Toward a Deep Electronic Literature: The Generalization of Documents and Media

Theodor Holm Nelson, Project Xanadu and Oxford Internet Institute

Intellectual Property Notices: Transliterature(tm), or TransLit(tm), is intended as an open standard, but these names are claimed as trademarks to avoid semantic drift. Xanadu(R) and ZigZag(R) are registered trademarks.  "Xanadu Space" and "Xanadu Transquoter" are claimed trademarks.

SUMMARY.  We propose a generalized representation of media combining text, audio and video in parallel format, with overlays and connection to content origins.  This is intended to handle all the usual functions of text, audio and video, while offering many more functions and visualizations.  It offers, as well, a unique copyright solution.

We live in a world of documents and media. They affect us all, all the time-- culturally, emotionally, cognitively.

But what should be the design of documents and media in the digital age?  Since the advent of the computer, thousands of ideas have been advanced for the design of documents and media. These ideas come from everywhere--  office traditions, recording and movie traditions, computer traditions.


Today we see a wide variety of disparate and unrelated media formats and  mechanisms, imitating the past, largely based on tradition.  These traditions have given us special cases unrelated to each other and imitating the past, with separately limited possibilities.
The main tradition from the office world is paper simulation, as developed at various places (notably Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) in the 1970s. Few have examined the assumption that paper is the correct model for holding written content.  But today's simulation of paper is only partial: they left out a key property of paper.  Unlike sheets of real paper, you can't write comments in the margin!  Or cross things out!  Today's principal text systems-- Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat-- simulate paper under glass.

In digital media we still imitate the past and its conventions, just as early car-makers put a socket for a whip on the early automobiles.  We imitate the past, rather than considering the future possibilities--
Imitation of Recordings and Radio.  Today's digital audio packages (mp3s, podcasts) imitate previous conventional recordings and radio programs.  They are basically named audio files that allow you to go from beginning to end of a prepared presentation-- with no branching, no looping, no dynamic selection among multiple tracks.
Imitation of Photo Layouts.  Today's photo layout systems are based on imitating conventional 2D sheets.  Each photo has a set "size," even though a photograph intrinsically has no size except the paper it's printed on.

Imitation of Movies.  Today's movie editing systems are based on shots seen as individual frames.  Today's digital video and movies are simply imitations of existin non-branching films.  (There are exceptions, such as "additional content" on CD-ROMs, but they tend to be weak and clumsy.)  There is no branching, annotation, rearrangement.

Hierarchy. The principal tradition in the computer world is the simulation of hierarchy.  It is generally believed that hierarchical directories (more recently called "folders" are the right and true way to organize content and structure on computers, and few alternatives have been tried.  Users, however, don't relate well to hierarchy.  Desperate variations are being tried by software designers, but no one is questioning the basic correctness of this model, except the author and his associates.
Embedding.  Embedded markup-- scrambled-in coding-- has become the standard way of labelling and marking digital content, from word processing to the World Wide Web.  But embedded markup basically tangles the content and defies re-use.  The alternative is to use overlay formatting, which refers to content but does not alter it.  But the alternative of overlay markup is rarely tried.

HYPERTEXT TRADITIONS-- One-Way Links and Jumps
The tradition of "hypertext" has become a tradition of one-way links and jumps.  That's because everyone's notion of hypertext is now the World Wide Web and its structures.  The World Wide Web has only one-way, non-overlapping, nontyped links.

[PIC: 1-way links, no types, no overlapping allowed

Fig. A: One-way, non-overlapping links

This is because the World Wide Web was based on trivial, convenient mechanisms rather than deeply designed.  The embedded one-way links were easy to implement.  They then allowed this casually-chosen mechanism to determine the literary properties of the system.

This approach-- one-way, non-overlapping links-- is now the way people think of interaction, hypertext and interconnection.*  But far more is possible.

* In a letter to New Scientist in 2006 (1),
I apologized for any part I may have had
in the creation of this structure in the nineteen-sixties.
I propose that another tradition is deeply relevant: that of literature, which has a somewhat slant from other media.

We usually think of literature as referring to books and other paper publications, sometimes the sum of all paper documents.

The purpose of documents and media are to present contents to the heart and mind, and thus to affect human experience and understanding.

UNIFICATION of Literature

Literature is a unifiying system.  All books fit on shelves.  Books can be read side by side and at the same time.
Literature stays available.  Books can be sold, put in libraries, inherited, repeatedly cited and quoted.

Whereas other media, like movies and radio, have had restricted availability.  In past times a radio program went by once and was gone; a movie played in a theater and was rarely seen again.  Until recently there was no personal ownership, restricting what was available.

Now that we can own recordings and videos; they become more like books in their flexibility.

Book and reader form a bond.  The reader can control the book, read it in any order, turn pages or skip ahead, keep it on shelves with related or unrelated documents.  The reader may turn the pages as desired.

Whereas the movie-viewer in a theater must sit through every scene, regardless of boredom or irritation.  (The movie-viewer at home is more like a book reader, able to skip backward and forward if watching  a tape, though more restricted if watchig a DVD.)

The Xanadu(R) Project, begun in 1960, has been intended to create a deep on-line literature, extending the previous kinds of literature in the most powerful ways we can find.  But it must also be fundamentally simple, making sense to authors and readers.

On-line documents should all have the qualities we know from paper literature--user control, re-usability, long-term availability without restriction, use of documents together.  Presently electronic media do not offer these basic amenities.

However, I propose to expand the term "literature" to a larger sense, to find the most powerful abstraction and generalization of literature (2).

I would like to use the term "document" for any media package or construction that uses media components (text, audio and/or video); and expand the meaning of "literature" to the sum of all media  objects.

The reason for conflating them in this way: I believe they cannot and should not be separated, either philosophically or in the design of tomorrow's documents.  Paper documents, radio programs, films and video all cover the same subjects and belong together.

In our work, the idea has been to implement the concepts of literature in this extended sense, extending

- user option and choice (as in flipping freely through the book)
- long-term availability
- joint use of documents together
- arbitrary and unlimited linking.
- quotability and re-use
This last is our most ambitious generalization, transclusion: generalizing quotation into visible quotation and permitted, unlimited re-use.

But before we can consider how things should be, we must first consider the way things are: the limiting conventions that so far have prevented generalization of media structure.

The computer field has been built gradually on conventions, one after the other, all seeming plausible and even necessary.


While there were computer files as early as the 1940s, the structure of today's files and file mechanisms was essentially crystallized by the Unix design in 1970.
- hierarchical files and directories as the principal units known to the file system
- managed by a master table (inode table) of pathnames
- file as an opaque data package, contents ignored by operating system [except for strange #! convention in Unix]
- internal units inside file not recognized by filesystem (all management of internals is left to Applications)
- file content types recognized:
-- characters (ASCII)
-- binary
-- application-specific
- content brought into a file loses all identity and connection to origin
- "metadata" only on files and directories, and only of a few standard types, especially:
-- data type (associated application)
-- filename
-- permissions
-- (Size)
-- lock
- metadata types are rarely extensible
- internal units and content are allowed no metadata
- internal units and content cannot be independently protected
- version management is left to the user or the application

Fig. 1: A file, the standard unit

Document as file.  The most remarkable convention is that

one document must be one file.

This unexamined convention results from the traditions of opaque files and paper simulation.  It drastically limits what documents can do or be.

It means that

- links can only point outward, because they must be contained within the file
- relations to other documents must be maintained with difficulty by the user, "outside the application"
(It also determined the structure of the World Wide Web. )
"Applications" determine the user's working world, but their conventions are rarely examined..

(Again, let us consider Unix (1970) to be the starting line.

Unix users were assumed to be programmers, with suites of utilities and pipes to run their data through.

With the growth of personal computing, however, this changed.  A class of "users" appeared, who couldn't program.  Instead they were given "applications."  Today's conventions of "application" were created at Xerox PARC, first productized with the Macintosh in 1984, and then built by Microsoft into its Windows operating system.

Applications were designed to

- accomplish specific functions chosen by each software company creating the application
- ... with arbitrary boundaries and powers chosen by each software company creating the application
- lock users into the manufacturer's program
- prevent programming except through permitted "scripting"
- prevent direct data access (and escape from the software package)
These application conventions
- allowed an application to have its own windows, but allowed no visible connection between content in one window and content in another
- locked a specific data type to a specific program (inescapable in the early Macintosh)
- encouraged each manufacturer to create opaque internal data structures to prevent compatibility
- allowed data transfer among applications by invisible "clipboard"
- "clipboard" conventions limited to recognized data types
While there have come to be agreed-upon file standards that can be shared across similar programs (e.g. SYLK files for spreadsheet), manufacturers are motivated to maintain incompatible differences and extensions.

Thus there are no broad media conventions within the software realm, except

- clipboard compatibility between manufacturers of certain few recognized data types
- industry-agreed file standards for certain few recognized types of data
Many well-intentioned parties try to create compatibilities (e.g. the VLC movie player, continually updated to play all new movie formats), but the widening number of differing software packages, intentionally made different only for incompatibility, assures that this is a losing battle.


"Convergence," which was predicted in the 1980s as the unification of media, has not happened.  Why not?

Today's digital media applications are Balkanized and internally incompatible; partly because each is designed differently in the face of these issues; and partly for deliberate obfuscation.  How can we unify them?

The term "multimedia" is often used for such unification; but the term suggests that we're putting separate things together, instead of uniting what should never have been apart.  But to unify them requires starting from scratch.


So let us consider digital media and the complexities of building them.  This will show why there has been such divergence of structure; and why different media modes are difficult to unify.

Digital media start simple, acquire layers of complication.

Let us begin from first principles.  What are the building blocks of media, and the complications they must go through that add layers and intricacies?

All of the following concerns challenge conventional data structures.


The basic substratum is flowing, countable media-- text, audio, video.
Media are divided into units and subunits.

By convention in today's computer field, only one level of unit is recognized by the computer.  This is the file, the unit of data.  Any units inside a file can only be recognized by an application.  This is an arbitrary system of constructs that few challenge.

Every form of data has its own subunits, recognized only by its particular application.  Microsoft Word has its paragraphs, Director has its "cast" of "actors," spreadsheets have their rows and columns and cells, and so on.

In other words, the outermost unit is recognized by the system, but any units within units must be treated differently.  A file is allowed to have "metadata," but subunits and contents are not.

There are many things we may want to do to digital media inside a work or package.
- selection
- annotation
- overlays
- connections
- relations, properties, attributes not inside the units or content ("metadata," in today's terms, except "metadata" usually refers onoy to entire units)
There is no standard way for these things to happen or be represented in data.
Many things need to happen to digital media outside a work or package.
- inclusion from elsewhere, recognizable re-use
- side-by-side comparison
- linkage to other objects
- cross-indexing, cross-filing
(In the larger context of information outside, where should a thing be?  Should there be one or many of it?)
There is no standard way for these things to happen or be represented in data.
The need to change files and documents, recognized everywhere, has many consequences.
- successive stored versions (unsupported change for most users)-- with home-grown version names, numbers and designations
- version management in some applications, such as Photoshop and Word
There is no standard way for these things to happen or be represented in data, except for
- file locking
- DIF files (supports line-oriented versioning)
- version-management facilities such as CVS (supported line-oriented change)
The kinds of versioning needed in the document world require rich facilities.  In the document world, we see many kinds of versioning and problems related to them--
- Provisional documents (to be replaced "soon")
- "Final" documents
- Post-Final documents (when the previous version wasn't as final as they thought)
- Ongoing documents (continually re-released for continuing use, even though they keep changing)
- Official documents (whether final or ongoing)
- Documents that "should not have been released"
- Forking documents (one document is changed to two different documents for different purposes; later changes that should go into both versions are hard to manage)
- Frequent embarrassment and confusion as the wrong version of a document is given out
- Frequent embarrassment and confusion as the wrong version of a document is accidentally revised
Version management systems should deal with all these problems.  But there is no standard way for these things to happen or be represented in data.
Sometimes there needs to be more than one version of a media object
- for different purposes
- because it's undecided, decision postponed
Translations.  This is self-explanatory.

Different versions for different markets.

Director's Cut.  The director of a film rarely gets his way; under certain circumstances he is allowed to release a version edited to his liking, for example on DVD.  This is parallel to the regular version.

"Which headline?".  At a key moment in the film "Citizen Kane," a character holds up two front pages of a newspaper and asks which one to run.  They read: "KANE WINS IN LANDSLIDE" and "FRAUD AT POLLS!"  This happens all the time in publishing: two versions are prepared and one chosen.  (The November 1960 issue of MAD magazine, released the day after the election, said "MAD Congratulates John F. Kennedy"-- and, on the other cover, "MAD Congratulates Richard Nixon".)

Combining change with alternative versions gives us forking documents, documents evolving simultaneously along more than one path.
Managing all of these separate elaborations challenge conventional data structures.  And, as already mentioned, there is no common way to handle these issues across different "media applications."


These varieties and entanglements of file structure and media structure seem to me accidental and unfortunate.  We need a more general, unified approach that will alllow deep re-use, interconnecting and combinations of media, and allow everything to be cleanly included, selected, annotated versioned, etc. in the same way.

It is for this reason, among many others, that I and my colleagues have worked for so long to create better structure, and we believe we have succeeded.  The following lists the intended aspects and features of such a universal media system.

The objectives and specifications were set forth in the summer of 1979, as discussed in the History section.  The resulting xu88 design, now simplified as Transliterature, endeavors to accomplish the following.


We propose a single form of assembly for fluid media-- text, audio and video-- and all their combinations.  These combinations may be far more varied than generally suspected-- but because of the traditional models, the combinations have not been recognized as possible, desirable or legitimate.
It must be possible to use content taken dynamically from different sources and maintain connection to those sources.
There should be a single mechanism for parallel tracks and structures within and between documents.  (For example, annotation of audio and video by text, audio annotation to text, annotation to text, etc.)  This should build up as desired to any complexity (multiscreen video, multiple narrative threads)
ll these aspects and features should work together:
- units within units
- units recognizably re-used
- flowing content within units
- units within flowing content
- contents recognizably re-used
- everything selectable
- everything connectable
- everything overlayable
- everything annotatable
It should be possible to overlay, select, lock, and annotate everything-- not just files,  but contents and subparts and subportions and relational structures.
Change management and version management should work uniformly across all these aspects and features-- not merely the content layer.

This includes not merely backtrack, but foretrack (going forward through changes) and sidetrack (going to a different path in a version tree).

We generalize connections in two ways:
Transclusion: recognizable re-use, especially through visible connection to origins of content.

Overlay structures composed of individual relations (called variously clinks, or content links; or flinks, floating links).

- any number of link types
- links by anyone on anything
- unbreaking links
- links weaving together to form designed overlays
Everything should be re-usable, including copyrighted material.
- we should be able to see re-uses of content
- unlimited re-use without negotiation (of material from participating rightsholders)
This should work within the existing copyright law and provide payment incentive for the publishing industry.
This list of objectives may sound absurd, but it can all be achieved with a small and simple structure.  Paradoxically, this is far simpler than the collection of mechanisms in general use.

It is, however, counterintuitive for most people, and requires considerable explanation.

The detailed specifications were laid down in the summer of 1979 by a working group in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania (see Literary Machines).

The xu88 Design

A detailed design was developed in 1981 by Roger Gregory, Mark S. Miller and Stuart Greene.  Because the targeted finishing date was 1988, it was called Xanadu 88.1, or xu88 for short.

It crystallized two types of connection as a basis for hypertext.  (This has recently been called xanalogical structure (4).)

- deep n-way links that can be overlaid to any depth and followed in two or more directions.
- deep quotations (or transclusions), remaining connected to their origins.
The xu88 system was designed for maintaining extremely large collections of documents and their connections, maintaining them as they changed, and delivering them to on-line users through the FEBE protocol.  It was thus both a data management system and a server, although the term "server" did not exist at the time.

With very unusual data structures (called enfilades), xu88 was further designed to scale up across a network, with peer-to-peer interchange (the BEBE protocol).

The Autodesk Venture, and Since

In 1987 the Xanadu project was acquired by Autodesk, Inc.  Regrettably, the xu88 design was dropped, and another design (xu92) was attempted.  This design never converged, and Autodesk dropped the Xanadu project.

In 1999 the uncompleted code for xu88 was placed in open source, at Udanax.com, where it will be found under the name "Udanax Green".  (The code for xu92 was also in princple put under open source, but it is encumbered with various rights issues involving proprietary languages.)

Transliterary Structure, an Open Standard

More recently, at the Oxford Internet Institute, I have created a simplified version of 88.1 called Transliterature (5).*  It is an open data standard to be found at transliterature.org.  It is client-side only, for use with standard servers and such protocols as http.

* Differences from xu88:
- transliterature is a data format, with implied behaviors for the programs that will use it
- no special server, except that portion service and flink service are required
- no enfiladic data structures
- no attempt to find all transclusions globally, only deals with transclusions from known addresses
- xu88 built all relational structures from dyadic links; Transliterature predefines a variety of relations and templates
- parallelism is an explicit addition
Xanadu Space

We have been working on an experimental client for Transliterature, called Xanadu Space.  (Lead programmer: Robert Adamson Smith.)  This differs from previous xanalogical clients in that it offers some remarkable 3D views of document interconnection.

Fig. Z.  Document interconnection in Xanadu Space.

But the center of Xanadu Space is Transliterary format.  Transliterary format is what we will now consider.

Transliterary structure may be described very briefly, as follows:

A document is one or more strips,
each represented by a list of pointers,
overlaid by labels and relations.

Explaining it, however, will not be so brief.

Transliterary structure is best understood as having several aspects:
1.  Sequential constructions of existing content,

Fig. 24:  Sequences of content

represented by pointers to the content sources (local or remote).

Fig. 25:  Content is represented by a list of pointers

2.  Transclusion (content knowably in more than one place).

Fig. 15A: Content remains connected to its original source

Connection to the sources is simply maintained by the addresses in the content list.

3.  Overlays, markers and links imposed upon the content.

Fig. 26: Content overlaid by labels, relations and connectors (flinks)

These are made with"flinks," or floating links.  These structures are not embedded, but are attached to the contents themselves (actually locked to the original content addresses in the outside world).

While these descriptionis are in a sense complete, they are probably not clear, so they must be expanded.
I will also endeavor to explain some of the system's ramifications and benefits.
A transliterary document may be built partly or entirely from pre-existing content.  It may be made of portions brought in from anywhere; contents can be mixed from all over.

Fig. 15: Contents can come from elsewhere

(None of the origin connections of the content are lost, since the addresses remain available.)


The visible default presentation of arriving content is a sequential strip, track or package.

Fig. 16.  Different views of arriving sequential content

Depending on what is wanted, we can think of it, and use it, as a

- sequence
- page
- strip
- strand
- track
- thread
- train
- stream segment
- piped data stream
The content sequence is given but may be overridden.  By default, the arriving contents are treated as sequential, but may be restructured by imposed relations (flinks).

Fig. 5: Default sequence may be rearranged

The content components may be seen as they are, or combined and hidden, if the content package is rearranged.
This structure supports unlimited parallelism.

Tracks may be assembled into parallel sequences, shown as pages or plexes as required.  This generalizes the parallelisms of various media: text columns, text marginal notes, audio synch, etc.

A document may consist of any number of sequential strands of media. The strands may couple sideways through transclusion or flinks.  This facilitates--
- outlines
- indices
- commentaries
- multiple musical tracks,
- etc.

Fig. 6: Parallel structures are independent of document boundaries

The identical parallel structure may be within a document or combined among several documents.  It doesn't matter where the "document" boundaries are, the structure is effectively the same.  The same structure can be created by one person in one document, or by many people doing separate tracks in different documents.  The only difference is document boundaries and ownership.


A document consists of
- 1 or more sequence packages
- and/or
- 1 or more flinks.
In other words, a document may consist of as little as one sequence package or one flink.
The transliterary document is built of content portions that may come from anywhere.  However, the content itself is secondary in the data management operations.  The main representation of a document is in hollow format, without content.  The content may be sent for separately.

We call this hollow format an EDL.  EDL stands for "Edit Decision List," which is a standard Hollywood term for what media elements to take, and in what order.  Thus an EDL is a plan for what contents to bring in and how to arrange them.

The term began in video editing: when you start with reels of videotape and decide what shots you want in the order you want, the result of these decisions is an Edit Decision List, or EDL. To make the actual final video, the EDL is fulfilled by copying the individual shots that have been specified.

We are using exactly this meaning, except extending the EDL to include text and audio as well.  Any document, movie, or other media object may be specified or assembled by a Transliterary EDL.

A new EDL standard?  There is no standard EDL system because each manufacturer of video equipment has their own.*

* A noble attempt by Avid Corporation to create
a universal EDL format appears to have lost steam.
We like to think that our proposed EDL method might be generalized to a standard usable by all industries. However, that is not our main thrust at the present time.

Parts of an EDL.  A document is maintained in an EDL as

- a content list (a list of content portion addresses)
- a list of flinks (relations and overlays)
- all the native flinks (those flinks originating in this document)
Note that a minimal EDL can be simply a list of content spans, without flinks, as in FIG. B.

The content list.  The list of contents is specified by the addresses of the content.

- Each content element is a span within a source page or file.
- the span has a starting position (0-base count, as in C) and a length
- the span is in terms of  "permaddresses"
An example of a content list (which can be a minimal EDL) is shown in FIG. B.
Fig. B: sample content list, a minimal EDL
If these portions are sent for ("dereferenced"), we get the document in FIG. C.

Fig. C: A page brought in by the EDL of Fig. B

5.  Connection by Transclusion
In this system, portions of content are brought in from various sources (local and remote).  The content portions thus brought in may remain visibly connected to their origins.

This is an important case of transclusion, which we define as the same content knowably in more than one place  (For instance, being able to see a quotation or excerpt and its original context in another document.)

Fig. 3: Visible connection to the origins of content

Tranclusion generalizes the quotation.  It also generalizes the anthology and the collage.

A transclusion is like a tunnel between the same material in different places, maintaining a live connection between the different contexts.  (Note that Bush's Memex trails were transclusions, not links (6).)

Recognizing transclusion internally.  Behind the scenes, we compare the addresses to find identities of content.  Transclusion is recognized by commonality of addresses.

Showing transclusion.  There are different ways to show transclusion: we do it differently in the Xanadu Transquoter and in Xanadu Space.

The Xanadu Transquoter concatenates quotations in a browser window and keeps them clickable.  Clicking goes to the original context.

Fig. D: Transclusion shown by the Xanadu Transquoter:
striping a quoted portion in the window of Fig. C
(shown here on the right) brings up the original context
of the quote in another window (left)

This can be facilitated by placing source documents in the Eprints server, which has been given a context display routine for the purpose (seen in foreground window, Fig. D).

Xanadu Space, a 3D document viewer, shows transcluded content side by side between two documents.

Fig. E: Transclusion shown in Xanadu Space:
direct side-by-side connection

As the user goes from portion to portion, Xanadu Space animates the document movement.


Relations, structure, interaction and hypertext connections are all carried out by a single mechanism: connection by flinks, or floating links.

Flinks may be thought of as imposed relations for connection, structure, interaction, formatting, annotation, metadata, and other relations of any kind.  They attach directly to content, through the permaddresses of that content.

The flink generalizes sticky notes, footnotes, comments and any other forms of connection or relation.

A flink is a first-class addressable object, and may be 1-way and n-way, not just two-way.

Flinks may overlap in any quantity.  They may be built into large frameworks of relationships.

How to think of it:

- a one-sided flink (representing, for example, a marker or sticky note), may best be thought of as like a postage stamp glued onto the content.
- a two-sided flink (representing a relation) connects two portions of content; we may think of it as a connection between two patches glued onto the content.

A flink is attached to elements of content; these elements are called its endset.  A one-sided flink has one endset, a two-sided flink has two endsets, etc.  An endset need ot be consecutive; indeed, when a document is edited, different portions of an endset may be arranged to different places without causing a problem.

Finks are not embedded; they are applicative, stuck on the content without changing it.

Flinks may overlap in any quantity.

Flinks may be native to a document or imported from elsewhere. A native flink is in a document's EDL.  Non-native flinks are listed in the EDL, to be used from wherever they are in other documents.

Fig. 4: Overlaying of content by flinks

The flink is attached (by endset) to specific addresses in content anywhere.  Wherever any part of its endset happens to be transcluded, a given flink in principle applies.
The precise format for flinks is presently under revision.  (See transliterature.org for a recent version.)

The general form is:



Flinks may be of many types.
- they need not be stored in the current document, but may be brought in from other documents (like content)
- they may not even refer to the current contents
- they may contradict one another (supercompleteness)
Rules for handling these different situations are part of the document logic.

Flinks present in a document may be turned on and off.

Because the fundamental components are the same for all Transliterary applications, it should be relatively simple to create any of these applications in a simple scripting language.  That will not be discussed here for space reasons.
Because we are used to thinking in terms of conventional document packages, Transliterature takes some getting used to--
- connection to origins
- parallel constructions as an option
- arbitrary overlays
In what follows we will lay out some possible uses, with emphasis on parallelism.
Transliterature of course allows plain text documents with no connections, and they need be no different in function from plain text documents today; they are simply maintained and delivered as EDLs.  The same applies to audio and video.
The multitrack capability of transliterary structure is not just for multitrack objects.  It can help with many authoring issues--
- parallel outlining, where the outline is to the side
- where contents are on hold, either as potential inclusions or as late cuts ("darlings").  The author can have access to this optional content without its intruding on a current draft.

Fig. 20: Parallelism is useful even for 1-track documents

Another authorial issue is the problem of finding the right sequence for a piece of writing.  Often it is easier to choose sequences for particular threads in a subject or narrative, and then merge those sequences.  Transliterary structure will make this easier with new authoring tools.

Fig. 21: Separate sequences merged into one

Yet another authorial issue is keeping track which content has been re-used from another version.  Visible transclusion in transliterature should make this simple.

Fig. 22: Parallel strands keep track of what contents have been used

The above textual uses should work in Xanadu Space from its first release.

In what follows we will lay out some possible richer, multimodal uses, with emphasis on parallelism.  The uses described are not presently working, but simple in principle.

MULTIMODAL FUNCTIONS (combining Audio, Video, Text)
Transliterary structure has many possible uses, especially when its components are understood.  For instance, these allow the combining of text, audio and video in ways that were not before possible.  Text can annotate the audio and video, or vice versa.

To design such uses, we create specific tracks, assign them specific functions, and overlay them with flinks representing the intended structures.

For instance, the annotation of audio with text.

Fig. 8: Annotation of audio

This is often called "logging,", and it is a vital step in cataloguing audio and video.

Sync for Audio and Video Combinations
When you have more than one track of audio or video, synchronization is generally required among the different parts.  A translit sync track can be devoted to this, and connected to the media tracks by sync flinks.

Fig. 19: Document track used for internal sync

Note that such a sync track is oftencalled a "click track."  Click tracks were most famously used in the Looney Tunes cartoons, where all action and music were planned to take a particular number of time units, or "clicks."

Fig. 13: Synchronization by flink: audio for standard movie

The problem is the same for multitrack audio in a movie (fig. 13); sync track not shown.

We can extend this to movies involving multiple projectors.  The most spectacular of these was "Cinerama," with three projectors, in the 1950s, but we are now seeing the same arrangement with computer projectors side by side.  Translit structure can make sure the parts start at the same time.

Fig. 14: "Cinerama" multitrack synchronization by flinks

Sync track not shown.

Audio and Video Editing In Place
It is conventional to physically rearrange portions of audio and video to make a sequence.  This makes less and less sense, when we can simply edit virtually-- that is, create pointers to the desired portions and put the portions in sequence.

The result is playable virtual tracks.

Fig. 7: Virtual Audio Editing

This has numerous benefits--

- availability of uncut material to all parties
- possible use of the content in numerous new context
- transclusive access to the original context
- transclusive access among new contexts
This is essentially the same for audio and video.

Fig. 9: Virtual video editing, combining local and remote sources

Overlays on Movies
Computer graphics makes it possible to overlay movies with other shapes and text, but it makes more sense to do this virtually than to modify the movie content itself.

Here again, translit format provides easy mechanisms in principle.  Visual annotations, graphics and animations may be created for a wide variety of purposes.

Fig. 10: Optional overlays on movies by flink

Note that such overlays may be done even for movies that the user does not own, such as rental films, and transmitted separately to someone else who may want to rent the film..

Branching Movies
There have been many experiments in branching movies and video-- notably the film "To Be Alive" at the 1968 World's Fair in Montreal.  However, all of these were limited by technical problems of the available media at that time.

Fig. 11: Branching movies by track and flink

However, such limitations are essentially behind us.  If video can be accessed randomly, it can be overlaid by translit structures with any branching or interactive structure desired.

Connecting Documents: The New Hypertext

Today, people think "hypertext" means the one-way links of the World Wide Web.  However, this system makes possible two-way and n-way links that will create entirely new forms of writing and social interaction around the writing.  This permit far deeper forms of hypertext, which I have discussed elsewhere (2, 3, 4).

We see this as opening up hypertext to an entirely different form of discourse and literary community.

Generalizing Tracks, Interaction and Transclusion
Generalizing All Of It
Generalizing Media
With all of these components available, we can now posit a generalized virtal medium that combines all these aspects.  It will be possible to combine audio, video, text and branching with transclusive context availability.

Fig. 12: A generalized multitrack virtual medium

We consider this to be a fundamental medium.  This is the capability we have been striving toward for so long.
Issues ----------------


There are many ways links can change or break. Many are technical, many are political. We believe we have solved the principal causes which are not political (i.e., based on the actions of others).

Changes outside the transliterary system can break links; changes within transliterary documents will not.

Transliterary links are to spans of content, which retain their addresses.  Whereas

Weblinks (not our kind of link) point either to

- a whole document, located at a URL
- an "anchor" within the document
Various things can change in non-transliterary documents (the "real world")--
- the document may be rewritten
- the document may disappear, being purged or lost
- the address may cease to exist (the directory, document or domain)
- the address may change
- the anchor may disappear
- the anchor may be modified
Nothing can be done about these problems.

However, in the transliterary world, we have solutions to several of these issues:

In-Links.  Links into transliterary documents (in-links) do not change because addresses do not change within a document, even though the document changes.

To publish a different version, the transliterary publisher creates the new version as an EDL.  Properly constructed, this assures that any surviving content from the previous version has the adddresses it had before; and that any flinks using that content will still be in place.

Out-links.  Assume that external addresses do not change, but our documents do.  If data elements move in a transliterary document, the endsets of flinks may move or become shorter.  However, any surviving endset elements will still be connected to the same spans of content in the remote documents.  Since our links are on spans of content, they will continue to adhere to any remaining portions of external content, however shortened or rearranged in our out-pointing flinks.  Any part of a flink's endset still attaches to the flink.

Our Game (Commitments of the Translit Publisher)

Transliterary structure needs to be maintained by certain procedures.  "Players" are those who adhere to these precepts.  "Non-players" are those who do not.

To make the system work, the transliterary publisher is committed to

- not change content addresses.
- keep content continuously available (no "out of print" or "no longer in release").  The transliterary publisher makes a commitment to keep that content available with that same address, either a URL or a UID (Universal IDentifier).
- not bring content into a document in a way that loses the connection to its origin.
- revise by EDL
The Non-Player's Game
We will of course have to deal with publishers not playing our game of availability and stable addressing, and we will still have to connect to their documents.

In particular, this means--

Caching.  For protection, we must keep copies of any document we connect to, so that the connection can be followed as was intended.

Tables of identity.  For content that is duplicated or moved, tables of identity will be needed to redirect transliterary connections.

COPYRIGHT: The New Possibility
Transliterary format makes possible a new kind of copyright system.  (What follows is a brief summary of our general position, which will be found at transcopyright.org.)

What we strive to achieve is expressed in this motto:

"Everything recombinable and republishable without negotation."

What we are doing is made more difficult today by the fact that everyone has a locked and frozen opinion on copyright.  Almost everyone holds one of the following positions:
- copyright must be eliminated!
- if we steal all the content, the evil publishers will be put out of business, and the world will be a place of sweetness and light
- Creative Commons will somehow fix things
- maybe publishers will stop charging for content, especially to idealistic people and the poor
- copyright control (DRM) must be stronger and more Draconian
Our position is different from all of these.

Transclusion makes possible a new kind of copyright solution, which we call "transcopyright."  This requires no new laws and no change in human nature.

We want publishers who sell content for money to make that content available for transclusive re-use (i.e., inclusion in new documents with connection to its home context..

The Transcopyright Approach
In transliterature, a document is sent out as an EDL (hollow format).  It is a plan for what contents to bring in and how to arrange them.

In principle, you can put into the EDL any part of any on-line document.  The only problem is, a downloader may not get it-- because many documents are not available for free or in part.

By putting a work under transcopyright, a rightsholder would agree--

- to sell arbitrary portions of document on line, charging proportionally for the size of each piece
- to grant permission to anyone to include any portion of a work in an EDL, even though that portion is now out of context
- not to change the price unreasonably, or without due warning
Benefits to the public--
- Everything is recombinable and republishable without negotiation (the motto above)-- provided that rightsholders participate.
- Content that is locked away and unusable becomes usable.
Benefits to the publisher--
- a new revenue stream of very small payments
- samples of the work may be widely seen, with payment
- any downloader may purchase more of the document as a local copy
- in principle the quotation is not "out of context," since the reader may send directly for more of the context
- this confuses publishers, because
- they are accustomed to payment in advance for any re-used content
- they are accustomed to payment in advance for a known number of copies (such as, "a press run of 10,000")
"Once it's out there, it will be stolen."
- there is already illicit availability of thousands of media objects; this will not change that
- every form of commerce has black markets and grey markets where the law is broken
I've heard the complaint, "This doesn't make it free!"
Why were you expecting it to be free?  Publishers have a legal and legitimate form of commerce based on selling content; they will not relinquish this, nor should they.  This is not an attempt to subvert commercial publishing, but to open it in a new direction.
- as with the mobile phone, this would become a form of commerce where people do not reckon the cost because individual purchases are not great
- the publisher would get to set the price of the content
- the user could choose not to download expensive portions
- publishers would find it disadvantageous to charge too much
The Real Hope: Objectives of Transcopyright
What this system can do is change the basis of re-use, eliminating red tape and making it simple to re-use content in on-line documents.  The real objective is to loosen and liquefy the content for everyone's flexible re-use, based on showing publishers they can benefit from this recombinable approach.  Without buy-in by large commercial publishers, it will remain simply a demonstrable possibility.
The Transcopyright Permission System
The publisher puts the term "transcopyright", or "trans(c)", on the document, linking it to a longer permission statement.  This tells everyone it is okay to quote in any amount by EDL.

However, to make it operational, the publisher will have to put the content on a transcopyright server.

The Transcopyright Server, and Payment Gateway

A transcopyright server will serve up the requested portion, given the appropriate micropayment by the user.  Such a payment gateway is also not presently available.  (We also foresee services to act as payment gateway and transcopyright server, freeing the publisher from that requirement.)
This approach to media and documents is very different and requires adaptation and new attitudes.  Will it be worth it? Believers think yes, others intend to stay satisfied with today's tangled formats and the one-way non-overlapping links of current simple hypertext. I think much better is possible and hope it will be worth the wait.
1.  Theodor H. Nelson, "Lost in hyperspace."  New Scientist magazine, issue 2561, 22 July 2006, page 26.  Available on line at

2.  Theodor H. Nelson, The Future of Information.  ASCII (Tokyo), 1997.

3.  Theodor H. Nelson, Literary Machines, various editions.  Published by the author; available from Eastgate Systems ...

4.  Theodor H. Nelson, "Xanalogical Structure, Needed Now More than Ever: Parallel Documents, Deep Links to Content, Deep Versioning and Deep Re-Use."  Available at various addresses; canonically from Project Xanadu, at

5.  Theodor H. Nelson, "Transliterature: A Humanist Format for Re-Usable Documents and Media."  At http://transliterature.org/

6.  Bush, Vannevar, "As We May Think."  Atlantic Monthly, July 1945; on line at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush
and elsewhere.