Hyperlinks, a counter factual evolution of the web, and non-sequential connections

The web, as we know it, is built upon the protocol of the hyperlink. It is the hyperlink that forms the very webbing of the World Wide Web and netting of the Net. The hyperlink has unequivocally evolved the ontology of information. Yet this simple function could have once been, and might yet still be, extremely different.


The history of the hyperlink

The term 'hypertext' (which gave birth to the term 'hyperlink') was originally coined by the pre-internet pioneer Ted Nelson in 1963. Nelson's vision for hypertext significantly differed from its eventual interpretation in that he proposed two-way links between information, rather than the now ubiquitous one-way web links later outlined by Tim Berners-Lee. Nelson saw Berners-Lee's work as a gross over-simplification of his original vision resulting in 'ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can't follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management'. Had Nelson's own proposition go on to form the governing functions of web hyperlinks its implications might have influenced radically alternative outcomes for;


An alternative interpretation of the hyperlink

More weave, less threads.
- Ted Nelson.

The below speculative classification types illustrate how the existing hyperlink might be emancipated from the linear threads of A > B functionality, and extended towards the nonlinear weaving of A > B,C,D,E.. functionalities.

  Solid underline:  Standard hyperlink from document to document.
  Double underline:  Hyperlink as backlink to citation of source document.
  Dashed underline:  Hyperlink to document that advocates / agrees.
  Dotted underline:  Hyperlink to document that is critical / disagrees.
  Dot-Dash underline:  Hyperlink to document that both/neither agrees and disagrees.
  Waved underline:  Hyperlink to document with nonlinear relationship.


A contextual example

The below extract demonstrates each speculative link type within context.

'Today's one-way hypertext - the World Wide Web - is far too shallow. The Xanadu project foresaw world-wide hypertext and has always endeavored to create a much deeper system. The Web, however, took over with a very shallow structure.'
- Ted Nelson, The Xanadu project

Within this single example we can now navigate multiple types of hyperlinks, from reference of origin, to the further extension of ideas, to alternative arguments, to loosely connected ideas. The concept of none non-sequential information might not only be limited to the variations in the dots/nodes of web, but extended to variations in the connections between those dots/nodes.




Rather than presenting an unrealistic, and unfeasible, proposition to retrospectively re-author the entirety of the webs hyperlinks the above speculation might instead highlight the trade offs technologies make when favouring simplicity. Where simplicity favours accelerated understanding and adoption it in turn sacrifices the evolution of greater spectrums of interpretation.

By betting on simplicity technology gambles that fewer functions delivering restricted interpretations will always win-out over the complexity of more functions delivering broader interpretations.