Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hyper-G: the road not taken

Charles Stross blew me away when he casually linked to BYTE's 1996 Hyper-G article. Hyper-G was Gopher's answer to the web ...
...Information Landscape offers an interactive, 3-D representation of the database structure. Users can 'fly' over the information hierarchy, represented as a virtual landscape.

... The color and height of specific landmarks, for example, represent document type and size. Two-dimensional maps are also standard. Any changes made to documents and databases are immediately reflected in both representations.

... Documents have attributes ... -- for example, author, keywords, and creation date -- that can be used in searches.

-- An underlying object-oriented database ensures data consistency and integrity.

You can appreciate some of Hyper-G's features only if you use a generic Hyper-G browser. Currently, two are available: Amadeus for Microsoft Windows and Harmony for the X Window system ... A client application for the Macintosh will be available soon. Generic clients are not really meant to compete with Web clients; besides the advanced navigation features, the main reason for using a generic client is authoring capability, so you can modify documents.
Ahh. Yes. The road not taken. No broken links (that's the database), real metadata (semantic web - 10 years ago), information visualization, built-in authoring ...

Oh well, it wouldn't have scaled. The web worked because it was crappy enough to scale (loosely coupled) and wonderful enough to be useful. Still, points to Stross for remembering the glories of the mid-90s. Now THAT was an era of innovation.

I was also surprised to learn that BYTE is still around in some form and that the 1994-1998 print archives are online. BYTE at its best was impossibly good, at its worst it was better than anything we have today. When we lost BYTE we lost 10 points off the world's collective tech IQ. Turns out Pournelle is still there, and still trying to get his computers to work. Don't confuse the web site, no matter how noble, with the print version. Do, however, read some of the 1995 to 1996 print archives. Those were the glory days ...

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