The Hypertexters have their history told, again

Peta Hopkins points us to a gem of a talk by Alex Wright on YouTube in the Google Tech Talk series. Alex also has a new book, ‘Glut‘, that must repay its investment in reading time.

In his talk Alex takes us back almost a century to some notable precursors of information science before the information age. I, for one, was totally unaware of the significant contribution of Paul Otlet and his Universal Decimal Classification work. However, I have heard many times before of Vannevar Bush‘s seminal work and of the radical ‘father of hypertext’ Ted Nelson and his many followers. These hypertexters held sway in the 1970s and 1980s with increasingly complex linked information structures with increasingly more difficult user experiences and increasingly more expensive structuring of the base information. They continue valuable work to this day with highly specialised, niche hypertext systems, but have never made it to the mainstream.

You can imagine the hypertexters’ chagrin when Sir Tim used the most basic, one-way hyperlink possible to build the Web that now completely dominates the online information space. Once again simplicity of features, implementation and use wins over complexity, even though to this day Ted Nelson refuses to call the Web a hypertext system.

For the period 1985-1995 I was a devotee of HyperCard, Apple’s easily-scriptable hypertext system builder, once again based on a very simple model, the index card. I wrote some productive early email clients in HyperCard which performed well in user testing. I also ran the first short answer online tests at Bond in the Mac labs in 1990-1992 period with an application written in HyperCard. A very useful feature of HyperCard is that every character of user input is saved on disc as typed. This proved a life saver on several occasions, one of which involved a student kicking out the power cord of his neighbour during an invigilated online test!

Alex Wright’s recommended reading list is:

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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