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Engineer Vannevar Bush wrote "As We May Think" in 1945 describing his conception of the Memex, a machine that could implement what we now call hypertext. His aim was to help humanity achieve a collective memory with such a machine and avoid the use of scientific discoveries for destruction and war
Douglas Engelbart in 2008, at the 40th anniversary celebrations of "The Mother of All Demos" in San Francisco, a 90-minute 1968 presentation of the NLS computer system which was a combination of hardware and software that demonstrated many hypertext ideas

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).[1] 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,[2] with pages often written in the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). It enables an easy-to-use and flexible connection and sharing of information over the Internet.


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

Types and uses of hypertext

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, written in the final months of 1990 and released on the Internet in 1991.


In 1941, Jorge Luis Borges created "The Garden of Forking Paths", a short story that is often considered an inspiration for the concept of hypertext.[3]

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. A Memex would hypothetically store - and record - content on reels of microfilm, using electric photocells to read coded symbols recorded next to individual microfilm frames while the reels spun at high speed, stopping on command. The coded symbols would enable the Memex to index, search, and link content to create and follow associative trails.

Ted Nelson gives a presentation on Project Xanadu, a theoretical hypertext model conceived in the 1960s whose first and incomplete implementation was first published in 1998[4]

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).[5] 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.[4]

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 1980 Roberto Busa,[6] an Italian Jesuit priest and one of the pioneers in the usage of computers for linguistic and literary analysis,[7] published the Index Thomisticus, as a tool for performing text searches within the massive corpus of Aquinas's works.[8] Sponsored by the founder of IBM, Thomas J. Watson,[9] the project lasted about 30 years (1949-1980), and eventually produced the 56 printed volumes of the Index Thomisticus the first important hypertext[verification needed] work about Saint Thomas Aquinas books and of a few related authors.[10]

In 1983 Ben Shneiderman at the University of Maryland Human - Computer Interaction Lab led a group that developed the HyperTies system that was commercialized by Cognetics Corporation. Hyperties was used to create the July 1988 issue of the Communications of the ACM as a hypertext document and then the first commercial electronic book Hypertext Hands-On!

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.[11]

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 1989, 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".[12]

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[12]

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.


Besides the already mentioned Project Xanadu, Hypertext Editing System, NLS, HyperCard, and World Wide Web, there are other noteworthy early implementations of hypertext, with different feature sets:

Hypertext Editing System (HES) IBM 2250 Display console – Brown University 1969

Academic conferences

Among the top academic conferences for new research in hypertext is the annual ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia.[13] Although not exclusively about hypertext, the World Wide Web series of conferences, organized by IW3C2,[14] include many papers of interest. There is a list on the Web with links to all conferences in the series.[15]

Hypertext fiction

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.

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.[16]

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.[17] However, they do see value in its ability to present several different views on the same subject in a simple way.[18] 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"[19] 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.

Forms of hypertext

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 photos, 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.

See also


  1. "Hypertext" (definition). Marriam-webster Free Online Dictionary. Retrieved February 26, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Internet". West's Encyclopedia of American Law (definition) (2 ed.). Free Online Law Dictionary. July 15, 2009. Retrieved November 25, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Hypertext and creative writing, The Association for Computing Machinery<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gary Wolf (June 1995). "The Curse of Xanadu". WIRED. 3 (6).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Joyce, MI, Did Ted Nelson first use the word "hypertext" (sic), meaning fast editing" at Vassar College?, Vassar<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. (Italian) Andrea Tornielli, Padre Busa, il gesuita che ha inventato l'ipertesto, La Stampa - VaticanInsider, 11/08/2011
  7. Matthew Zepelin Computers and the Catholic Mind: Religion, Technology, and Social Criticism in the Postwar United States, July 5, 1914
  8. Morto padre Busa, è stato il pioniere dell'informatica linguistica, Corriere del Veneto, 15. August 2011
  9. „Religion: Sacred Electronics“, Time, 31 December 1956, 15 August 2011
  10. Thomas N. Winter, « Roberto Busa, S.J., and the Invention of the Machine-Generated Condordance », Digital commons, University of Nebraska [1]
  11. Hawisher, Gail E., Paul LeBlanc, Charles Moran, and Cynthia L. Selfe (1996). Computers and the Teaching of Writing in American Higher Education, 1979–1994: A History Ablex Publishing, Norwood NJ, p. 213
  12. 12.0 12.1 WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project, The World Wide Web consortium<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  13. SIGWEB Hypertext Conference, ACM<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  14. IW3C2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  15. "Conferences", IW3C2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  16. Parrish, Jeremy. "When SCUMM Ruled the Earth". 1UP.com. Retrieved 2008-05-02.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. ¿Es el hipertexto una bendición o un…? (in Spanish), Biblum literaria, Jul 2008 Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  18. The Game of Reading an Electronic Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, CA: U Calgary<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  19. Green 2001, p. 15.


  • Green, Lelia (2001), Technoculture: From Alphabet to Cybersex, Allen & Unwin Ep, ISBN 978-1-86508048-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.

Further reading

  • Engelbart, Douglas C (1962). "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework". AFOSR-3233 Summary Report, SRI Project No. 3579. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nelson, Theodor H. (September 1965). "Complex information processing: a file structure for the complex, the changing and the indeterminate". ACM/CSC-ER Proceedings of the 1965 20th national conference.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nelson, Theodor H. (September 1970). "No More Teachers' Dirty Looks". Computer Decisions.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • ——— (1973). "A Conceptual framework for man-machine everything". AFIPS Conference Proceedings. 42. pp. M22–23.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Yankelovich, Nicole; Landow, George P; Cody, David (1987). "Creating hypermedia materials for English literature students". SIGCUE Outlook. 20 (3).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Heim, Michael (1987). Electric Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07746-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>* van Dam, Andries (July 1988). "Hypertext: '87 keynote address". Communications of the ACM. 31 (7): 887–95. doi:10.1145/48511.48519.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Conklin, J. (1987). "Hypertext: An Introduction and Survey". Computer. 20 (9): 17–41. doi:10.1109/MC.1987.1663693.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Byers, T. J. (April 1987). "Built by association". PC World. 5: 244–51.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Crane, Gregory (1988). "Extending the boundaries of instruction and research". T.H.E. Journal (Technological Horizons in Education) (Macintosh Special Issue): 51–54.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nelson, Theodor H. (1992). Literary Machines 93.1. Sausalito, CA: Mindful Press. ISBN 0-89347-062-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cicconi, Sergio (1999). "Hypertextuality". Mediapolis. Berlino & New York: Ed. Sam Inkinen & De Gruyter: 21–43.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Bolter, Jay David (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0-8058-2919-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Landow, George (2006). Hypertext 3.0 Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization: Critical Theory and New Media in a Global Era (Parallax, Re-Visions of Culture and Society). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8257-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Buckland, Michael (2006). Emanuel Goldberg and His Knowledge Machine. Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 0-313-31332-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ensslin, Astrid (2007). Canonizing Hypertext: Explorations and Constructions. London: Continuum. ISBN 0-8264-9558-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Barnet, Belinda. (2013) Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext (Anthem Press; 2013) A technological history of hypertext,

External links

  • Hypertext: Behind the Hype, Eric digests<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  • Reviving Advanced Hypertext, Use IT<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (whether and how concepts from hypertext research can be used on the Web).

Hypertext conferences