a word on Links & HyperText comment


Hypertext as most know it today, is a link in a page which you can click on and it loads another page. This is great, but not the whole story neither historically, philosophically or aspirationally. The definition of HyperText is simply: "Non-sequential writing with free user movement." (Nelson email 08/07/02)


Web Link

The link is but one way you can navigate around in your information. In your computer you have files and folders. You can open up a folder, open another folder within that folder and move back 'up' again.

A HyperText link can then be thought of as a specific way to get to a document, as well as what way to go about getting it. The link specifies which computer it is on, which directory it is located in and what its name has. But it is not a link to the document in any way like a string between two real world documents would be. It is merely a very codified direction, an address only in the loosest sense.

Let's have a look: http://www.liquidinformation.org/interesting/HyperScope.html

Here http:// specifies 'use the HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol)'
to go to the www.liquidinformation.org computer (or server).
Look in the 'interesting' directory.
Then you should find a document named HyperScope.html. Present this in the browser.

Now, you might have found it there but it might be deleted or never have been there to being with. It may have changed names. It may have moved. And it may have changed. You don't know because the Hypertext link is only an address. Much like a real-world address to a person. The person might be there. The person might be out for lunch. The person might have moved. It is not therefore, a link in any real, binding sense.


Real-World Address

A real world mailing address identifies a unique place.

Tony Blair. 10 Downing Street. London W1 JAG3. UK.

GPS coordinates which indicate a specific spot on the earth, take this even further, specifying the location of a specific spot, no matter if there is anything there or not. You have to be able to read the GPS cordiantes to make us of this information though.



Now, in the real world, we are much more flexible in how we describe locations. We can use relative addressing such as 'go down this road and turn right at the pizzeria'. We can even have dynamic addressing, like in so many mafia movies: "Go to Luigi on 3rd & Houston and he'll tell you where to go".

We can address a whole business or an individual person. We can even address a table. And this is where the more traditional meaning of address comes in; "Meet me at the Starbucks on New Oxford street, I'll be on the computer upstairs".


The Original HyperText Incarnation, Engelbarts Augment

The Augment (Doug Engelbart's original system, also refered to as NLS) model of navigation takes advantage of two important principles referred to as 'Jumping' and 'Addressing':

You can Jump to the top of a document. You can jump to the first occurrence of an indicated acronym (which is useful as acronyms are often only explained when they first appear). You can even specify that you wan to Jump to the first phone number in a document. In other words you are not restricted to following pre-defined links. And you are not restricted to only linking to the documents themselves; you can link to anything you like, at whatever level of detail you like.

Jumping. A Jump can be: 'jump up a level' Just like you would do when you go up a folder on your computer. It can be 'jump to glossary entry for this word' or it can be 'Jump to the first phone number in the document'. Or 'jump to this pre-written address' (like we do when we click on a web link to day).

Addressing. Combine this with high resolution addressability- the ability to address paragraphs and words and anything you like- and it all gets pretty powerful. The HyperScope can point to any arbitrary object within the document, not just to the whole document. This is refered to as High Resolution Linking. Any object, whether on a page or not, can be linked to. High resolution referencing is designed for easy retrieval of anything anyone might want to reference or comment on. I can email you and point to a sentence in a document I want to comment on, not just the whole document.

There is also Implicit linking. Every word is implicitly linked to its definition in a dictionary (for example); every special term is implicitly linked to its definition in that discipline's glossary. Doug's got plenty of these kinds of links, this was just a taster.


Other meanings of the word Link
We have established that links are not solid, not complete. But there are links all over the place right? Your brother is linked to your aunt through your mother for example. That is a link, a connection as well.

These 'other' links are significant. As Doug points out, the ability to address anything and to move (jump) in any way (relative to something or not)is a powerful way to be able to study known relationships and to discover new relationships.

A computer system which only deals with manually coded links or automatic links, but still defined only by the author and not the reader, is very limited indeed.

Consider all kinds of links. Consider how computer systems can help in making them dynamic. That's where the promise and excitement lies...


©1995-2001 The Liquid Information Company    www.liquidinformation.org