The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







In computing, hypertext is a user interface paradigm for displaying documents which contain automated cross-references to other documents called hyperlinks. Selecting a hyperlink causes the computer to display the linked document within a very short period of time.

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). 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, or, to be more specific, the problem which it is allegedly the solution for, is 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 obvious reasons like 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 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. The Memex, its creator, and its creator's understanding of the structure of information were all severely flawed. 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.

After funding for NLS slowed to a trickle in 1974, progress on hypertext research nearly came to a halt. During this time, the ZOG project 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 KMS.

The first hypermedia application was the Aspen Movie Map in 1977.

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 was not very successful.

The HyperCard application introduced for the Apple Macintosh in August 1987 helped to popularize the concept of hypertext with the general public (although HyperCard was technically a hypermedia system since 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.

However, all the earlier hypertext systems were quickly overshadowed by the success of Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web after 1993, even though the latter lacked 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:

Academic Conferences

One of the top academic conferences for new research in hypertext is the annually held ACM's Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia (HT 2004)

Although not exclusively about hypertext, the World Wide Web series of conferences, organized by IW3C2, includes many papers of interest. There is a list with links to all conferences in the series.

Hypertext as Literature

The development of electronic literature has coincided with the growth and proliferation of hypertext development software and the emergence of electronic networks. Two software programs specifically designed for hypertextual literature Storyspace and Intermedia became available in the 1990's. Storyspace v2.0, a professional level hypertext development tool, is available from Eastgate Systems.

Several important hypertexts have already been created. These include Michael Joyce's afternoon: a story, Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl, and Stuart Moulthrop 's Victory Garden.

Important hypertext critics and theorists are Jay David Bolter , George Landow , Stuart Moulthrop , J.Yellowlees Douglas , Robert Coover, and Michael Joyce (among others).

Hypertextual literature can be divided into two categories : exploratory and constructive. The hypertexts named above are exploratory, that is, the user interacts with the text, but does not modify individual lexia . A good example of a constructive hypertext is Wikipedia; as the name implies, these texts allow for user addition, associative linking, and (w)reading. Constructive hypertexts are not citeable, per se; since they are open and subject to constant reformation and expansion there is no stable text, as in print media .

Hypertext is often associated with the postmodern movement, and draws heavily from the philosophies of Michael Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

See also


Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. (2nd Edition). New Jersey. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Byers, T. J. (1987, April). Built by association. PC World, 5, 244-251.

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). Electronic Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Landow, George. (1997). Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nelson, Theodor H. (1973). A Conceptual framework for man-machine everything. National Computer Conference and Exposition, June 4-8, 1973, Mew York, NY. AFIPS Conference Proceedings VOL. 42 (pp. M22-M23). Montvale, NJ: AFIPS Press.

van Dam, Andries. (1988, July). 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).

External links

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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04