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Article in Web Techniques

The Way Hypertext Spoze to Be
Michael Swaine <mswaine@xxxxxxxxxx>
P. 72, WEB Techniques Vol. 1 #6 Sep 1996

What say we pause a moment in this headlong rush, stop on this plateau
we have attained in our mastery of the Protocols of the Elders of CERN
and smell the roses -- or the coffee, if you prefer.  We might even
savour that aroma of seared flesh wafting usward just now from that
Japanese-monster-movie clash going on over yonder.

"Mozilla vs. Microsaurus" sounds epic, doesn't it?  But somehow the
spectacle of two behemoths dancing around a floding chair called the
Web-browser market disappoints the cinephile with tastes honed on the
seminal works of Inoshiro Honda.  Musical chairs just doesn't have the
cinematic oomph of torching a city with your fiery breath, and besides,
isn't the defacto price point for Web browsers zero?  Some market.  Some
battle.  Moreover, aren't Web browsers as we now know them as doomed to
extinction as Mothra and her brood?  While we pause here nosing the air,
shall we agree that there'd better be something more over that next
ridge than bigger and better HTML tags?

The World Wide Web is a wonderful thing, but it's not the long-awaited
universal hypertext.  Which is exactly what whatever's beyond that next
ridge should be a lot closer to being, because most of the shortcomings
of the Web would come up less short if the Web were closer to that
hypertext vision.

Ah, the vision; that's it over there: that unfinished structure under
the gian eternal flaming X
(http://www.aus.xanadu.com/xanadu/tidbits.html): Ted Nelson's Xanadu.
It's Ted's vision, depsite the fact that many others -- from Doug
Engelbart to Tim Berners-Lee -- have had similar visions and better
success in implementing them, because no one has dreamed it in all its
richness and complexity except Ted.  It's unfinished because Ted wisely
dictated that the basement should be dug before the structure was
erected, and then spec'ed out the basement as "caverns measureless to
man." (from "Xanadu," Samuel Taylor Coleridge's unfinished poem and
Ted's inspiration).

[Xanadu logo]

Maybe we should step back from that dizzy precipice of measureless
caverns and ask the practical visionary question: How far is the present
reality from the vision?  This far:

Vision: seeing documents in the context of other linked-to and
linked-from documents.
Reality: a shallow, one-page-at-a-time view.

Vision: documents referenced by unique and unchanging names.
Reality: documents referenced by unique (unless mirrored) and (anything
but) unchanging locations (URLs).

Vision: typed, bidirectional, bivisible links.
Reality: undifferentiated, unidirectional, univisible links.

Vision: version control, links to parts of documents, automatic removal
of outdated documents.
Reality: none of the above.

Vision: every document can tell you about itself -- its author,
copyright status, date of publication, and so on.
Reality: dumb dox.

And how far do we have to trudge to get a little closer to the vision?
Darned if there isn't something promising just around the bend
(http://hyperg.iicm.tu-graz.ac.at): It's now being called Hyperwave --
but was formerly known as Hyper-G -- it has a lot of the features of the
vision, and there are a couple of HyperWave-supporting browsers out.
Maybe one day we'll see Hyperwave or something like it battling Mozilla
or Microsaurus.  That would be epic.

mailto:xanni@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx                     Andrew Pam
http://www.aus.xanadu.com/xanadu/               Coordinator, Xanadu Australia
http://www.glasswings.com.au/GlassWings/        Technical Editor, Glass Wings
http://www.sericyb.com.au/sc/                   Manager, Serious Cybernetics
P.O. Box 409, Canterbury VIC 3126 Australia     Phone +61 3 96511511