[This Part is completed for 2000]
Hypertext is what you are using to find and navigate around this page and the
information on it. Hypertext has been defined by various authors as `an approach
to information management in which data is stored in a network of nodes connected
by links' (Smith & Weiss) and as `screens of information not connected sequentially
but connected by using associative links' (Stephen & Schreiber). At its simplest
it is a technique of computerised cross-referencing, or what one writer called
a 'generalised footnote'. Other useful phrases used to describe hypertext are
`non-linear text presentation' and `text navigation systems'.
The essence of hypertext is that of a series of nodes of information, connected
by links to form a network of information, as illustrated below. The result
is that hypertext is non-sequential or non-linear: 'there is no single order
that determines the sequence in which the text is to be read' (Jakob Nielsen
Hypertext and Hypermedia Academic Press, San Diego, 1990 p3).
In the example below, it is possible for a user to navigate the nodes in the
order A, D, C, E as well as in numerous other orders. Node F is equivalent to
a table of contents.
A link is from an item of text within a node (an anchor) to another node (ie
to the 'top' of that node), or to a target within the same node or within another
A small hypertext structure with 6 nodes and 13 links (following Nielsen
For more technical information, see the following definitions on Whatis?com,
and browse some of the associated definitions connected to them (this is a very
useful site for checking technical terms). Read as much as you need:
What are the distinguishing features of hypertext? Here are some suggestions,
influenced by Nielsen (1990), with some illustrations from AustLII and from the
hypertext aspects of this Guide. It's incomplete, but a start:
Many of the items mentioned above are elements of the essentials of good hypertext
design, discussed below.
- Non-linear navigation - Hypertext is a non-sequential (non-linear)
means of accessing texts.
- Virtual structures - Hypertext presents different navigation options
to the user ('virtual structures'), which may include some or all of the following:
- Associative or lateral structures - Links between text items
determined by semantic relationships only. This is the essential type
of hypertext link. (eg a link to the
meaning of 'convention' in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975)
- Hierarchical structures - Tables
of contents, menus and the like.
- Sequential structures - Where information does have a natural
sequential order, it can be represented (eg the
[Previous] and [Next] buttons to go back and forward between the sections
of a statute).
- Overviews - Site maps and other structures to allow users to
understand the structure of a whole site.
- 'Fisheye views' - Overviews where the current location is represented
in most detail, with the detail receding as the context gets further away.
- Guided tours - Pre-defined useful paths through a site, for
purposes such as teaching its use, or to demonstrate an argument. (For
example, you can follow these [Tour] buttons to
see what reading is compulsory in this Part]
- User control - Because of the previous features, hypertext allows
the user to determine which nodes are accessed, and in which order, at the
time of reading. In this way (without getting too post-modern about it) hypertext
reduces the authority and control of the author/system designed, and increases
that of the reader. But this should not be exaggerated - the user can still
only browse within the structures enabled by the system designed (unless user-defined
links are supported).
- Bearings - Hypertext structures provide various means to stop users
getting lost ('bearings'). These may include:
- Landmarks - Pre-defined nodes which can be accessed at any time.
These may be defined by the system (for example, the Netscape icon) or
by the user (bookmarks), or may be particular to certain sets of web pages
(eg the [Title] button at the top of this page).
- The user's backtrack path or history list - the ability to go
back to where you came from (by one step or many), and to see that path
represented visually (In Netscape, this is the 'Go' button on the menu
- Current node identification - the ability to see the identity
of the current node you are browsing (for example, the title at the top
of a Netscape screen), and even better an indication of its context (such
as where it sits in the hierarchy of nodes being browsed). (eg see the
top line in yellow on any of
Nielsen's web pages)
- User configurations - Hypertexts vary in the facilities they provide
to increase user control, including:
- Bookmarks are user-created landmarks; creation and saving of
bookmarks is now standard.
- User-added links between text items and nodes are one of the
most powerful forms of user control (and essential to the ideas of Bush
and Nelson discussed below). They are not yet standard on the web, but
are available in many disk-based hypertext systems.
- User annotations to nodes / text (and links to and from them)
are not yet standard either.
- Saved history lists in order to preserve a valuable path of
research are often available.
There is now more general commercial interest in hypermedia, not hypertext
per se, where hyper-structures are used to combine text with other media such
as sound and image (moving and still). For the moment, the emphasis of legal
applications is on hypertext, except in the litigation support context, where
most aspects of hypermedia are very relevant.
Hypertext has been in commercial use for a surprisingly short time (little more
than a decade), but has a much longer history as an idea. You can just read this
overview, or dip into some of the very interesting readings that follow.
Everyone traces the idea of hypertext back to Vannevar Bush's 1945 idea of the
`memex`, which he said should operate by association, as the human mind does.
He proposed a mechanical (non-digital) device - data on microfilm. See Vannevar
'As We May Think' (Atlantic Monthly, 1945) - a fascinating article, worth
The term `hypertext' was coined by Ted Nelson in the 1960s as a tern for 'non-sequential
writing': see Elain Chain in
'Ted Nelson and Project Xanadu'.
In Ted Nelson ' A New Home for the Mind?' (Datamation Magazine, 1982), he
described his `Xanadu' project. Parts of Xanadu were to include a hypertext
corpus of the whole of English literature, which it involved users creating
their own links or `trails' between documents, and the data was to be distributed
across vast networks.
See Xanadu Australia for
lots more, including the Xanadu archives, and material about the concept of
'transclusion'. Ted Nelson's home
page contains lots more, including a very detailed 1999 article surveying
the history and purpose of Xanadu, his summary of which starts as follows:
Project Xanadu, the original hypertext project, is often misunderstood
as an attempt to create the World Wide Web. It has always been much
more ambitious, proposing an entire form of literature where links do not break
as versions change; where documents may be closely compared side by side and
closely annotated; where it is possible to see the origins of every quotation;
and in which there is a valid copyright system-- a literary, legal and business
arrangement-- for frictionless, non-negotiated quotation at any time and in
any amount. The Web trivialized this original Xanadu model, vastly but incorrectly
simplifying these problems to a world of fragile ever-breaking one-way links,
with no recognition of change or copyright, and no support for multiple versions
or principled re-use. Fonts and glitz, rather than content connective structure,
Much of Nelson's idea has this is now become reality - the World Wide Web (though
Nelson is reported to have responded to the web as 'nice try').
Englebart demonstrated a hypertext system in 1968, but there was little commercial
interest for another decade, although there were various experimental systems
(including Nelson's). High interest in hypertext only dates from Apple's 1987
release of Hypercard, and the Hypertext '87 Conference.
Jakob Nielsen reports on one of the early seminal conferences in
Hypertext'2 Trip Report (York, U.K., 1989), including on the current state
of Nelson's Xanadu.
Meanwhile, the most significant practical development of hypertext was taking
place at CERN, a particle physics laboratory in Switzerland, where Tim Berners-Lee
(now Director of the World-Wide-Web Consortium - W3C) developed the basic ideas
of the web from 1989.
See A Little History of the World
Wide Web (1989-1995) at the W3C site, plus as much more
About The World Wide Web as you can cope with.
Before considering how hypertext has been used with legal information, it is necessary
to consider general aspects of what constitutes hypertext and good hypertext design.
Jakob Nielsen is a pioneer of hypertext design, and
useit.com: Jakob Nielsen's Website is one of the best starting points on
'suable information technology'. Here are some key pieces by Nielsen on the
design and usability of hypertext, and some general references:
Since you will soon be designing your own legal web site, reading some of these
columns is a good idea.
Top Ten Mistakes in Web
Design (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox May 1996), subsequently
revisited in 1999, and then updated by
The Top Ten New Mistakes of Web Design (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, May
30, 1999) and Who commits
them (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, May 16, 1999)
- For contrast, read the Ten
Good Deeds in Web Design (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, October 3, 1999)
- 'Why Frames Suck (Most
of the Time)' - Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox (December 1996)
From a 1994 Web Usability Study, revisited in Changes
in Web Usability Since 1994 (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for December 1,
- h Reviews of Neilsen's
book Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity (2000) [the book
is not on the web] make it clear that there are a lot of people out there
who agree with Nielsen's approach.
- The Alertbox: Current Issues
in Web Usability (All of Nielsen's bi-weekly columns)
For a discussion of how ideas similar to those of Nielsen are implemnented
in a large-scale legal system, see Tour]
Chung, Daniel Austin, and Andrew Mowbray In
defence of plain HTML for law: AustLII's approach to standards  CompLRes
11 (Paper presented at AustLII's "Law Via The Internet '99" conference). Note
in particular the
Ten usability heuristics. (Also published as Chung P et al,
'A Defence of Plain HTML for Law:AustLII's Approach to Standards', 2000
(1).The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT))
For a contrast to Neilsen's approach, see:
For other references on hypertext design, see:
- David Siegel Web Wonk - Tips for
Writers and Designers - A typographer's approach to HTML, very different
from that taken by Nielsen (and the antithesis of the approach taken by web
sites such as AustLII).
Where is the world-wide-web going? For some interesting (non-compulsory) discussion,
The Extensible Markup Language (XML) is 'the universal format for structured documents
and data on the Web'
In the next section, XML applications to law are covered.
- Elliot Chabot Thoughts
on Web Design (1998) - by the designer of the US House of Representatives
Internet Law Library; includes a lot of practical suggestions and links to
tools and other valuable sites on web design, as well as comments on web design.
- On Jakob Nielsen page there are
'Recommended other websites', an annotated index on web design