It happened

sun10sep2006—36w253d69%— 06h33m00s—0utc

Donald Norman wrote this now-quaint words in his 1988 book, The Design Of Everyday Things AM. We’re living what to him were fancy prophecies just twenty years ago. (The links, of course, I added myself.)

The next step in writing technology is already visible on the horizon: hypertext. In theory.. [it] frees the reader from the constraints of the linear order; the reader can pursue the material in whatever order seems most relevant or interesting.

..Hypertext makes a virtue out of lack of organization, allowing ideas and thoughts to be juxtaposed at will. The writer throws out the ideas, attaching them to the page where they seem first relevant. The reader can take any path at all through the book. See an interesting word on the page, point at it, and the word expands into text. See a word you don’t understand, and a touch gives the definition. Who could be against such a wonderful idea?

..A footnote is essentially a signal that some comment is available to the reader. In hypertext, actual numbered footnotes will not be needed, but some sort of signal is still required. With hypertext, the signal that more information is available can be given through color, motion (such as flashing), or typeface. Touch the special word and the material appears; you don’t need a number.

So, what do you think of hypertext? Imagine trying to write something using it. The extra freedom also poses extra requirements. If hypertext really becomes available, especially in the fancy versions now being talked about — where words, sounds, video, computer graphics, simulations, and more are all available at the touch of the screen — well, it is hard to imagine anyone capable of preparing the material. It will take teams of people.. The advent of hypertext is apt to make writing much more difficult, not easier. Good writing, that is.

So there I was, feeling the smugness of hindsight and fancying mself a Jetson WP browsing through HTML, when in comes Ted Nelson, the man who coined the word hypertext itself:

HTML is precisely what we were trying to PREVENT — ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can’t follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management.

The “Browser” is an extremely silly concept — a window for looking sequentially at a large parallel structure. It does not show this structure in a useful way.

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