The past and present of hypertext by Bob DuCharme.
From the post:
You know, links in the middle of sentences.
I’ve been thinking lately about the visionary optimism of the days when people dreamed of the promise of large-scale hypertext systems. I’m pretty sure they didn’t mean linkless content down the middle of a screen with columns of ads to the left and right of it, which is much of what we read off of screens these days. I certainly don’t want to start one of those rants of “the World Wide Web is deficient because it’s missing features X and Y, which by golly we had in the HyperThingie™ system that I helped design back in the 80s, and the W3C should have paid more attention to us” because I’ve seen too many of those. The web got so popular because Tim Berners-Lee found such an excellent balance between which features to incorporate and which (for example, central link management) to skip.
The idea of inline links, in which words and phrases in the middle of sentences link to other documents related to those words and phrases, was considered an exciting thing back when we got most of information from printed paper. A hypertext system had links between the documents stored in that system, and the especially exciting thing about a “world wide” hypertext system was that any document could link to any other document in the world.
But who does, in 2016? The reason I’ve been thinking more about the past and present of hypertext (a word that, sixteen years into the twenty-first century, is looking a bit quaint) is that since adding a few links to something I was writing at work recently, I’ve been more mindful of which major web sites include how many inline links and how many of those links go to other sites. For example, while reading the article Bayes’s Theorem: What’s the Big Deal? on Scientific American’s site recently, I found myself thinking “good for you guys, with all those useful links to other web sites right in the body of your article!”
My experience with contemporary hyperlinks has been like Bob’s. There are sites that cite only themselves but there are also sites that do point to external sources. Perhaps the most annoying failure to hyperlink is when a text mentions a document, report or agreement, and then fails to link the reader to that document.
The New York Times has a distinct and severe poverty of external links to original source materials. Some stories do have external links but not nearly all of them. Which surprises me for any news reporting site, much less the New York Times.
More hypertext linking would be great, but being able to compose documents from other documents, not our cut-n-paste of today but transclusion into a new document, that would be much better.