Electronic Publishing -- SIMS 290
Dale Dougherty

Key Developments in Electronic Publishing

We’re going to look at three key people and three technology trends that have defined and shaped electronic publishing.

EP is Computerized Publishing

"The evolution of the personal computer has followed a path similar to that of the printed book, but in 40 years instead of 600."

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
Alan Kay

Freedom of Information

In 1983, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov told the New York Times that Russia would lose the cold war because America believed in technology and computers and the "Soviet government was afraid to allow the use of computers to become widespread for fear that they would encourage a freer exchange of information, and an increased flow of information would undermine the state."

Source: InfoCulture, p. 311

An Ideal World

A kind of utopian idealism motivates early thinkers who believe that computers will promote the free and open exchange of information and knowledge.

Most of us continue to believe that.


Three Visionaries

Three Streams of Development

Vannevar Bush

As We May Think

Publishing in 1945 in the Atlantic; writing for a general audience.

After the war, he asks "What are scientists going to do next?" What is the next big challenge? What is worthy of our best effort?

His answer was organizing and sharing knowledge more effectively.

As We May Think

A Problem of Too Much Information and the Difficulty of Knowing What's Available

"The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present-day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record."

"A record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted. Today we make the record conventionally by writing and photography, followed by printing; but we also record on film, on wax disks, and on magnetic wires. Even if utterly new recording procedures do not appear, these present ones are certainly in the process of modification and extension."

"To make the record, we now push a pencil or tap a typewriter. Then comes the process of digestion and correction, followed by an intricate process of typesetting, printing, and distribution."

"Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing."

Associations and Trails

"The human mind does not work [in a logical, linear] way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature."

The Memex

Bush proposes a device that implements his vision.

"Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ``memex'' will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory."

"It affords an immediate step, however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing."

"Moreover, when numerous items have been thus joined together to form a trail, they can be reviewed in turn, rapidly or slowly, by deflecting a lever like that used for turning the pages of a book. It is exactly as though the physical items had been gathered together to form a new book. It is more than this, for any item can be joined into numerous trails."

Further reading:

Profile of Bush in Wired: The Godfather.

Doug Engelbart

Engineer of Hypermedia Systems

Currently runs The Bootstrap Institute

Perhaps best known as the inventor of the mouse and builder of one of the first workstations; maybe the first to really think about humans "interacting" with a computer.

Mainframe in Engelbart's lab was the second put on the ARPANet (the precursor to the Internet) when the ARPANet was first implemented. He was first in line because he was tasked by ARPA to run the Network Information Center (NIC), which has since grown into the InterNIC.

NLS (oNLine System) demonsration in 1968 debut of the mouse, hypermedia and videoconferencing; connected two locations – SF and SRI in Menlo Park.

NLS was according to Nelson "a large scale setup for the storage, bringing forth, viewing and revision of documents and connections among them." (Nelson, Dream Machines, p 16.)

Augmentation vs. Automation

The Problem of Computerization

"the technical elements would shoot way ahead of the non-technical, and tend to automate rather than augment human intellect."

"What would be needed would be to engineer all the elements in an accelerating co-evolutionary process, setting up advanced pilot "outposts" in which to experiment and explore future work modes. He further surmised that an early target for application should be to support improvement activities, especially the designers, implementers, and deployers of these tools and practices (the essence of bootstrapping). (from a biography on his site.) "

Engelbart's Key Paper

Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework was written in 1962 while he was at SRI.

"By "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems."

Describes "notecard" system, which becomes a popular metaphor for organizing information.

"Mainly what is new is the use of the smaller units of information, in restricted-subject sets (notedecks) so that I gain considerable flexibility in the manipulations of my thought products at the level at which I actually work in my minute-by-minute struggle with analytical and formulative thought."

Engelbart's Achievements

His achievement was his struggle to manifest a technology platform that was 20 years away, using mainframes, crude CRT devices and limited networking. He helped to make real the idea of a shared, interactive text as a product of collaboration.

Ted Nelson

Philosopher of Hypertext

Coined the term "hypertext" in 1965 to mean non-sequential writing; his unrealized project Xanadu, his albatross.

Manifesto: "I claim that the precepts of designing systems that touch people’s minds, or the contents to be shown in them, are simple and universal…I claim that to design systems that involve both machines and people’s minds is art first, technology second, and in no way a derivative specialty off in some branch of computer science." (p.41, DM)

Short video of Nelson on hypertext

Nelson's Publications

Important ideas scattered about, often in solipsistic praise of his unrealized Xanadu. A precursor to Wired in style and substance?

Computer Lib / Dream Machines

(1974; 1987)

Literary Machines


Computer Lib

Computer Lib is an effort to reach "everyman" and persuade him that computers are getting in the hands of the wrong people. In the right hands, they'll do wonders for mankind.

"Once you get into building software, you may never come out. There is no limit to the possible." (p. 46)

"A hack is like using a chair to prop open a door."

Dream Machines

Dream Machines is a more interesting collage.

"There are still no serious computer aides to structure and organization: "outline processing" only deals with sequence and this is still within the paperdigm." (p. 27)

"By hypertext, I mean "non-sequential" writing….The structures of ideas are not sequential. They tie together every which way. And when we write we always try to tie things together in non-sequential ways."

"The real dream is for everything to be in hypertext. Everything you read and write is in hypertext."

Determined to Lead a Rebellion

If you hate computers, "what you think you hate may be the narrow, oppressive systems designed by narrow, oppressive people."

"Presentations and sequences are arbitrary." "Boundaries are spurious." P. 31

"Compartmentalized and Stratified Teaching Produces Compartmentalized and Stratified Minds"


The World Publishing Repository

From the "Ideal Xanadu:"

"A single program running throughout the network" p. 142 DM

Came to view these vendors as franchisees, the McDonald's of the information world.

The Parallel Textface

"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." (Xanalogical Storage).

Caption: "Real person sits at cardboard Xanadu mockup."


"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."

Similar to how the IMG tag can be used on the Web.

Transclusion Leads to New View of Copyright

Bill of Information Rights

"Electronic Publishing" cannot, must not mean only closed objects that have to be used separately."

He wanted to codify the ability to link between texts and extend a person's right to reuse information in what might be derivative works..


"The scheme is simple: under this arrangement, everyone is free to republish digital materials virtually, as quotations, anthologies and collages, provided that the republication is virtual: that is, provided that the republisher only provides instructions for acquisiton and assembly of the parts, and each copy of previously-published bytes is separately purchased from the original publisher(s) at the time of delivery. A republisher only distributes pointers showing how to obtain the material, and in what new context(s) to place the material; each recipient buys these materials independently. "

Hypertext Constructs


Compound annotations

Stretch text


Two-way hyperlinks.

The Xanada Fallacies

  1. Once everybody plays, it works. The trouble is getting everybody to play.
  2. Unless it fits my model, it won’t work.

Xanadu proved to be a centralized system that just could not be built, especially since Nelson believed he and his team had to build every piece of it.

Xanadu, described as an open system, wasn't. It was essentially a proprietary, closed system in which the information objects could be shared openly.

Having to build his own system made him blind to the systems that were emerging on the Internet.

He preached in Jeremiads opposing the Macintosh and the Web.

It's frustrating that he did not value the Web and recognize it as accomplishing many of his goals; instead he rejected it as impure, unfit

The Curse of Xanadu

Article by Gary Wolff in Wired

"The longest-running vaporware story in the history of the computer industry."

The project's failure (or, viewed more optimistically, its long-delayed success) coincides almost exactly with the birth of hacker culture. Xanadu's manic and highly publicized swerves from triumph to bankruptcy show a side of hackerdom that is as important, perhaps, as tales of billion-dollar companies born in garages."

"Nelson records everything and remembers nothing. Xanadu was to have been his cure."

Two Key Research Institutions

SRI -- Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park

Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center)


Alan Kay

Influential "Chief Scientist"at Xerox PARC; Apple Fellow since 1984

Developer of the Dynabook

"Doug Englebart's view [was] that the mainframe was like a railroad, owned by an institution that decided what you could do and when you could do it. Englebart was trying to be like Henry Ford. A personal computer as it was thought of in the sixties was like an automobile. … When I combined (the idea of handwriting recognition) with the idea that kids had to use it, the concept of a computer because something much more like a supermedium. Something more like a superpaper."

Source: 1986 Byte interview, quoted in Gasch’s profile of Alan Kay.)


Theorists and Personalities

Communications Studies/Digital Media at University of Iowa

Hypertext and Hypermedia Bibliography (1991)

Not up to date but useful reference to older materials, mostly offline.

"it's difficult to divide the recent from the historic in a field where literature that is less that ten years old can be said to be genuinely historic."

Multimedia Pioneers Lecture Series (1996)

Lectures by Engelbart, Nelson and Kay

Howard Rheingold’s "Tools for Thought" (1985)

Chapter 12: Brenda and the Future Squad

"What would it feel like to operate tomorrow's mind-augmenting information-vehicles?"

Brenda Laurel ("Computers as Theater")

What kind of experiences are possible?

Communal or shared experience, not just information.

Then and Now

In 1992, pre-Web, there were 70 million computers in use in America (home and office).

In 1998, according to a recent Nielsen and CommerceNet Study, there are 40 million men and 30 million women using the Internet.


Next: Key Technology Trends