Software Engineering Parables 3: Project Xanadu


In the 1960’s Ted Nelson inspired a generation with his papers on the future of information and his coined term ‘hypertext.’  The culmination of his thoughts became Project Xanadu.  Project Xanadu was a mixture of the World Wide Web with version control which in his eyes would solve many of the worlds woes.  His assumption was that many of the worlds problems stem from ignorance and misinformation.  It was ambitious and complete in its appraisal of the problem with exchanging and archiving information.  One killer feature that was noted was the impossibility for dead hyperlinks.  Project Xanadu had a  ~20 year head start on Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, but alas it didn’t ship in time.

This story comes to mind when in Software Engineering we are designing something and the discussion devolves into a chain of minor considerations that complicate the larger goal.  History shows us that the implementation of the web that revolutionized the world was the system that ignored versions and dead-ends, the flawed version is the one that shipped and brought immeasurable value to humanity.


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