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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.