Archive-name: xanadu/faq.html
Last-modified: 2002/04/12
Version: 1.56
Copyright: (c) 1994-2002 Xanadu Australia

Xanadu FAQ

This document contains information about the Xanadu Project which may be of interest to the general public and readers of the xanews mailing list. It is currently maintained by (Andrew Pam) of Xanadu Australia and posted approximately monthly.

This document is copyright (c) 1994-2002 Xanadu Australia and may be freely distributed in any media providing it is not modified in any way and no fee is charged either for this document or for any composite work in which it is included.

This FAQ and other Xanadu information are also available at

Questions in this document are numbered, and answers are labelled with letters of the alphabet. Thus 1 is the first question, and 1a is the first answer to the first question. Suggestions for additions, corrections and expansion of the material in this document are welcomed.


  1. What is Xanadu?
  2. What requirements do Xanadu systems aim to meet?
  3. What software meets some of the Xanadu requirements?
  4. What is the history of the Xanadu system?
  5. How can I contact Project Xanadu?
  6. What Xanadu-related merchandise is currently available?
  7. What is the history of the name "Xanadu"?

1 What is Xanadu?


Xanadu is a trade and service mark of Project Xanadu for computer software and services for electronic publishing and media manipulation. See question 5 below for Project Xanadu contact details.


Xanadu is the original hypertext and interactive multimedia system, under continuous development since 1960. See question 4 below for the history of the Xanadu system.


Xanadu is an overall paradigm - an ideal and general model for all computer use, based on sideways connections among documents and files. This paradigm is especially concerned with electronic publishing, but also extends to all forms of storing, presenting and working with information. It is a unifying system of order for all information, non-hierarchical and side-linking, including electronic publishing, personal work, organisation of files, corporate work and groupware.

All data (for instance, paragraphs of a text document) may be connected sideways and out of sequence to other data (for instance, paragraphs of another text document). This requires new forms of storage, and invites new forms of presentation to show these connections.

On a small scale, the paradigm means a model of word processing where comments, outlines and other notes may be stored conceptually adjacent to a document, linked to it sideways. On a large scale, the paradigm means a model of publishing where anyone may quote from and publish links to any already-published document, and any reader may follow these links to and from the document.


Xanadu is an ideal of open electronic publishing based on the paradigm mentioned in answer 1c above. It is intended to be especially free and fair, where all authors and readers are considered equal. It is a complete business system for electronic publishing based on this ideal with a win-win set of arrangements, contracts and software for the sale of copyrighted material in large and small amounts. It is a planned world-wide publishing network based on this business system. It is optimised for a point-and-click universe, where users jump from document to document, following links and buying small pieces as they go.


The Xanadu Australia formal problem definition is:

We need a way for people to store information not as individual "files" but as a connected literature. It must be possible to create, access and manipulate this literature of richly formatted and connected information cheaply, reliably and securely from anywhere in the world. Documents must remain accessible indefinitely, safe from any kind of loss, damage, modification, censorship or removal except by the owner. It must be impossible to falsify ownership or track individual readers of any document.

This system of literature (the "Xanadu Docuverse") must allow people to create virtual copies ("transclusions") of any existing collection of information in the system regardless of ownership. In order to make this possible, the system must guarantee that the owner of any information will be paid their chosen royalties on any portions of their documents, no matter how small, whenever and wherever they are used.

2 What requirements do Xanadu systems aim to meet?


Every Xanadu server is uniquely and securely identified.


Every Xanadu server can be operated independently or in a network.


Every user is uniquely and securely identified.


Every user can search, retrieve, create and store documents.


Every document can consist of any number of parts each of which may be of any data type.


Every document can contain links of any type including virtual copies ("transclusions") to any other document in the system accessible to its owner.


Links are visible and can be followed from all endpoints.


Permission to link to a document is explicitly granted by the act of publication.


Every document can contain a royalty mechanism at any desired degree of granularity to ensure payment on any portion accessed, including virtual copies ("transclusions") of all or part of the document.


Every document is uniquely and securely identified.


Every document can have secure access controls.


Every document can be rapidly searched, stored and retrieved without user knowledge of where it is physically stored.


Every document is automatically moved to physical storage appropriate to its frequency of access from any given location.


Every document is automatically stored redundantly to maintain availability even in case of a disaster.


Every Xanadu service provider can charge their users at any rate they choose for the storage, retrieval and publishing of documents.


Every transaction is secure and auditable only by the parties to that transaction.


The Xanadu client-server communication protocol is an openly published standard. Third-party software development and integration is encouraged.

3 What software meets some of the Xanadu requirements?


The World Wide Web (also called WWW or simply the Web) was partially inspired by the Xanadu ideas and supports requirements 2a-2e, 2k-2l and 2q. The XHTML standards additionally support requirement 2f.


HyperWave (also known as Hyper-G) is based on the Xanadu ideas and supports requirements 2a-2e, 2g-2h, 2j-2l and 2q.


Microcosm has also been influenced by the Xanadu ideas and supports requirements 2d, 2g and 2j. "Webcosm" additionally supports requirement 2b.


Lotus Notes (now owned by IBM, and integrated with the Web under the name Domino) was also influenced by the Xanadu ideas.

4 What is the history of the Xanadu system?

Ted Nelson thought up the whole thing in 1960, and has been speaking and publishing about the idea since 1965. In that year he also coined the terms "hypertext" and "hypermedia" for non-sequential writings and branching presentations of all types. (The term "interactive multimedia" seems to have become popular recently.)

Since that time there have been a long series of changing designs embodying these ideas:

Nelson's designs showed two screen windows connected by visible lines, pointing from parts of an object in one window to corresponding parts of an object in another window. No existing windowing software provides this facility even today.

Nelson's design concentrated on the single-user system and was based on "zipper lists", sequential lists of elements which could be linked sideways to other zipper lists for large non-sequential text structures.

Nelson invented certain data structures and algorithms called the "enfilade" which became the basis for much later work (proprietary to Xanadu Operating Company, Inc. until 24 August 1999)

Implementations ran in both Algol and Fortran.

William Barus extended the enfilade concept to handle interconnection.

Nelson assembled a new team (Roger Gregory, Mark Miller, Stuart Greene, Roland King and Eric Hill) to redesign the system.

K. Eric Drexler created a new data structure and algorithms for complex versioning and connection management.

The Project Xanadu team completed the design of a universal networking server for Xanadu, described in various editions of Ted Nelson's book "Literary Machines" (see answers 6a and 6b below).

Xanadu Operating Company, Inc. (XOC, Inc.) was formed to complete development of the 1981 design.

XOC, Inc. was acquired by Autodesk, Inc. and amply funded, with offices in Palo Alto and later Mountainview California. Work continued with Mark Miller as chief designer.

The 1981 design (now called Xanadu 88.1) was topped off but Miller began a redesign. Xanadu 88.1 was not subjected to quality control or released as a product.

Dean Tribble and Ravi Pandya became co-designers and work on the redesign continued.

The World Wide Web, Hyper-G and Microcosm projects are initiated, all inspired or influenced by the Xanadu ideas.

Autodesk entered into the throes of an organisational shakeup and dropped the project, after expenditures on the order of five million US dollars. Rights to continued development of the XOC server were licensed to Memex, Inc. of Palo Alto, California and the trademark "Xanadu" was re-assigned to Nelson.

Nelson re-thought the whole thing and respecified Xanadu publishing as a system of business arrangements. Minimal specifications for a publishing system were created under the name "Xanadu Light", and Andrew Pam of Serious Cybernetics in Melbourne, Australia was licensed to continue development as Xanadu Australia.

Nelson was invited to Japan and founded the Sapporo HyperLab. Memex changed their name to Filoli. SenseMedia became the second Xanadu licensee under the name of "Xanadu America".

Nelson became a Professor of Environmental Information at the Shonan Fujisawa Campus of Keio University. Initial draft of text transclusion proposal released.

Initial draft of OSMIC specifications released. Internet-Draft on Fine-grained Transclusion in HTML released. Transpublishing and transcopyright start to be used on the Web.

Nelson received his first award for his work on Xanadu and hypermedia, the 1998 Yuri Rubinsky Insight Foundation lifetime achievement award.

Open Source release of Xanadu 88.1 and 92.1 code under the names Udanax Green and Udanax Gold respectively.

Nelson awarded the medal and title of "Officier des Arts et Lettres" by the French Minister of Culture for his work on Xanadu and hypermedia.

5 How can I contact Project Xanadu?


The Xanadu Team

Write to to join the Xanadu mailing list. Members of the Xanadu team monitor and contribute to the list on a regular basis.


Project Xanadu

Email (Ted Nelson)
Snail mail
Project Xanadu, 3020 Bridgeway #295, Sausalito CA 94965 USA.


Xanadu Australia

Email (Andrew Pam)
Snail mail
Xanadu Australia, P.O. Box 477, Blackburn VIC 3130 Australia.

6 What Xanadu-related merchandise is currently available?


The following items are available from:

Mindful Press
3020 Bridgeway #295
Sausalito, California 94965 USA
Phone: +1 (415) 331-4422
Fax: +1 (415) 332-0136

Add $5 postage and handling per $50 ordered, plus $15 for orders outside the USA. All prices quoted are in US dollars.


"Literary Machines" is also available from:

Eastgate Systems
134 Main Street
Watertown MA 02172 USA
Phone: +1 (800) 562-1638 or +1 (617) 924-9044
Fax: +1 (617) 924-9051


An audio cassette of "Xanadu - Publishing with Royalty", Ted's talk at ONE BBSCON in Atlanta August 1994, is available as tape #694-9 for US$7 plus US$5 shipping and handling (international orders add 20%) from:

The ONE BBSCON Resource Link
3139 Campus Dr., Suite 300
Norcross, Georgia 30071-1402
Phone: +1 (800) 241-7785
Fax: +1 (404) 447-0543

7 What is the history of the name "Xanadu"?


Marco Polo mentioned the original palace "Shan-Du", somewhere in Mongolia, in his autobiography.


Samuel Purchas wrote a book, "Purchas his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and the Religions observed in all Ages and Places discovered, from the Creation unto this Present... By Samuel Purchas. London, 1617" in which he related the following on page 472:
In Xamdu did Cublai Can build a stately Palace, encompassing sixteene miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant springs, delightfull Streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be removed from place to place...


Samuel Taylor Coleridge published the poem "Kubla Khan", considered the sexiest in the English language, in 1816. Supposedly Coleridge fell into an opiate trance while reading the passage in "Purchas his Pilgrimage" mentioned in answer 7b above and wrote a thousand lines in his mind, but was interrupted while trying to write it down by the infamous "person from Porlock" who bothered him on trivial business and made him forget the rest of the poem. This has been disputed by scholars who didn't believe there actually could have been any more to the poem.


John Livingston Lowes wrote a book called "The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination" which was published by Houghton Mifflin (Boston) in 1927.

Lowes' book traces an amazing hypertext -- the reading of Samuel Taylor Coleridge -- by starting from Purchas' book and any others which Coleridge mentions in his journals, letters, etc., and moving on from there to any books mentioned in the text or footnotes of these books, and so onwards through yet other books that Coleridge may well have consulted -- because we know he consulted others which recommended or mentioned them...

Along the way, Lowes discovered many instances of the workings of what Coleridge himself termed "the *hooks-and-eyes* of the memory" -- hyperlinks again: for this is Coleridge's own term for them.

It appears that Coleridge read very widely in the travel literature of his day, and did indeed tend to obtain many of the books referenced in books he was reading... and that as he went, his memory was saturated with the more striking phrases from these many books, and then *linked* them associatively...

And Lowes' book itself is a gigantic hypertext, linking sources in Coleridge's reading not only for "The Ancient Mariner" but also for "Kubla Khan" -- and along the way touching on an extraordinary variety of topics. Lowes' book is, when all is said and done, one of the greatest detective and scholarly hypertexts of all time.


Orson Welles, in his famous film "Citizen Kane", named the palace of Charles Foster Kane "Xanadu" after the Coleridge poem. It was based on the real life palace of San Simeon owned by William Randolph Hearst.


Ted Nelson named his World Publishing Repository (trademark of Project Xanadu) project after the Coleridge poem, to suggest "the magic place of literary memory where nothing is forgotten".


The secret hideout of Mandrake the Magician in the comic strip of the same name was called "Xanadu" (presumably after the Coleridge poem).


The rock group Rush released a song called Xanadu, obviously inspired by "Kubla Khan", on their 1970s album "Farewell to Kings".


The 1980 movie "Xanadu" starring Olivia Newton-John as a muse was also named after the Coleridge poem, as an allusion to literary inspiration. She also sang the title song.


The pop group "Frankie Goes To Hollywood" released a 1984 album named "Welcome To The Pleasure Dome", on which the title song contains the line "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a pleasure dome erect".


Greg Bear used "Kubla Khan" in his 1984 science fiction novel "The Infinity Concerto" and its sequel "The Serpent Mage" (collectively published as "Songs of Earth and Power"), in which the poem is considered a song of power whose completion would have vast political and social implications. The book also features a massive palace called Xanadu.


David Butler based the plot of his 1986 science-fiction novel "The Men Who Mastered Time" around the story of "Kubla Khan".


Douglas Adams used the story of the creation of the Coleridge poem mentioned in answer 7c above as a central part of the plot of his science-fiction novel "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency".


Douglas Adams wrote a 1990 BBC Television documentary called "Hyperland" starring himself, former "Doctor Who" Tom Baker, Ted Nelson and many computer industry luminaries. The documentary discussed the Xanadu system and quoted "Kubla Khan".


Jane Yolen edits a "Xanadu" series of fantasy anthologies by top fantasy authors published by Tor Fantasy since 1993. In the introduction to the first volume, she gives "Kubla Khan" as the inspiration for the title and suggests that "the word Xanadu has come to be a generic name for any magical realm."


Pride Music released a cover of the title song from the 1980 movie "Xanadu" for the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 1995. The CD single is called "Xanadu" by Olivia Featuring Paula and contains five remixes of the song plus a song called "Unconditional Love". Pride Music kindly granted us permission to provide one track from the CD on the Xanadu Australia home page as our theme song.


This FAQ was written by (Andrew Pam). Much of the material in the answers to questions 1, 4 and 6 was graciously provided by (Ted Nelson). Thanks to (Charles Cameron) for answers 7b and 7d.