Ted Nelson

Ted Nelson

Theodor Holm Nelson (born 1937) is an American sociologist, philosopher, and pioneer of information technology. He coined the term "hypertext" in 1963 and published it in 1965. He also is credited with first use of the words hypermedia, transclusion, virtuality, intertwingularity and teledildonics. The main thrust of his work has been to make computers easily accessible to ordinary people. His motto is:

A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within ten seconds.

Ted Nelson promotes four maxims: "most people are fools, most authority is malignant, God does not exist, and everything is wrong". (See chapter II, 3rd paragraph, 3rd and 4th sentence in: "The Curse of Xanadu".)

After taking a computer course at Harvard in 1960 Ted Nelson began a mystical journey. He started exploring the possibility of liberating text from paper, of developing a means whereby writers could harness text in a manner closer to human cognitive patterns: i.e., the way words flowed through our minds. In 1965 Nelson coined the term hypertext. Ultimately, in his brilliant 1974 book, "Computer Lib/Dream Machines," he laid down the foundation for a communications theory transcending text. Hypertext became hypermedia. Imagery and sound played roles equal to text. Nelson realized that personal computers with multimedia capabilities must burst the boundaries of artistically rendering internal reflection.

Nelson co-founded Itty bitty machine company, or "IBM", which was a small computer retail store operating from 1977 to 1980 in Evanston, Illinois. The Itty bitty machine company was one of the few retail stores to sell the original Apple I computer. In 1978 he had a significant impact upon IBM's thinking when he outlined his vision of the potential of personal computing to the team that three years later launched the IBM PC.

Ted Nelson is currently working on a new information structure, ZigZag, which is described on the Xanadu project website, which also hosts two versions of the Xanadu code. He is also currently developing XanaduSpace - a system for the exploration of connected parallel documents (an early version of this software may be freely downloaded from. He is a visiting fellow at Oxford University - based at the Oxford Internet Institute - where he works in the fields of information, computers, and human-machine interfaces.

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Date Event
1963 Theodore H (Ted) Nelson coins the word Hypertext





Ted Nelson

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