a permission system encapsulated in a word. Basically transcopyright is a permission doctrine. Let me make a comparison. We already have a common law permission doctrine called shareware. I believe the term was invented by my friend Bob Wallace. Shareware means you are free to share this. It does not say there is no royalty, it does not say there is no copyright, but it is a common law permission doctrine that everyone understands and therefore it has legal standing in court. The word shareware encapsulates in a simple word the legal doctrine, "I permit you to share this software, details to be announced later." So you will find the details probably on the disk. Similarly I am trying to establish the word transcopyright as an encapsulation of the permission to reuse by transclusion. To reuse it, for example the demo I am going to show you, is just a picture I put on my web page and a permission to reuse it in any web page you like with the image source. This requires no technical implementation whatever, at least for pictures because you can use this image source in any web page in the world. Why don't people do this? Some do but why isn't is widely done because you don't have permission. That is one reason. Also because publishing is not stable. The worlwide web is like a froth of ever-popping bubbles, but we will get to that. So how do we get you this pernmission in an expeditious fashion. I suggest that you put the word transcopyright next to it, year and name aren't necessary. The copyright notice used to be required in order to maintain our claim to copyright. If you publish without copyright notice, you lost your copyright. No longer. That copyright notice is no longer necessary. You are perfectly free.

Speaker: Even for the stuff that is free for which you have permission, you can copy all of this. The issue is performance or liability. The author does not want to have to serve all those gifts every time and besides that if I am going to use this gift I want to make sure it is up at the same time my page is and not dependent upon the vagaries of whether or not you are still the keogh. Even if you assume that you have worked out the legal and financial issues around transcopyright, which seems dubious. You have suddenly formed a new kind of contract and people tend to use contracts they are familiar with rather than ones that have terms and conditions they have to parse and understand. Copyright is a social invention as well as a legal one. Suddenly this new term has to make its way through the culture before I think anyone would widely adopt it.

Ted Nelson: To answer your question, the caching issue is an optimization issue and I am sure that services will, if this works, pop up. But I believe you are wrong in saying that anyone can just transclude now. Because just try and transclude one of Netscape's pictures and see what happens.

Speaker: Probably the same thing that happened to John McCarthy.

Ted Nelson: Maybe, but I think you will also find some people who will be very unfriendly.

Speaker: My name is Tim MacMurray and I have a question about transcopyright transclusion. What about value-added providers that are say constructing a database of images and they want to do some preanalysis on all these images so that they can do, for example, what is being done here at Almaden, where you can query by image content. Someone says I want something that is such a percentage red or orange or I want an object that is moving left to right at such and such a speed. So now you have this service provider who doesn't want to touch every image and pay for them by touching and analyzing them, but they want to provide their added information to somebody who wants to find a picture with certain qualities or certain kinds of image content, be they stills or video. So will this still work with that or just have to go through....

Ted Nelson: I am sure somebody will. I mean let's face it, the computer field is about the politics of standardization and if this works, then the auxiliary services will pop up. There will be some way to do it.

Speaker: Ted, you talk about you don't want to have everything so leave it where it is. But I don't want everything. I just want a few things and I am willing to make room for them in my house. The question is how does this whole system interact if I want to have my own version of these things?

Ted Nelson: One of the components of the system is the software for managing your personal media. Because, of course, everyone's personal media is going to escalate far beyond what we expect, as it always does. In other words, people have more video tapes than they expected to have and they have more books than they expected to have. And you are going to be drowning in media fragments, some of which are transcluded and therefore have multiple identities to you. And so you are going to need software which captures and organized and makes available all these fragments and pieces you are going to be keeping. And by the way, under the transcopyright system, when there is micro-purchase, I think there should also be a receipt. Because there will be copyright cops. I did not create this system. I laugh at danger, but there will be copyright cops and they will be breaking in on somebody. The whole point is that this is a squeaky clean way it can be done. So what is missing then in this is also a data management system that we have needed all along. I mean everybody is drowning in files they can't find.

Speaker: You are going back to your original premise that I won't want to have it where I live.

Ted Nelson: No, I said you are because you are going to have the software on your machine.

Speaker: I want your picture because I like to throw darts and I don't want to have to get it every tinme so how do I make sure I can have it on my screen everytime I take the darts out?

Ted Nelson: Put it on your system. All I was saying--I was leaping ahead to assume most people are going to keep a lot of stuff and third-party software will be needed to manage huge bodies of keepage. But for you, no. You only have a few things in your spartan household and that is great.

Speaker: Just to clarify. You are talking about transclusion where it is not only pointers, but there are actual copies of data that are being moved across the network.

Ted Nelson: Transclusion: you are simulating and enacting and bringing about a situation in which all instances can be regarded as the master. Naturally there must be many copies and this is a point that many people have missed because of the emphasis on the original. But I have been restating it now. The cosmic original and the manifestations. And bringing that about not because it's our computer's work, but rather because it is how computers ought to work.

Speaker: This is Mark Haverly of Netscape again. I just want to make a brief comment about the previous search engine questions. It turns out that question has been answered thoroughly at least by some attorneys in the search engine business. I know that the people at Lycos spent thousands of dollars getting this problem solved in the context of text. The solution is that the correct way for them to gather the test, and by the way, sure enough get every bite of that text that they index, into their computers. The correct way for them to extract it without storing their representation of early text and then make that available as a complete reepresentation. Then making that available for text searching purposes. A similar answer would arguably apply in the case of images. That is somebody who is doing the image search thing he is talking about would not necessarily stores instances of all those images. Rather they would process them, create an abstract, and higher millions of dollars of lawyers. So unfortunately we are talking about the legal full-employment act again.

Speaker: But I don't see why everybody here is against social solutions.

Martin Haeberli: I'm not. I am just trying to make sure we are realistic about it. What I am saying that in some sense as a mathemetician I would argue this problem has been solved before so we can move on to some other one.

Ted Nelson: The point is that obviously this is a combination of social, legal, economic and technical issues. So the problem is to find solutions everybody wants. I think it is a win-win and it is clean, that's all.

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