Ted Nelson on the Myth of Who Created the Web

Ted Nelson, the guy who created the backspace button on your keyboard and was heavily involved with early internet history, argues that Tim Berners-Lee did not create the web -- MOSAIC did.

YOUTUBE gWDPhEvKuRY Published on May 28, 2012. Ted Nelson continues to cast doubt on Computer Basics.

It's an interesting story. From Ted's perspective there were many linked document models at the time Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web.

What made the Berners-Lee version fly? Ted argues it was the GUI that Andressen designed around the Berners-Lee format and protocols.

There is an axe he is grinding here that I am unfamiliar with, but it seems to involve Berners-Lee discounting Ted's Xanadu Project as a model. wikipedia

Nelson's model, Xanadu, was proposed in part by Nelson in 1960, but was never fully implemented, and never saw significant adoption.


It's an interesting take -- this idea of the World Wide Web as an almost random beneficiary of the software that the NCSA built for it.

And it partially jives with my memory -- back in 1993 you had a lot of systems that ran over the internet. Telnet, Gopher+Archie+Veronica, FTP, etc.

But MOSAIC ran on your system in a really smooth way. No logging on in a command window -- you just fired it up and went, like you were launching Word or Encarta. It felt OS-native in a way no other services did.

We tend to think of the browser as this sacrosanct thing nowadays -- there's this belief that the browser = the web and apps are antithetical to the web.

But perhaps the lesson of the browser is actually the opposite. Maybe the problem is not apps, but the lack of a killer app. Because after decades of talking about a docuverse what made it happen was a smart, simple application -- the kind that Nelson was never quite able to produce.