> 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).