Archive-name: xanadu/ideal.html
Last-modified: 1993/10/08
Version: 5

Theodor Holm Nelson

The Xanadu Ideal

Copyright (c) 1993 Xanadu On-Line Publishing

Why do they call us a cult?

Because we think differently from everyone else. We are striving to create a unified, universal literature, available to everyone both as readers and contributors, instantly available everywhere, with the ability to publish connections freely. That is, anyone may publish footnotes, comments, disagreements; and anyone may quote, republish, anthologise and otherwise re-use everything in the system -- provided that the republication stays within the Xanadu world. All this includes automatic and innocuous royalty.

This raises many questions which cannot all be answered briefly. Suffice it to say that we have many answers. A few follow.

What is Xanadu Publishing?

The term "universal electronic library" has been suggested. Perhaps "universal bookstore" is more like it. World Publishing Repository(TM) is perhaps the most appropriate term.

The Xanadu system has been designed from the literary point of view, the computer point of view, the business point of view and the legal point of view.

The Xanadu publishing system will be a licensed method of on-line electronic publication provided by vendors throughout the world. "Publication" consists of placing a digital document somewhere in the repository network. A document may include text, picutres, audio, movies and nay other form of digital information. Readers, or users, are of course at screens. Any user in the world may send for any document, or any part of a document. The publisher pays only for the storage; the user pays for delivery, including a royalty to the publisher.

The user obtains a digital copy of everything he or she sends for -- to keep or discard. The user may point and click to travel among documents, obtaining only the small part needed to keep going.

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. The publisher agrees to be legally responsible for the contents and agrees to interconnection by anyone.

Based on literature as we know it

"Literature" is a debugged system used and understood throughout the world. Documents are information packages with points of view, literature is a system of interconnected documents. Xanadu is intended to allow millions of points of veiw and to keep track exactly of all their interconnections.

No point of view

Other electronic media have viewpoints deeply embedded in the design of the system (such as keywords and categories). Xanadu places all the viewpoints where they belong, in the separately owned documents and keeps the overall system viewpoint-free.

Simplicity & Ease, point-&-click

The system is intended for a point-and-click universe that even a child can find her or his way around in. The user points at the desired link on the screen; the user's screen machine -- that is, underlying computer -- automatically purchases the linked material from its publisher and brings that material to the screen. Thus anyone can go from document to document within this universe without having to learn "computer commands."

The Next Fragment

The user does not have to buy whole documents. Instead, she or he simply purchases the next fragment desired. These may add up to whole documents, or not.

Simple basic concepts

The basic concepts are simple but sophisticated and powerful, and can be built into structures and uses of every kind.

The concepts are the document, the link and the transclusion.

Inside-out from today's electronic media

Xanadu is different from, or opposite to, almost everything that is happening in the field of electronic media, including:

Open use -- all connect & re-use

Anyone may publish links to any document already on Xanadu. Likewise anyone may re-use material already on Xanadu as boilerplate, as long as that material is re-used by transclusion rather than by copying. This assures that every new use will be bought from the original publisher.


This is a medium for publishing in all areas. Indeed, since we do not see boundaries between different areas, we see all publishing methods that restrict themselves to given areas as hobbled.


Because it will be equally available to everyone at low cost, and open to all points of view, we believe Xanadu is a populist medium.


There are no sharp lines between subjects, and Generalists are those people who pursue their interests without regard to artificial boundary lines. There are more and more brilliant generalists throughout the world, but the existing publication media subdivide the world of ideas and information artificially. Xanadu does not.


Many different points of view, including unpopular and eccentric ones, may be freely published in Xanadu, linked to the materials they agree and disagree with.

In today's publishing world, only those viewpoints held by those with mondy, or other access to media, may be published. This is not the democratic ideal.

No boundaries

There are no boundaries in Xanadu. A document may be of any size, spread across many disks in many places. Anyone may publish connections to the document.

There are no boundaries to categories in Xanadu; you are not restricted to the way that someone else sees the world.


Open controversy and argument are not well represented by existing systems. We intend to change that.

Minority points of view

Many points of view cannot be publicly expressed in today's world. We intend to change that.

Self-guided education

Today's systems of education are deeply hampered by artificial categories and divisions among subjects, and by forms of teaching that make them uninteresting. Since Xanadu will allow anyone to explore any subject in his or her own style, we see it as a medium for true education.

"Just connect and keep going"

The reader need not master computerish styles of interaciton; she or he need only start and one document and click across the universe from there.

Thought-out legally

Many digital publishing systems have been built without understanding of the legal system and are building a field of naive expectations. Xanadu has been built with firm understanding of copyright and liability law.

Copyright innocuous

Many computer people naively think that copyright will go away. We assume that it will not, and that the Xanadu system must work in a world of copyright law; but we are able to make copyright and royalty innocuous and smooth.
"Xanadu", "World Publishing Repository" and the flaming X logo are trade and service marks of

Xanadu On-Line Publishing
3020 Bridgeway #295, Sausalito CA 94965 USA