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hypertext, technique for organizing computer databases or documents to facilitate the nonsequential retrieval of information. Related pieces of information are connected by preestablished or user-created links that allow a user to follow associative trails across the database. The linked data may be in a text, graphic, audio, or video format, allowing for multimedia presentations; when more formats than text are linked together, the technique is often referred to as hypermedia. Hypertext applications offer a variety of tools for very rapid searches for specific information; they are particularly useful for working with voluminous amounts of text, as are found in an encyclopedia or a repair and maintenance manual. See also information storage and retrieval; World Wide Web.

See G. P. Landow, ed., Hyper/Text/Theory (1994); J. A. Lennon, Hypermedia Systems and Applications: World Wide Web and Beyond (1997); D. Lowe and W. Hall, Hypermedia and the Web: An Engineering Approach (1999).

Hypertext most often refers to text on a computer that will lead the user to other, related information on demand. Hypertext represents a relatively recent innovation to user interfaces, which overcomes some of the limitations of written text. Rather than remaining static like traditional text, hypertext makes possible a dynamic organization of information through links and connections (called hyperlinks). Hypertext can be designed to perform various tasks; for instance when a user "clicks" on it or "hovers" over it, a bubble with a word definition may appear, a web page on a related subject may load, a video clip may run, or an application may open.


The prefix hyper- (comes from the Greek prefix "υπερ-" and means "over" or "beyond") signifies the overcoming of the old linear constraints of written text. The term "hypertext" is often used where the term hypermedia might seem appropriate. In 1992 Ted Nelson - who coined both terms in 1965 - wrote:
By now the word "hypertext" has become generally accepted for branching and responding text, but the corresponding word "hypermedia," meaning complexes of branching and responding graphics, movies and sound - as well as text - is much less used. Instead they use the strange term "interactive multimedia" - four syllables longer, and not expressing the idea that it extends hypertext. - Nelson, Literary Machines 1992

Types and uses of hypertext

Hypertext documents can either be static (prepared and stored in advance) or dynamic (continually changing in response to user input). Static hypertext can be used to cross-reference collections of data in documents, software applications, or books on CDs. A well-constructed system can also incorporate other user-interface conventions, such as menus and command lines. Hypertext can develop very complex and dynamic systems of linking and cross-referencing. The most famous implementation of hypertext is the World Wide Web.


Early precursors to hypertext

Recorders of information have long looked for ways to categorize and compile it. Early on, experiments existed with various methods for arranging layers of annotations around a document. The most famous example of this is the Talmud. Various other reference works (for example dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.) also developed a precursor to hypertext, consisting of setting certain words in small capital letters, indicating that an entry 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.

Later, several scholars entered the scene who believed that humanity was drowning in information, causing foolish decisions and duplicating efforts among scientists. These scholars proposed or developed proto-hypertext systems predating electronic computer technology. For example, 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.

Michael Buckland summarized the very advanced pre-World War II development of microfilm based on rapid retrieval devices, specifically the microfilm based workstation proposed by Leonard Townsend in 1938 and the microfilm and photoelectronic based selector, patented by Emmanuel Goldberg in 1931. Buckland concluded: "The pre-war information retrieval specialists of continental Europe, the 'documentalists,' largely disregarded by post-war information retrieval specialists, had ideas that were considerably more advanced than is now generally realized." But, like the manual index card model, these microfilm devices provided rapid retrieval based on pre-coded indices and classification schemes published as part of the microfilm record without including the link model which distinguishes the modern concept of hypertext from content or category based information retrieval.

The Memex

All major histories of what we now call hypertext start in 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, able to display books, writings, or any document from a library. The Memex would also be able to create 'trails' of linked and branching sets of pages, combining pages from the published microfilm library with personal annotations or additions captured on a microfilm recorder. Bush's vision was based on extensions of 1945 technology - microfilm recording and retrieval in this case. However, the modern story of hypertext 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.

The invention of hypertext

Ted Nelson coined the words "hypertext" and "hypermedia" in 1965 and worked with Andries van Dam to 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. In December of 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".

Funding for NLS slowed after 1974. Influential work in the following decade included NoteCards at Xerox PARC and ZOG at Carnegie Mellon. ZOG started in 1972 as an artificial intelligence research project under the supervision of Allen Newell, and pioneered the "frame" or "card" model of hypertext. ZOG was deployed in 1982 on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and later commercialized as Knowledge Management System. Two other influential hypertext projects from the early 1980s were Ben Shneiderman's The Interactive Encyclopedia System (TIES) at the University of Maryland (1983) and Intermedia at Brown University (1984).


The first hypermedia application was the Aspen Movie Map in 1977. In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee created ENQUIRE, an early hypertext database system somewhat like a wiki. The early 1980s also saw a number of experimental hypertext and hypermedia programs, many of whose features and terminology were later integrated into the Web. Guide was the first hypertext system for personal computers.

In August 1987, Apple Computer released HyperCard for the Macintosh line at the MacWorld convention. Its impact, combined with interest in Peter J. Brown's GUIDE (marketed by OWL and released earlier that year) and Brown University's Intermedia, led to broad interest in and enthusiasm for hypertext and new media. The first ACM Hypertext academic conference took place in November 1987, in Chapel Hill NC.

Meanwhile Nelson, who had been working on and advocating his Xanadu system for over two decades, along with the commercial success of HyperCard, stirred Autodesk to invest in his revolutionary ideas. The project continued at Autodesk for four years, but no product was released.

Hypertext and the World Wide Web

In the late 1980s, Berners-Lee, then a scientist at CERN, invented the World Wide Web to meet the demand for automatic information-sharing among scientists working in different universities and institutes all over the world. In 1992, Lynx was born as an early Internet web browser. Its ability to provide hypertext links within documents that could reach into documents anywhere on the Internet began the creation of the web on the Internet.

Early in 1993, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois released the first version of their Mosaic web browser to supplement the two existing web browsers: one that ran only on NeXTSTEP and one that was only minimally user-friendly. Because it could display and link graphics as well as text, Mosaic quickly became the replacement for Lynx. Mosaic ran in the X Window System environment, which was then popular in the research community, and offered usable window-based interactions. It allowed images as well as text to anchor hypertext links. It also incorporated other protocols intended to coordinate information across the Internet, such as [(protocol)|Gopher].

After the release of web browsers for both the PC and Macintosh environments, traffic on the World Wide Web quickly exploded from only 500 known web servers in 1993 to over 10,000 in 1994. Thus, all earlier hypertext systems were overshadowed by the success of the web, even though it originally lacked many features of those earlier systems, such as an easy way to edit what you were reading, typed links, backlinks, transclusion, and source tracking.

In 1995, Ward Cunningham made the first wiki available, which built on the web by adding easy editing, and (within a single wiki) backlinks and limited source tracking. Wikis continue to be a medium where features are implemented, which were developed or imagined in the early explorations of hypertext.


Besides the already mentioned Project Xanadu, Hypertext Editing System, NLS, HyperCard, and World Wide Web, there are other noteworthy early implementations of hypertext, with different feature sets:

Academic conferences

Among the top academic conferences for new research in hypertext is the annual ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia ( ACM SIGWEB Hypertext Conference page). Although not exclusively about hypertext, the World Wide Web series of conferences, organized by IW3C2, include many papers of interest. There is a list on the web with links to all conferences in the series.

Hypertext fiction

See main article Hypertext fiction

Hypertext writing has developed its own style of fiction, coinciding 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 1990s.

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, Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden, and Judy Malloy's its name was Penelope. Other works include Julio Cortazar's Rayuela and Milorad Pavić'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 of hypertext claim that it inhibits the old, linear, reader experience by creating several different tracks to read on, and that this in turn contributes to a postmodernist fragmentation of worlds. However, they do see its value in its ability to present several different views on the same subject in a simple way.

Critics and theorists

See also


  • Barnet, Belinda (2004). "Lost In The Archive: Vision, Artefact And Loss In The Evolution Of Hypertext". University of New South Wales, PhD thesis. .
  • Bolter, Jay David (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-2919-9.
  • Buckland, Michael (2006). Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine. Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 0-31331-332-6.
  • Byers, T. J. (1987). "Built by association". PC World 5 244–251.
  • Cicconi, Sergio (1999). ""Hypertextuality"". Mediapolis. Ed. Sam Inkinen. Berlino & New York: De Gruyter. 21–43.
  • Conklin, J. (1987). "Hypertext: An Introduction and Survey". Computer 20 (9): 17–41.
  • 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 (2006). Hypertext 3.0 Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization: Critical Theory and New Media in a Global Era (Parallax, Re-Visions of Culture and Society). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8257-5.
  • Nelson, Theodor H. (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. (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. .
  • Nelson, Theodor H. (1992). Literary Machines 93.1. Sausalito CA: Mindful Press. ISBN 0-89347-062-7.
  • van Dam, Andries (1988). "Hypertext: '87 keynote address". Communications of the ACM 31 887–895.
  • Yankelovich, Nicole; Landow, George P., and Cody, David (1987). "Creating hypermedia materials for English literature students". SIGCUE Outlook 20 (3): All.

External links


Hypertext Conferences

Hypertext Fiction

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