Theodor Holm Nelson
Copyright (c) 1993 Xanadu On-Line Publishing
THE XANADU SYSTEM IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM EVERY OTHER PLAN FOR
MULTIMEDIA AND ELECTRONIC LITERATURE.
DO NOT CONFUSE XANADU WITH ANYTHING ELSE.
Why do they call us a cult?
Because we think differently from everyone else. We are striving to
create a unified, universal literature, available to everyone both as
readers and contributors, instantly available everywhere, with the
ability to publish connections freely. That is, anyone may publish
footnotes, comments, disagreements; and anyone may quote, republish,
anthologise and otherwise re-use everything in the system -- provided
that the republication stays within the Xanadu world. All this includes
automatic and innocuous royalty.
This raises many questions which cannot all be answered briefly.
Suffice it to say that we have many answers. A few follow.
What is Xanadu Publishing?
The term "universal electronic library" has been suggested. Perhaps
"universal bookstore" is more like it. World Publishing Repository(TM)
is perhaps the most appropriate term.
The Xanadu system has been designed from the literary point of view, the
computer point of view, the business point of view and the legal point
The Xanadu publishing system will be a licensed method of on-line
electronic publication provided by vendors throughout the world.
"Publication" consists of placing a digital document somewhere in the
repository network. A document may include text, picutres, audio,
movies and nay other form of digital information. Readers, or users,
are of course at screens. Any user in the world may send for any
document, or any part of a document. The publisher pays only for the
storage; the user pays for delivery, including a royalty to the
The user obtains a digital copy of everything he or she sends for -- to
keep or discard. The user may point and click to travel among
documents, obtaining only the small part needed to keep going.
Staying within the Xanadu on-line world, anyone may publish a connection
to a document -- a comment, illustration, disagreement, or link of any
other type; and anyone may quote from a published Xanadu document, since
the quotation is bought from the original publisher at the time of
delivery. The publisher agrees to be legally responsible for the
contents and agrees to interconnection by anyone.
Based on literature as we know it
"Literature" is a debugged system used and understood throughout the
world. Documents are information packages with points of view,
literature is a system of interconnected documents. Xanadu is
intended to allow millions of points of veiw and to keep track exactly
of all their interconnections.
No point of view
Other electronic media have viewpoints deeply embedded in the design of
the system (such as keywords and categories). Xanadu places all the
viewpoints where they belong, in the separately owned documents and
keeps the overall system viewpoint-free.
Simplicity & Ease, point-&-click
The system is intended for a point-and-click universe that even a child
can find her or his way around in. The user points at the desired link
on the screen; the user's screen machine -- that is, underlying computer
-- automatically purchases the linked material from its publisher and
brings that material to the screen. Thus anyone can go from document to
document within this universe without having to learn "computer
The Next Fragment
The user does not have to buy whole documents. Instead, she or he
simply purchases the next fragment desired. These may add up to whole
documents, or not.
Simple basic concepts
The basic concepts are simple but sophisticated and powerful, and can be
built into structures and uses of every kind.
The concepts are the document, the link and the
- A document is an information package with a point of view.
- A link is a connection between parts of documents, or parts of
one document. A link is owned by its publisher, but may be connected to
documents owned and published by others. Links may be of many types.
- A transclusion is a part of a document (call it A) that
happens to be stored as part of another document (call it B), and is
brought from that other place in B whenever A is sent for.
Inside-out from today's electronic media
Xanadu is different from, or opposite to, almost everything that
is happening in the field of electronic media, including:
- Not like CD-ROM
CD-ROM is not electronic publishing. It is publishing plastic. It has
boundaries. No one may interconnect to a document published in CD-ROM.
- Not like CLOSED MEDIA UNITS (such as ACROBAT(TM))
Many standards exist for closed media which no one may connect data
to. These include: CD-ROM (already mentioned). The new Adobe Acrobat,
for instance, mimics paper and is a closed application. So are
PostScript(TM), SGML, HyperCard(TM), and scripting languages offered by
Kaleida, General Magic, etc., etc.
- Not like TEXT SEARCH
Searching text for particular words is a useful tool. However, it
only works when the authors of the document use the same terms you
expect. For the World Publishing Repository, we rely much more on links
that allow instantaneous travel between documents.
- Not like ON-LINE CONFERENCES, DISCUSSION GROUPS, FORUMS, NEWSGROUPS
On-line confereces (called various things) are very popular these
days, but the problem is that the conversation among the many
participants sprawls in all directions.
The usual solution is to have a closed boundary around the original
"topic" of the discussion, sternly administered by an editor or manager
(or, in the case of Prodigy(TM), by a comprehensive system of automatic
We find this unacceptable.
In Xanadu conferences, because of the unique connection system, the same
materials may be simultaneously in many different discussions managed by
different people and with different boundaries reflecting different
points of view.
Open use -- all connect & re-use
Anyone may publish links to any document already on Xanadu. Likewise
anyone may re-use material already on Xanadu as boilerplate, as long as
that material is re-used by transclusion rather than by copying. This
assures that every new use will be bought from the original publisher.
This is a medium for publishing in all areas. Indeed, since we do not
see boundaries between different areas, we see all publishing methods
that restrict themselves to given areas as hobbled.
Because it will be equally available to everyone at low cost, and open
to all points of view, we believe Xanadu is a populist medium.
There are no sharp lines between subjects, and Generalists are those
people who pursue their interests without regard to artificial boundary
lines. There are more and more brilliant generalists throughout the
world, but the existing publication media subdivide the world of ideas
and information artificially. Xanadu does not.
Many different points of view, including unpopular and eccentric ones,
may be freely published in Xanadu, linked to the materials they agree
and disagree with.
In today's publishing world, only those viewpoints held by those with mondy, or other access to media, may be published. This is not the democratic ideal.
There are no boundaries in Xanadu. A document may be of any size,
spread across many disks in many places. Anyone may publish connections
to the document.
There are no boundaries to categories in Xanadu; you are not restricted
to the way that someone else sees the world.
Open controversy and argument are not well represented by existing
systems. We intend to change that.
Minority points of view
Many points of view cannot be publicly expressed in today's world. We
intend to change that.
Today's systems of education are deeply hampered by artificial
categories and divisions among subjects, and by forms of teaching that
make them uninteresting. Since Xanadu will allow anyone to explore any
subject in his or her own style, we see it as a medium for true
"Just connect and keep going"
The reader need not master computerish styles of interaciton; she or he
need only start and one document and click across the universe from
Many digital publishing systems have been built without understanding of
the legal system and are building a field of naive expectations. Xanadu
has been built with firm understanding of copyright and liability law.
Many computer people naively think that copyright will go away. We
assume that it will not, and that the Xanadu system must work in a world
of copyright law; but we are able to make copyright and royalty
innocuous and smooth.
"Xanadu", "World Publishing Repository" and the flaming
X logo are trade and service marks of
Xanadu On-Line Publishing
3020 Bridgeway #295, Sausalito CA 94965 USA