Notes on Hypertext: An Introduction and Survey

J. Conklin, Hypertext: An Introduction and Survey, IEEE Computer 20 (9), 1987. <>. (Managment 1st floor: TK 7885.A1 I5 v.15-23(1982-90) )

"However for more and more applications, a linear organization is not adequate."

"As workstations grow cheaper, more powerful, and more available, new possibilities emerge for extending the traditional notion of "flat" text files by allowed more complex organizations of materials."

"The concept of hypertext is quite simple: Windows on the screen are associated with objects in a database, and links are provided between these objects, both graphically (as labeled tokens) and in the database (as pointers).

"It is this linking capability which allows nonlinear organization of text."

"As videodisc technology comes of age, there is a growing interest in the extension of hypertext to the more general concept of hypermedia, in which the elements are networked together can be text, graphics, digitized speech, audio recordings, pictures, animation, film clips, and presumably tastes, odors, and tactile sensations."

among features of "idealized" hypertext system: "Standard window system operations are supported: Windows can be repositioned, resized, close, and put aside as small window icons…"

"The database can be browsed in three ways: (1) by following links and opening windows successively to examine their contents, (2) by searching the network (or part of it) for some string, keyword, or attribute value, and (3) by navigating around the hyperdocument using a browser that displayed the network graphically. The user can select whether the nodes and links display their labels or not."

"The browser is an important component of the hypertext system. As the hyperdocument becomes more complex, it becomes distressingly easy for a user to become lost or disoriented. A browser displays some or all of the hyperdocument as a graph, providing an important measure of contextual and spatial cues to supplement the user's model of which nodes he is viewing and how they are related to each other and their neighbors in the graph. Using a browser can be likened to using visual and tactile cues when looking for a certain page in a book."

In the section called Hypertext Implementations, Conklin briefly reviews the history of hypertext. He touches on:
-encyclopedias and dictionary, and other reference works.
- "There are also many documents in which references to other parts of the document, or to other documents constitute a major part of the work. Both the Talmud, with its heavy use of annotations and nested commentary, and Artistotle's writings, with their reliance on references to other sources are ancient prototypes of hypertextual representation.

"In some ways, the people who first described hypertext- Bush, Engelbart, Nelson - all had the same vision for hypertext as a path to ultimate human-computer interaction."

Loose classification of hypertext systems:
- macro literary systems: collective, large digital library, Google Books.
- problem exploration tools(!!): "tools to support early unstructured thinking on a problem when many disconnected ideas come to mind (for example, during early authoring and outlining, problem solving, and programming and design);"
- browsing systems: like macro literary systems, but smaller, like intranets
- general hypertext technology

Talks about Bush's Memex, Engelbart's NLS/Augment, and Nelson's Xanadu.

"Problem exploration systems. These are highly interactive systems which provide rapid response to a small collection of specialized commands for manipulation of information. They can be though of as the early prototypes of electronic spreadsheets for text and symbolic processing. One important feature of most of these tools is a facility for suppressing detail at various levels specified by the user…This is an unusual but natural facility. Hypertext and similar tools excel at the collection of large amounts of relatively unstructured information. But such collections are of little use unless adequate mechanisms exist for filtering, organizing, and browsing. These are the primary desiderata of these authoring/thinking/programming systems."

University of North Carolina's WE(writing environment) is a useful analog for what I'm thinking about.

Browse search "writing hypertext environment" in Google later.

of Outlineprocessors: "In addition, each outline entry can have a textual body of any length associated with it, and the user can make this body disappear with a single keystroke. This feature is a real boon to the writing process, because it allows the user to have a view of both the immediate text that he is composing and the global context for it. It also facilitates rapid movement between sections, particularly in large documents, because in outline mode a remote section is never more than a few keystrokes away."

collaborative writing ain't new! "For-Comment is a word processor that allows up to 15 people to apply hypertext-like annotations to a document (and can operate over a Local Area Network (LAN) in real time)."

"Part of NoteCards' success is due to the fact that it was developed on Xerox D-series Lisp machines, which are powerful workstations that have high resolution screens allowing windows and link and node icons to be displayed in very high resolution."

"The history of hypertext presented here suggets that the concept and the advantages of hypertext were clear several decades ago, but that widespread interest in hypertext was delayed until the supporting technology was cheap and readily available."

"Traditional flat text binds us to writing and reading paragraphs in a mostly linear succession. There are tricks for signaling branching in the flow of though when necessary: Parenthetical comments, footnotes, intersectional references (such as "see Chapter 4"), bibliographic referenecs, and sidebars all allow the author to say 'here is a related though, in case you are interested,' There are also many rhetorical devices for indicating that ideas belong together as a set but are being presented in linear sequence."

"Particularly when hypertext is used as a thinking, writing, or design tool, a natural correspondence can emerge between the objects in the world and the nodes in the hypertext database."

"From a computer science viewpoint, the essence of hypertext is precisely that it is a hybrid that cuts across traditional boundaries. Hypertext is a database method, providing a novel way of directly accessing data. This method is quite different from traditional use of queries. At the same time, hypertext is a representation scheme, a kind of semantic network which mixes informal textual material with more formal and mechanized operation and processes. Finally, hypertext is an interface modality that features 'control buttons'(link icons) which can be arbitrarily embedded within the content material by the user. There are not separate application of hypertext: The are metaphors for a functionaly that is an essential union of all three."

"There are two methods for explicitly linking two points in hypertext-by reference and by organization."

Some of the discussion, especially that about what a link should look like, is so basic-sounding because what was still new in 1987(19 years ago!!!) is taken as inherent qualities of the internet, not worth giving special attention to. Worth only a short moment of explanation, even for beginners. Reading it is like being put into a time-capsule.

In a section that notes that some hypertext systems work on a hierarchical structure, some do not, and some do both. Conklin writes: "On the one hand, abstraction is a fundamental cognitive process, and hierarchical structures are the most natural structures for organizing levels of abstraction. On the other hand, cases obviously exist where cross-hierarchical links are required."

co-existent hierarchies…

"Linkcs can connect more than two nodes to form cluster links. Such cluster links can be useful for referring to several annotations with a single link, and for providing specialized organization structure among nodes."

link=Node(reference, "href")—>referent

"The modularization of ideas. Hypertext invites the writer to modularize ideas into units in a way that allows (1) an individual idea to be referenced elsewhere, and (2) alternative Successors of a unit to be offered to the reader (for instance, more detail, an example, bibliographic references, or the logical successor)."

"The process of identifying a semantically based unit, such as an idea or concept, with a syntactic unit, such as a paragraph or hypertext node, is not unique to hypertext…traditional text has rather loose conventions for modularizing text into paragraphs. This looseness is acceptable because paragraph boundaries have a relatively minor effect on the flow of the reading. Paragraph boundaries are sometimes provided just to break up the text and give the eye a reference point. Thus, decisions about the distribution of sentences among paragraphs is not always critical." — how about chapters, various headings, columns etc. There are MANY ways to modularize text in traditional forms of writing and traditional mediums.

"Hypertext…can enforce a rather stern information hiding. In some systems, the only clue a user has as to the contents of a destination node is the name of the link."

"Hypertext, via the notion of nodes as individual expressions of ideas, provides a vehicle which respects this way of thinking and working."

Is it a positivist view to believe that ideas can be separated into "chunks"? How about if this is just to serve the individual working on/in the system?

Conklin identifies several types of "nodes" that would be nice to implement in the internet. Nelson would be happier, maybe.

"Authoring is usually viewed as a word- and sentence- level activity. Clearly the word processor is a good tool for authoring at this level. However, authoring obviously has much to do with structuring of ideas, order of presentation, and conceptual exploration. Few authors simply sit down and pour out finished text, and not all editing is just 'wordsmithin' and polishing. In a broad sense, authoring is the design of a document. The unit of this level of authoring is the idea or concept, and this level of work can be effectively supported by hypertext, since the idea can be expressed in a node…The specialized refinements of a hypertext environment assist the movement from an unstructured network to the final polished document."

Advantages of hypertext according Conklin: ease of tracing references, ease of creating new references, information structuring, global views, customized documents, modularity of information, consistence of information(?), task stacking("the user is supported in having several paths of inquiry active and displayed on the screen at the same time, such that any given path can be unwound to the original task"), collaboration.

As a disadvantage to hyperspace/text, several commentators bring up the idea of getting "lost" in hyperspace. Conklin does, who else does? (Johnson? Molthroup? A keyword search for "lost" in all of the articles and books I've read thus far would be perfect right now!) BUT current data visualization advances are making it easier to orient oneself in a "dataspace".

summary of Disadvantages to hypertext: disorientation, cognitive overhead("the additional effort and concentration necessary to maintain several tasks or trails at one time.")

Cognitive overhead is an topic to pursue further when considering hyperdocuments. Does it come from the same place as information anxiety?(I'm reading THIS book, and am anxious that I can't read ALL of those…)

Note that Jeff Conklin is currently head of the CogNexus Institute which develops Dialogue and Issue Mapping techniques at least partly using, IBIS (Issue Based Information System: "It is an argumentation scheme that was developed in the 1960’s and 70’s as a way to support coordination and planning of political decision processes (Rittel, 1972b; Kunz & Rittel, 1970; Rittel & Noble, 1989). For more on the history of IBIS and similar “argumentation systems,” see (Kirschner, Buckingham Shum, & Carr, 2003)." IBIS: A Tool for all Reasons).

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