Hypertext Theory

by Nirmaldasan

Inscribe a poem each in all the six faces of a cube. Each poem has an equal chance of being read first. You cannot be sure which poem will be read next. This is a simple example of hypertext. By definition, it is a non-linear structure comprising nodes of texts connected by links.

The Internet comprises millions of sites located at different servers. So hypertext is an easy way to connect one site to another. The advantage is that reference material can be made easily accessible to those who want it. This is something a printed text cannot offer. In most books we find a chapter titled Suggested Reading. But a reader has to hunt for all those good books listed there in many a library. In one of the books on hypertext, I came across a reference to Dr. Vannevar Bush's article "As We May Think". I badly wanted to read it. Imagine my surprise and delight when the Google search engine produced the whole of it.

The search engine is hypertext's most versatile tool. It makes researchers in every field independent. Reporters, before the advent of the Web, had to be dependent on certain official sources of information. Hypermedia has changed all that. Any piece of official information can be cross-checked in the light of facts unearthed from the Internet. E-mail and bulletin boards are other interactive tools that a journalist can use to the hilt.

Besides the wealth of information that the Web contains, what makes it a fascinating medium is interactivity. At the click of a mouse one is transported from one hypertext document to the next. Linking is an essential part of hypertext. There are different kinds of links -- external and internal. The external link takes the Web surfer from one node in a certain domain to another in a different domain. The problem with this kind of link is that it would take the surfer visiting your domain to a new domain beyond your editorial control. But it is really the external links that make the Internet.

The internal link keeps the surfer within your domain. This link can either take the surfers from one node to the next or just take them from one part of a node to another. Intranet comprises only internal links. Here everything is under editorial control.

The print equivalents of hypertext are footnotes and endnotes. These may be better organised on the Web. When the mouse is moved over highlighted text, a box opens containing the required information. While readers of a printed text have to consult a dictionary whenever a difficult word stares them in the face, surfers can easily jump to a glossary without leaving the text.

At a semantic level, hypertext can be seen as an inverted pyramid. The essential points of a text will appear in the index page with links to ancillary material placed in other nodes. This means that editorial effort is required to structure hypertext. It is not just pasting chunks of information on a node and providing links to some of the best sites on the Web. Links may provide non-linear choice. But if hypertext is not structured well, the surfer may find himself lost in hyperspace.

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