Google Tech Talk: Fixing Electronic Literature … with Transclusion

Fascinating Tech Talk by Ted Nelson. For those who haven’t heard of him Nelson is the man who coined the phrase hypertext all the way back in 1963. Nelson has spent several decades trying to make computers easily accessible to ordinary people. He’s been working towards finding ways to improve web structure, arguing that as it stands the web is actually very limited by browsers we use and that the one-way links that appear on pages actually limit connectivity. In part he attributes this to the fact that the web imitates paper … watch the talk to understand why I wont delve into that here.

He’s an advocate of Transclusion based hypertext, the idea of including parts of documents within other documents by reference, so you aren’t storing the same bits of information twice.

After listening to the tech talk what strikes me is that this kind of approach will work well when the transcluded sections of text are actually self contained and that the meaning and the validity of the text is independent of the context in which it is transcluded into other documents. I don’t know how well that would work since context forms an important part of any document, and its very difficult to write documents without forming some kind of context, that’s why there’s always an inherent danger when you tug in a quote that you might mis-represent it or use it in a context it was never intended to ( just ask the Pope!). I know Nelson says that you can compare the context side by side, yet this doesn’t seem intuitive to me.

I know the man is the genius who is credited for inventing hypertext so why am I not convinced, am I missing something? Any thoughts anyone?

Actually thinking about it the Xanadu document browser Nelson shows off in the tech talk, is very similar to a Document Hyper browser developed at Xerox Research that Alan once showed me. I cant find any reference to it … but I’m seeing him tomorrow so I’ll ask him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *