Coding Horror has done a nice job summarizing the art of the hyperlink -- and he provides historical context:
...I distinctly remember reading this 1995 Wired article on Ted Nelson and Xanadu when it was published. It had a profound impact on me. I've always remembered it, long after that initial read. I know it's novella long, but it's arguably the best single article I've ever read in Wired; I encourage you to read it in its entirety when you have time. It speaks volumes about the souls of computers-- and the software developers who love them.
Xanadu was vaporware long before the term even existed. You might think that Ted Nelson would be pleased that HTML and the world wide web have delivered much of the Xanadu dream, almost 40 years later...
I recommend the article, though every rule should be broken on occasion. Sometimes I do resort to "click here", for example.
The historical context led me to dredge up old links, and in honor of Ted Nelson, I've created a "hypertextual thread" (tag) called "xanadu".
As CH tells us, Nelson was in fact quite unhappy with how the Web developed. In 1988 (yes, that long ago) Ted Nelson delivered the keynote address to the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) on "Project Xanadu" -- and it was clear he wanted the web to go away.
That was the most fun and interesting keynote I've ever heard at AMIA, but half the audience thought Nelson had gone off the deep end long ago. AMIA has since been careful not to invite anyone particularly novel to speak.
Nelson wasn't the only hypertext pioneer to be unhappy with the unidirectional hyperlink. Berners-Lee, the "father" of the web, used to be very unhappy with our fragile hyperlinks. I recall he'd wanted a directory service and an indirection layer for the hyperlink, his CERN experiments simply escaped prematurely. Nowadays, of course, Google is beginning to offer suggested redirects when one enters a failed link into the search engine -- an unimaginably brute force solution to the problem. I'm sure there are some interesting lessons in how this has evolved!
For a bit more on the topic over the past few years (I used to write about this pre-blog):
- Computers and thinking (shades of Vannevar Bush)
- Jakob Nielsen on reviving advanced hyperterext - Nielsen wrote a book on hypertext @ 1995 -- it's a great guide to a lot of forgotten innovations
- Hyperscope: a failed experiment by Doug Engelbart, who sometimes calls himself the inventor of hypertext (with some legitimacy)
- The NYT Magazine on "the universal library", the post mentions Dickson's hypertext science-fiction classic "The Final Encyclopedia". Dickson pretty much pegged wikipedia.