My Digital Garden


Alan Kay's Tape Reel

alan-kay at OOPSLA '97: the Internet as a version of the 1961 B220 file format he observed in the Air Force in 1961.

While Kay is talking about the structure of the web, he is also discussing the larger meaning of object-oriented approaches. Elsewhere, Kay cites the B220 file format as one of the inspirations for Smalltalk. page

I saw it in 1961. Back then they didn't really have operating systems; Air Training command had to send tapes of many kind of records around from Air Force base to Air Force base.

And there was this question of how you could deal with all of these things that used to be card images: because tape had come in and there were starting to be more and more formats. And somebody...came up with the following idea.

This person said: On the third part of this tape we'll put all of the records of this particular type. On the second part we'll put the procedures that know how to deal with all the formats on this third part of the tape. And in the first part we'll put pointers to all the procedures, and then in fact let's make the first ten or so pointers standard. Like reading and writing things, printing, and get to the idiosyncratic ones later on.

So all you had to do to read a tape in 1961 was read the front part of one of these records into core storage and start jumping indirect through the pointers and the procedures were there. Now I would really like you to contrast that with what you have to do with HTML on the Internet. HTML on the Internet has gone back to the dark ages, because it presupposes that there should be a browser that understands its formats...

The browser wars are don't NEED a browser, if you follow what this staff sargeant figured out how to do in 1961.

You should just read [the data] in, it travels with everything it needs, and you don't need anything more complex than X-Windows.


At least part of Kay's point is that this structure allows individuals to innovate around browser function, rather than relying browser companies to do so.

Source: Mike Caulfield fedwiki

#todo tidy and link