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Hypertext is text displayed on a computer display or other electronic devices with references (hyperlinks) to other text which the reader can immediately access, or where text can be revealed progressively at multiple levels of detail (also called StretchText). The hypertext pages are interconnected by hyperlinks, typically activated by a mouse click, keypress sequence or by touching the screen. Apart from text, hypertext is sometimes used to describe tables, images and other presentational content forms with hyperlinks. Hypertext is the underlying concept defining the structure of the World Wide Web, with pages often written in the Hypertext Markup Language (aka HTML). It enables an easy-to-use and flexible connection and sharing of information over the Internet.
Note how hypertext is not just flat text with highlights or paragraphs omitted during display, but rather, the text is hyper-structured with hyperlinks or other structures embedded inside a page, including hidden search words, to control the display and connection with other pages or hypertext nodes.
The English prefix hyper- comes from the Greek prefix "ὑπερ-" and means "over" or "beyond"; it has a common origin with the prefix "super-" which comes from Latin. It signifies the overcoming of the previous linear constraints of written text. The term "hypertext" is often used where the term "hypermedia" might seem appropriate. In 1992, author Ted Nelson – who coined both terms in 1963 – 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": this is four syllables longer, and does not express the idea of extending hypertext.— Nelson, Literary Machines, 1992
Hypertext documents can either be static (prepared and stored in advance) or dynamic (continually changing in response to user input, such as dynamic web pages). 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. Links used in a hypertext document usually replace the current piece of hypertext with the destination document. A less known and used feature is StretchText, which expands or contracts the content in place giving more control to the reader in determining the level of detail of the displayed document. Hypertext can develop very complex and dynamic systems of linking and cross-referencing. The most famous implementation of hypertext is the World Wide Web, first deployed in 1992.
In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote an article in The Atlantic Monthly called "As We May Think", about a futuristic proto-hypertext device he called a Memex. This was a microfiche that stopped where you told it to, but not a punctuation nor a network document standard.
In 1963, Ted Nelson coined the terms 'hypertext' and 'hypermedia' in a model he developed for creating and using linked content (first published reference 1965). He later worked with Andries van Dam to develop the Hypertext Editing System (text editing) in 1967 at Brown University. Ted Nelson said in the 1960s that he began implementation of a hypertext system he theorized which was named Project Xanadu, but his first and incomplete public release was finished much later, in 1998.
Douglas Engelbart independently began 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' (meaning editing) interface to the public for the first time, in what has come to be known as "The Mother of All Demos". The word processor had been born.
The first hypermedia application was the Aspen Movie Map in 1977. This allowed users to choose which way they wanted to drive in a virtual cityscape.
In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee created ENQUIRE, an early hypertext database system somewhat like a wiki but without hypertext punctuation, which was not invented until 1987. The early 1980s also saw a number of experimental "hyperediting" functions in word processors and hypermedia programs, many of whose features and terminology were later analogous to the World Wide Web. Guide, the first significant hypertext system for personal computers, was developed by Peter J. Brown at UKC in 1982.
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 databases and new media. The first ACM Hypertext (hyperediting and databases) academic conference took place in November 1987, in Chapel Hill NC, where many other applications, including the branched literature writing software Storyspace, were also demonstrated.
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.
In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee, then a scientist at CERN, proposed and later prototyped a new hypertext project in response to a request for a simple, immediate, information-sharing facility, to be used among physicists working at CERN and other academic institutions. He called the project "WorldWideWeb".
HyperText is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will. Potentially, HyperText provides a single user-interface to many large classes of stored information such as reports, notes, data-bases, computer documentation and on-line systems help. We propose the implementation of a simple scheme to incorporate several different servers of machine-stored information already available at CERN, including an analysis of the requirements for information access needs by experiments... A program which provides access to the hypertext world we call a browser. ― T. Berners-Lee, R. Cailliau, 12 November 1990, CERN
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.
As new web browsers were released, traffic on the World Wide Web quickly exploded from only 500 known web servers in 1993 to over 10,000 in 1994. As a result, all previous 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.
Among the top academic conferences for new research in hypertext is the annual ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia. 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 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, Bill Bly's "We Descend", Deena Larsen's "Samplers", and Judy Malloy's its name was Penelope, Forward Anywhere. Other works include Julio Cortázar's Rayuela and Milorad Pavić's Dictionary of the Khazars. The first Italian hypertextual novel by Lorenzo Miglioli, "Ra-Dio", was written using Storyspace.
On the other hand, always concerning the Italian production, the hypertext s000t000d by Filippo Rosso (2002), was intended to lead the reader (with the help of a three-dimensional map) in a web page interface, and was written in html and php.
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.
One of the most successful computer games of all time, Myst, was first written in Hypercard. The game was constructed as a series of Ages, each Age consisting of a separate Hypercard stack. The full stack of the game consists of over 2500 cards. In some ways Myst redefined interactive fiction, using puzzles and exploration as a replacement for hypertextual narrative.
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. In some cases, hypertext may be detrimental to the development of appealing stories (in the case of hypertext Gamebooks), where ease of linking fragments may lead to non-cohesive or incomprehensible narratives. However, they do see value in its ability to present several different views on the same subject in a simple way. This echoes the arguments of 'medium theorists' like Marshall McLuhan who look at the social and psychological impacts of the media. New media can become so dominant in public culture that they effectively create a "paradigm shift" as people have shifted their perceptions, understanding of the world and ways of interacting with the world and each other in relation to new technologies and media. So hypertext signifies a change from linear, structured and hierarchical forms of representing and understanding the world into fractured, decentralized and changeable media based on the technological concept of hypertext links.
There are various forms of hypertext, each of which are structured differently. Below are four of the existing forms of hypertext:
axial hypertexts are the most simple in structure. They are situated along an axis in a linear style. These hypertexts have a straight path from beginning to end and are fairly easy for the reader to follow. An example of an axial hypertext is The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam.
arborescent hypertexts are more complex than the axial form. They have a branching structure which resembles a tree. These hypertexts have one beginning but many possible endings. The ending that the reader finishes on depends on their decisions whilst reading the text. This is much like gamebook novels that allow readers to choose their own ending.
networked hypertexts are more complex still than the two previous forms of hypertext. They consist of an interconnected system of nodes with no dominant axis of orientation. Unlike the arborescent form, networked hypertexts do not have any designated beginning or any designated endings. An example of a networked hypertext is Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl.
layered hypertext consist of two layers of linked pages. Each layer is doubly linked sequentially and a page in the top layer is doubly linked with a corresponding page in the bottom layer. The top layer contains plain text, the bottom multimedia layer provides photo's, sounds and video. In the Dutch historical novel 'De man met de hoed' designed as layered hypertext in 2006 by Eisjen Schaaf, Pauline van de Ven en Paul Vitányi, the structure is proposed to enhance the atmosphere of the time, to enrich the text with research and family archive material and to enable readers to insert memories of their own while preserving tension and storyline.
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