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In computing, hypertext is a user interface paradigm for displaying documents which, according to an early definition (Nelson 1970), "branch or perform on request." The most frequently discussed form of hypertext document contains automated cross-references to other documents called hyperlinks. Selecting a hyperlink causes the computer to load and display the linked document.
A document can be static (prepared and stored in advance) or dynamically generated (in response to user input). Therefore, a well-constructed hypertext system can encompass, incorporate or supersede many other user interface paradigms like menus and command lines, and can be used to access both static collections of cross-referenced documents and interactive applications. The documents and applications can be local or can come from anywhere with the assistance of a computer network like the Internet. The most famous implementation of hypertext is the World Wide Web.
The term "hypertext" is often used where the term hypermedia would be more appropriate.
Foreshadowing hypertext was a simple technique used in various reference works (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.), consisting of setting a term in small capital letters, as an indication that an entry or article existed for that term (within the same reference work). Sometimes the term would be preceded by a pointing hand dingbat, ☞like this, or an arrow, ➧like this. In addition to such manual cross-references, there were experiments with various methods for arranging layers of annotations around a document. The most famous example is the Talmud.
The point of hypertext is to deal with the problem of information overload. All of the persons mentioned below were obsessed with the realization that humanity is simply drowning in information, so that, too often, decisionmakers keep making foolish decisions and scientists inadvertently duplicate existing work (e.g., the belated rediscovery of Gregor Mendel's work).
In the early 20th century, two visionaries attacked the cross-referencing problem through proposals based on labor-intensive brute force methods. Paul Otlet proposed a proto-hypertext concept based on his monographic principle in which all documents would be decomposed down to unique phrases stored on index cards. In the 1930s, H.G. Wells proposed the creation of a World Brain. For reasons of cost, neither proposal got very far.
Therefore, all major histories of hypertext start with 1945, when Vannevar Bush wrote an article in The Atlantic Monthly called "As We May Think," about a futuristic device he called a Memex. He described the device as a mechanical desk linked to an extensive archive of microfilms and able to display books, texts or any document from the library, and further able to automatically follow references from any given page to the specific page referenced.
Most experts do not consider the Memex to be a true hypertext system. However, the story starts with the Memex because "As We May Think" directly influenced and inspired the two American men generally credited with the invention of hypertext, Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart.
Nelson coined the word "hypertext" in 1965 and helped Andries van Dam develop the Hypertext Editing System in 1968 at Brown University; Engelbart had begun working on his NLS system in 1962 at Stanford Research Institute, although delays in obtaining funding, personnel and equipment meant that its key features were not completed until 1968. That year, Engelbart demonstrated a hypertext interface to the public for the first time, in what has come to be known as "The Mother of All Demos".
After funding for NLS slowed to a trickle in 1974, progress on hypertext research nearly came to a halt. During this time, the ZOG at Carnegie Mellon started as an artificial intelligence research project under the supervision of Allen Newell. Only much later would its participants realize that their system was a hypertext system. ZOG was deployed in 1980 on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and later commercialized as Knowledge Management System.
The early 1980s saw a number of experimental hypertext and hypermedia programs, many of whose features and terminology were later integrated into the Web. However, none of these systems achieved widespread success or name recognition with consumers.
Guide was the first hypertext system for personal computers, but it was not very successful. Guide was quite expensive and difficult to use, as it had originally been developed for UNIX workstations and was subsequently ported to DOS. It was immediately eclipsed by HyperCard.
In August 1987, Apple Computer revealed its HyperCard application for its Macintosh line of computers at the MacWorld convention in Boston, Massachusetts. HyperCard was an immediate hit and helped to popularize the concept of hypertext with the general public (although as Jakob Nielsen later pointed out, it was technically a hypermedia system because its hyperlinks originated only from regions on the screen). The first hypertext-specific academic conference also took place that year.
Meanwhile, Nelson had been working on and advocating his Xanadu system for over two decades, and the commercial success of HyperCard stirred Autodesk to invest in his revolutionary ideas. The project limped on for four years without ever releasing a complete product, before Autodesk pulled the plug in the midst of the 1991-1992 recession.
In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee created ENQUIRE, an early hypertext database system, somewhat like a wiki. In late 1990, Berners-Lee, then a scientist at CERN, invented the World Wide Web to meet the demand for automatic information sharing between scientists working in different universities and institutes all over the world. Early in 1993, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois released a first version of their Mosaic browser to replace the two lacking existing web browsers: one that ran only on NeXTSTEP and one that was minimally user-friendly. Mosaic ran in the X Window System environment, popular in the research community, and offered usable window-based interaction. Web traffic exploded from only 500 known web servers in 1993 to over 10,000 in 1994 after the release of browser versions for both the PC and Macintosh environments.
All the earlier hypertext systems were overshadowed by the success of the World Wide Web, even though it lacks many features of those earlier systems such as typed links, transclusion and source tracking.
Besides the already mentioned HyperCard and World Wide Web, there are other noteworthy implementations of hypertext, with different feature sets:
- Microsoft Word has evolved in orientation from paper to in-computer documents.
- Information Presentation Facility used for displaying help in the IBM operating systems.
- Windows Help
- Adobe's Portable Document Format supports links.
- Texinfo, the GNU help system.
- Project Xanadu
- XML with the XLink extension.
- The many implementations of wiki, like the MediaWiki system that powers Wikipedia, that aim to compensate for the lack of integrated editors in most Web browsers.
See main article Hypertext fiction
The development of this branch of electronic literature coincided with the growth and proliferation of hypertext development software and the emergence of electronic networks. Two software programs specifically designed for literary hypertext, Storyspace and Intermedia became available in the 1990's.
- Storyspace 2.0, a professional level hypertext development tool, is available from Eastgate Systems, which has also published many notable works of electronic literature, including Michael Joyce's afternoon, a story, Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl, and Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden.
- Other works include Julio Cortazar's Rayuela and Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars.
- An advantage of writing a narrative using hypertext technology is that the meaning of the story can be conveyed through a sense of spatiality and perspective that is arguably unique to digitally-networked environments. An author's creative use of nodes, the self-contained units of meaning in a hypertextual narrative, can play with the reader's orientation and add meaning to the text.
Critics and theorists
- Jay David Bolter
- Robert Coover
- J.Yellowlees Douglas
- N. Katherine Hayles
- Michael Joyce
- George Landow
- Lev Manovich
- Stuart Moulthrop
- Ted Nelson
- Bolter, Jay David (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-2919-9.
- Byers, T. J. (April 1987). "Built by association". PC World 5: 244-251.
- Cicconi, Sergio (1999). ""Hypertextuality"". Mediapolis. Ed. Sam Inkinen. Berlino & New York: De Gruyter.: 21-43.
- Crane, Gregory (1988). "Extending the boundaries of instruction and research". T.H.E. Journal (Technological Horizons in Education) (Macintosh Special Issue): 51-54.
- Engelbart, Douglas C. (1962). "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, AFOSR-3233 Summary Report, SRI Project No. 3579".
- Heim, Michael (1987). Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07746-7.
- Landow, George (1997). Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5585-3.
- Yankelovich, Nicole, Landow, George P., and Cody, David (1987). "Creating hypermedia materials for English literature students". SIGCUE Outlook 20 (3): All.
- Nelson, Theodor H. (September 1965). "Complex information processing: a file structure for the complex, the changing and the indeterminate". ACM/CSC-ER Proceedings of the 1965 20th national conference.
- Nelson, Theodor H. (September 1970). "No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks". Computer Decisions.
- Nelson, Theodor H. (1973). "A Conceptual framework for man-machine everything". AFIPS Conference Proceedings VOL. 42, M22-M23.
- van Dam, Andries (July 1988). "Hypertext: '87 keynote address". Communications of the ACM 31: 887-895.
- The Shaping of Hypertextual Narrative (by Sergio Cicconi)
- The ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia
- Electronic Literature Organization (for more on hypertext literature)
- Hypertext: Behind the Hype
- mprove: Historical Overview of Hypertext
- The first use of hypertext (?) - TIFF image
- Co-link, a Brazilian research project
- Reviving Advanced Hypertext (whether and how concepts from hypertext research can be used on the Web)
- Scripts Search Engine
- A Brief History of Human Computer Interaction Technology
- the TAI/MAI/NAI Progession Overview and NRG's "Laws of Good Answers" presented as a Network Distributed Dense Meme Stack
- What is hypertext - Independent sources / references on web as to what hypertext in its nature is