From token_word to Xanadu

by Jack Seay

May, 13, 2003

What will it take to move from token_word's functionality to that of Xanadu?

The main question to ask is what do you want to do that you can't do now on the Internet.

Token_word does not have embedded markup codes, such as the Web has HTML. This is one of token_word's greatest strength's and one of the Web's greatest weaknesses. Xanadu stresses the importance of separating content from formatting. This way the same text can be formatted in many ways for different purposes (such as matching the formatting of other documents it is included in).

Xanadu uses "transclusions" to construct composite documents. These will include all types of media. Token_word has these for text. This is different than the usual "copy/cut and paste" used on computers. Rather than making a copy of text, the original is viewed in another document, as if using multiple layers of transparent plastic. This has many advantages - simple tracking of reused content for fair royalty micro-payments, comparison of changes among versions, unlimited reuse of copyrighted material, and following extracts to examine original context.

Animators (before using computers) painted on layers of acetate and stacked them to produce an image. This way a background painting could be used for many frames without repainting everything for each frame. It could be moved a little each frame to simulate foreground object and camera movement. This was later done using software layers. 3D animation allows rotating objects to see all dimensions of something changing through time. In addition, the attributes of an object (combinations of transparency, translucency, reflectivity, texture, and dozens of other attributes) could be animated through time. Objects can be linked to affect each other's movement, appearance, and rotation.

Text, video, mathematically and artist generated graphics, synthesized and sampled sound and music and speech, VR, collaborative human and computer work and play, data mining, simulated intuition - all these and more can be mixed, animated and linked in potentially infinite dimensions.

Already it is possible for artists and musicians to produce creative works with software that surprise even them. With the mixed media described above and unhindered reuse of segments of their own and other's work, new types of yet unimagined art, science, mathematics, and philosophy will happen (the boundaries between these "disciplines" blurring and often disappearing as in Hermann Hesse's "The Glass Bead Game", also titled "Magister Ludi").

Every existing type of software could be rewritten to take advantage of Xanadu's features. Perhaps the operating system could handle much of it. The distinction is often blurring between the OS, scripts, and applications - as the user will interact with a composite of them - and with other people around the world.

Programming may roughly be divided into two aspects: data structures and algorithms. Traditional programming places the emphasis on algorithms (how to manipulate data). Xanadu and token_word emphasize data structure. No amount of fancy manipulation can make up for weak structure. A strong and flexible structure that provides the capabilities here described makes almost anything possible in software.

So far, token_word uses only one set of data to create each document: content. To become more like Xanadu, two more sets need to be added: formatting and links. token_word uses transclusions as a sort of linking. This provides for linking to spans of text in another document, quoting it exactly word for word. Full linking will allow the links to read in words not in the document linked to and also allow two documents to link to each other. Token_word allows this only partially. Formatting sets will allow a variety of formats to be applied to the same content: different type styles and sizes, collapsible outlines, etc. By overlaying the three data sets, different views of a single text may be created.

The other major improvement will be to move to custom software rather than using a browser. This will make it possible to do a great number of things, such as editing text with formatting and transpointing arrows between content in windows.

Back to main page