Archive-name: xanadu/future.html
Last-modified: 1994/03/23

The Information Future

One simple idea

There are many views of just what tomorrow's electronic media will be, and how they will reach the consumer. The Xanadu plan proposes a single unified world of data to which everyone will have point-and-click access from whatever computer, videogame or multimedia player they want to use.

Think of it as a real data bank. Just as you put your money in a bank for safekeeping, you can put your data on the Xanadu network for safekeeping. And in the same way that your money can earn interest in a bank, your data can make money too. If anybody wants pieces of it, they buy it from the network and you get paid. You get paid even if other people use parts of it in their work. On the Xanadu network, any object may quote from any other, since the material quoted is bought from the original publisher at the time of delivery. We've succeeded in cleaning up the copyright problem for computer networks.

Besides what individuals and publishers put in, new forms of interconnection and quotation are possible creating a new world of metamedia objects.

The multimedia connection problem

Current "multi-media standards" as practiced by the industry are built on a closed-unit philosophy, whereby multimedia objects are encapsulations that do not allow interconnection between documents. This is a dead-end world.

Xanadu structure is built for OPEN HYPERMEDIA PUBLISHING, allowing free interconnection among documents. Every author of a new document is free to connect to previous documents, including quotation, without pre-arrangement or advance payment.

If you are an AUTHOR or ARTIST:

You can make your work available with very little difficulty -- whether it's poetry or a novel; photography, music or movies; or some new medium you have invented. As long as it's digital, you can publish it yourself on Xanadu at a small cost (depending on the medium and how much computer storage space it takes). Or you can give the job of publishing and marketing your work to someone else.

Once your materials are on the network, anyone with a modem can buy a copy and make connections to it that make it even more interesting or useful for others. Each time material from your document or object is bought by anybody, you can get a royalty on that fragment.

If you would like to READ, ROAM, EXPLORE and EXPERIENCE:

All you will need will be your computer, a modem or other network connection and a Xanadu exploration program, then you simply sign up for an account with your preferred Xanadu service provider. Different service providers will offer different conveniences. One may be near your home. Another may offer better prices or a special deal you like. Many will be on the Internet. But as soon as you connect to one service provider, YOU HAVE ACCESS TO WHAT'S ON ALL OF THEM.

Now, starting anywhere, you can point and click, sending for text, graphics, music and audio, photographs, movies and everything else in the ever-expannding world of Xanadu literature. You pay for whatever you retrieve, but you need only buy those parts you find interesting or useful. To help you do this,information will be available to you about the author, type and price of a document. Also available will be reviews by others, electronic "dust jackets", advertising summaries with quotations prepared by the publishers themselves. There is no distinction between just looking at a document and saving it since anyone with a modem can save whatever is sent. Therefore, the user is free to keep a copy of what has been looked at, but the price for this is low.

A user may simultaneously read and publish like users on electronic forums. But in our system there are no boundaries to forums or discussion groups, royalty is built in and links among documents are part of the docuverse.

If you are a PUBLISHER:

The publisher is the person or company that takes responsibility for the contents of the published material. In the paper world, the publisher often arranges for the production of a work, its manufacture (as a book or other physical object) and for the marketing and distribution. In return the publisher collects a percentage of the profits. It is much the same in the Xanadu world. The publisher is the person or company that signs the deal with a Xanadu service provider. The publisher will still need to perform all of the usual functions including marketing, but Xanadu will now perform in essence the manufacture and distribution functions.

The publication contract

Just as a paper publisher contracts with a printer, a Xanadu publisher contracts with a Xanadu service provider. A formal contract is signed arranging payment for storage and other aspects. If you are the publisher, you are responsible for avoiding publishing material you do not own or that violates the law or rights of others who may sue you. As a publisher you agree to abide by the laws. You agree to pay in advance for at least three years' storage of your material in three places for safety. Publishers pay for storage, users pay for delivery. You also agree to permit others to make links or transclusions (quotation pointers) to your document.

As the publisher, you decide the amount of royalty and you receive whatever royalties are paid by users of your document on the network. You must then distribute these royalties to participating authors or others with whom you have made payment commitments.

If you or your company would like to be a SERVICE PROVIDER:

The Xanadu network will have many service providers of all kinds and sizes, ranging from individuals publishing the work of a small town or neighborhood to huge telephone companies. There will be many ways to participate and many ways to compete or find a particular niche in the market. All supply the same basic service. All Xanadu service providers will use a common system of software and supply material on request by users, forming one great common pool.

How it works in detail

Think of the Xanadu network as a single place for storing and publishing electronic documents and selling digital objects with interconnections and new objects made from them. The Xanadu network is not necessarily physically connected, but an affiliation of centres whose server computers behave as a single entity using the Xanadu publication method. These are run by companies and individuals who choose to be service providers using the shared method.
All the contents on all of the Xanadu storage servers act as a single pool. You can send for any part of any document or link to or quote any part of any document.

Users ask for pieces of documents and objects. A request is received by the user's session node which fans it out to wherever the material is.

The user's payment is correspondingly sent to those publishers involved with the transaction.


People are free to read anything. Xanadu creates a point-and-click universe with user freedom.

All hypertext jumps are reversible. Under other systems the reader is often tunnelled into reading in only one direction on any given document. We believe the reader must always be free to go back, turn the page, fast-forward or access the original document of a quote.

The system will not keep records of who sends for what; otherwise reading becomes a political act.

People will be free to jump into a document at any place and use it according to their own preferences.

Definition of terms

The computer screen makes new forms of writing possible that are not sequential. "Hypertext," a term coined by us, mean non-sequential writing for the computer screen (our term "hypertext" is now in wide popular usage).

"Hypermedia," another of our terms, extends the hypertext concept to sound, video and computer graphics. Multimedia presentations where the user may branch and explore have now become recognised as an exciting new educational and artistic medium. The Manhole, Virtual Valerie and Carmen Sandiego are among titles already popular in this area. CD-I and 3DO are among the hardware players being fielded. Some use the term "interactive multimedia," but it is indeed the same thing as hypermedia.

We think the future goes far beyond hardware players and plastic disks. Tomorrow's publishing for computer screens will be principally over networks. Xanadu has been planned from the beginning as a network for delivery of copyrighted media to users on demand.

Our copyright solution has always been for the user to pay a small royalty to the media publisher for every byte sent. Instead of buying whole documents, this allows the user continually to pick and choose on line. This is necessary in a hypermedia world, since the user will typically not buy whole publications, but move and ramble unpredictably. The royalty is paid automatically at the instant of delivery, only and exactly for the portion sent.

This in turn means that any publisher in our system may quote any other publisher freely since the "quotation" is a pointer to the original publication. The user automatically sends for the quotation from the original publisher, paying the royalty to the original publisher.

Material which is virtually included in this way, from one document to another, we call transcluded, and this form of quoting in a new published document we call transpublication.

Anyone is free to transpublish anything since it still belongs to the original publisher and stays in the original publisher's storage space. And the original publisher gets the royalty on the portions which are transpublished.

For all participants within the Xanadu network, this cleans up the copyright issue:

Everything may be freely re-used and quoted anywhere in our network in this manner. Its publication on our network includes permission for this arrangement.

We believe this will be the universal solution to the copyright issue in our time and that others operating in this computer multimedia area do not yet understand this.

We call the whole system of publication "open hypermedia publishing" because anyone can link to, and re-use, materials of any kind throughout the network. We believe that Xanadu Open Hypermedia Publishing is the publishing medium of the future, combining all forms of media -- text, graphics, audio and music, video, simulations, data structures -- into tomorrow's new information world.

Explaining it quickly

  1. Xanadu is a system for the network sale of documents with automatic royalty on every byte.
  2. The transclusion feature allows quotation of fragments of any size with royalty to the original publisher.
  3. This is an implementation of a connected literature.
  4. It is a system for a point-and-click universe.
  5. This is a completely interactive docuverse.

"Xanadu: The Information Future" was compiled from the writings of Ted Nelson by Katherine Phelps of Xanadu Australia, PO Box 4234, Croydon Hills VIC 3136, Australia. Email: "Xanadu" is a trade and service mark of Xanadu On-Line Publishing, 3020 Bridgeway #295, Sausalito CA 94965 USA. Copyright (c) 1994 Xanadu Australia and Xanadu On-Line Publishing.