Hello There, Hypertext

I’m in the midst of reading an interesting interview with Ted Nelson, who coined the phrase “hypertext” and then presented about it in a paper in 1965 (the year before I was born). In my mind, I think of the hyperlink/hypertext as the significant element that makes the Internet different/unique from other kinds of texts, and yet, we often forget about the magic of the idea.

A hyperlink, which is just one element of hypertext, not only transports us to other online spaces and media, it creates an associative element to how we write (this will connect to that) and how we read (this will bring me there). It also creates rabbit holes for readers (this will be bring me here, which brings me here, which brings me here, and now, where was I?).

Interestingly, Nelson, who identified himself early on as a filmmaker with screens as storytelling platforms, thinks we have become too narrow-minded on the Web by associating “hyperlink” with “hypertext” and his original idea of connected documents, seen on the screen at the same time along with the “bridge” that connects the documents reminds me of the FedWiki project, in a lot of ways.

In the interview with Nelson on Boing Boing, celebrating the 50 years of the introduction of the concept of hypertext at a conference, some of his answers to questions were very interesting, and worth collecting.

Oh. Yeah. The hyperlink to the interview is here.

No one could imagine what an interactive screen would be. No one I talked to could imagine what an interactive screen would be, whereas I saw and felt them sensually in my mind and at my fingertips. Yet to me this was an extension of literature as we had always known it. – Ted Nelson


There was nothing standing in the way of computers for the public except for imagination, it seemed to me, and so I was trying to supply that. – Ted Nelson


Movies are events on a screen that affect the heart and mind of the viewer, right? And software—interactive software—is events on a screen that affect the heart and mind of the user, and interact, and have consequences. – Ted Nelson


I thought hypertext would lead to a millennial system of changes, and so it has, but much less influenced by my own work—my designs and ideas—than I’d hoped. – Ted Nelson


Other people’s hypertext just use jump links—that’s what the World Wide Web is, just jump links—whereas I consider it essential to see pages side by side, as in the Talmud, as in medieval manuscripts, as in any number of documents over the centuries. This is an essential part of the electronic document which we don’t have yet. – Ted Nelson

Peace (in the text),


One Comment
  1. Thank you for explaining hypertext, Kevin. I never really knew what it was, but I knew that it was important. Actually, it is really important in making the web unique, as you mentioned. I am glad to finally have learned about it, since I am on the web every day. Also, I liked how you used the analogy about the bridge and the rabbit hole to further explain this. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Ted Nelson quotes really enhanced this blog post. Thanks for posting.

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