> My main complaint in this essay is that such a claim is a misrepresentation of history: we don't use tech that is deeply influenced by these seminal projects, but instead use tech based on extremely different goals & constraints.
I don't see a proof of the assertion that the tech is extremely different or even directly derived from these concepts. Kay has written at length about concepts that he wanted to see that were never realized (missing systems with no Smalltalk80 style objects, bemoaning the iPad's utility as a consumption device but its failure as a production device), but you seem to be making a claim that there are strong, foundational ideas from these seminal projects that were not only ignored, but apparently deliberately ignored for some nefarious purpose.
> The strong form is "we live in the future that <figure> imagined/wanted" -- something that's almost never true. Engelbart was not as outspoken in his criticism of the direction of development as Nelson & Kay, but he wasn't quiet about it either. Strictly speaking, these seminal projects had specific goals that they achieved far better than the later work inspired by them did.
I'm less familiar with Nelson's writings, but Engelbart didn't have much to say about how his writing has been construed, and while Kay has publicly voiced his disproval of current technologies, at no point has Kay attributed malice or otherwise nefarious ends to the reasons for which his ideas went unrealized.
> The weak form is along the lines of "<project> influenced later work", which is weak enough to be almost meaningless. The most important elements of these projects are typically lost in the churn, meaning that while the influence is obvious it is also shallow.
I'm unclear as to why a weak influence disqualifies something from being an influence. You note that "There's nothing wrong with doing that -- in fact, it's a great way to come up with potentially-interesting ideas of your own -- but it's not an effective way to add meaningfully to a lineage" but I do not think that neither you nor I have the ability to define what this lineage is. Like most history, the continuum of lineage is simply a convenient analytic tool for understanding large swaths of events. It's like trying to pin a date for the exact fall of the Roman Empire, an exercise in sophistry.
From the article:
> These folks weren’t trying to predict our current future. They were trying to create a future worth living in, & we failed to make that happen.
Again you seem to be attributing to these seminal works a set of qualities that were apparently central but unrealized when I don't think anyone but the author of the works themselves has any right to do this.
It's unclear to me whether the ideas of Nelson, Kay, et al. were failed to be realized because of some nefarious reason, because of ambivalence, because there simply wasn't a demand for their ideas, or because of a complex interplay of economic and social issues that thwarted adoption. I believe you've taken selected portions of their ideas and placed them on a pedestal, and centered their works around these ideas as you interpret them rather than other aspects. There's many good ideas and observations from these visionaries that continue to go unrealized, but as with any technology that lost, we should be careful when looking at the technologies to see why rather than coming up with simplistic explanations involving greed or malice.
> at no point has Kay attributed malice or otherwise nefarious ends to the reasons for which his ideas went unrealized.
Neither do I. It's unfortunate that relatively few people have continued Kay's work, but it's largely because they don't understand it, not because they're deliberately misrepresenting it. Likewise with Nelson & Engelbart.
(With regard to Engelbart, he wrote less in public about misrepresentation of his work, & I mostly know how he felt about it via Nelson. I don't think Ted's lying to me, & the two of them were close.)
> I'm unclear as to why a weak influence disqualifies something from being an influence.
A weak influence does not disqualify something from being an influence. However, a weak influence isn't meaningful -- I am weakly influenced by TV shows I've never watched, for instance.
> It's unclear to me whether the ideas of Nelson, Kay, et al. were failed to be realized because of some nefarious reason, because of ambivalence, because there simply wasn't a demand for their ideas, or because of a complex interplay of economic and social issues that thwarted adoption.
Nelson, Kay, & Engelbart actually did realize their ideals -- at least, at a small scale in prototype projects. We know what their ideals were because they wrote about them, & we know that they were realized because we've seen those projects.
Later projects that claim to be inspired by them do not have these qualities, because they do not have the same goals. (I'm not, in this essay, judging them for not having the same goals. I do that in other essays. I'm judging bad journalists for claiming a stronger link than is justified.)
Again, I'm not complaining about the history. I'm complaining about the historiography.
Highlighting a lineage between these projects & modern systems is misleading, particularly when people make the strong form of the argument (that modern systems represent what these projects envisioned). Such a misapprehension is valuable for marketing purposes, since it allows modern systems to borrow clout: we ought to be very careful about feeding that kind of mythology, since it's both dubious and backed by powerful figures.
It's accurate to say that the mouse came from nLS, that overlapping windows, icons, and drop-down menus came from PARC & the Alto project, and that jump links came from Xanadu. But, it's inaccurate to characterize nLS primarily as the origin of the mouse (seeing as how it had defined itself as a groupware system for creating human-machine symbiosis), or to characterize the Alto primarily as the inspiration for the Macintosh (since Mesa also inspired plan9 & Oberon and since Smalltalk80 was such a rich & interesting system in of itself), or to characterize Xanadu primarily as the inspiration for the web (since jump links were one of many features, all balanced together carefully in a nuanced overarching design, which the web did not duplicate because TBL did not understand it).
When we remember seminal system primarily for the elements shared with economically-successful modern systems inspired by them, we create a narrative that discounts the value of the parts not adapted -- a clean linear narrative where the winners were fated. But the winners got lucky, & we have a lot to learn from the losers & from the seminal systems that inspired the whole lot (by dint of being allowed, due to lack of market pressures, to be more creative).