Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Ted Nelson: Reinventing Syndication

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 1, 2011

Ted Nelson is a computer pioneer and industry veteran. His work in the early 1960s led to hypertext -- the ubiquitous technology that literally links all online documents.

Mr Nelson is also the author of one of my favorite quotes: "As fish live in water we live in media."

Back in the early 1960s, Mr Nelson was one of the first to recognize that the computer is a media machine. That was an impressive achievement because computers in those days were not the multi-media systems of today. Input was through stacks of punched cards or punched tape; output was mostly numbers and monospaced text with no fancy graphics.

Many of Mr Nelson's ideas when he was 23 years old in 1960 are now being rediscovered in a similar way to Marshal McLuhan and his ideas about media have now found new audiences. And as Silicon Valley becomes a Media Valley -- Facebook, Twitter, Google etc, are all media companies -- Mr Nelson's ideas will become more important.

Mr Nelson's current focus is on making it easy for people to republish content on the Internet. His proposal is to charge readers and publishers, based on how much content they read or re-publish. He presented his ideas on syndication at the "Future of Money" conference on Monday.

Readers would pay for content based on how much they had consumed. For example, if you read only one-half of an article, you only pay for one-half. The same for republishing content, you only pay for what you use.

"Computers are very good at floating point so we can keep track of minuscule amounts of payments, and publishers get an additional revenue stream."

Because the content comes from the original source, computers could keep track of which "splinter" of content people own throughout their life. Once you have paid for something you don't pay for it again.

Although Mr Nelson invented the concept of hypertext he is not a fan of the way it was implemented in the world wide web. He says that the web is held hostage to prior file structures which limits its usefulness.

"The computer is a wonderful media machine, we shouldn't use it to produce imitations of printed materials. We should think of all the new things we can do with it."

Mr Nelson said he "dislikes very much" the world wide web and the way its technologies have been implemented.

Some of Mr Nelson's syndication ideas will be used on the Internet Archive and he hopes others will take up his ideas too. It's a similar approach that is taken by Repost.Us, which launched its syndication service today. (Repost.us: Syndicate Content And Get Paid - SVW)


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