History of the Hyperlink

Today we talked about many different kinds of interactive experiences—both digital and non-digital. In discussing the digital realm, we identified environmental, non-linear navigation, avatar-based games and community/collaborative interactive types.

Probably the most pervasive source of interactive experiences today is the Internet. And at the heart of those experiences is the hyperlink (in the form of hypertext and hypermedia). What’s the story behind this important innovation? Let’s research and document it together.

First, read this article by Vannevar Bush, a visionary who, in this very essay, plants the seeds for hyperlinks.

Then I want each of you to research an aspect of the story, which involves technologists who were inspired by Vannevar Bush’s essay. You have each been assigned a person or project that contributes to the hyperlink story. Please research your subject and post a 2-3 paragraph summary, emphasizing the hyperlink story.

You can use Wikipedia as one source, but cross reference with others. List your sources at the end of your post. DO NOT simply cut-and-paste text. Write it in your own words.

Here are the assignments:

Eryn: Vannevar Bush
Shenee: Ted Nelson
Lauren: Douglas Engelbart
Scott: The Mother of all Demos
Janus: Tim Berners-Lee
Hillary: CERN
Bethany: Hypercard, Apple Computers

Also, please watch “The Mother of All Demos” (parts 1 and 2 below).


8 Responses to “History of the Hyperlink”

  1. Scott Lauer Says:

    The Mother of All Demos: Refers to a demonstration given by Douglas Engelbart on December 9, 1968. During this event Engelbart premiered the NLS (Online System). Using this Engelbart showed how a computer could be used for daily tasks, such as organizing chores, in a predetermined order to help make life more organized. Also at this conference the first computer mouse, linking of files, email, and hypertext were premiered to a large audience. This conference also worked using early forms of networking, as the actual computer was being projected to a larger screen, which involved two people working from different locations collaborating via computer. This is all incredible because this was truly the first time computers were being used in a way similar to how users currently utilize these machines. Bringing the online system public was likely the greatest innovation of this day, but the fact that so many other innovations were simultaneously premiered is truly remarkable. Although fairly slow, this entire 90 minute conference has been captured and made available for viewing on several internet locations. The footage shows a very simple screen mostly capable of making columns and displaying text, but also has an early version of a mouse cursor moving on screen. Every time an operation was performed the computer made much more humming and buzzing than current computers, which does show how dated the technology was, but nonetheless the fact that these innovations were occurring at this time is amazing.

    Sources: http://sloan.stanford.edu/mousesite/1968Demo.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_All_Demos http://www.cs.brown.edu/stc/resea/telecollaboration/engelbart.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a11JDLBXtPQ&feature=related

  2. Hillary Stoker Says:

    CERN, also known as The European organization for Nuclear Research was established in 1954. CERN is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory and provides particle accelerators and other things needed for high-energy physics research. The convention signed in 1954 establishing CERN as a research center states, “The Organization shall provide for collaboration among European States in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character. The Organization shall have no concern with work for military requirements and the results of its experimental and theoretical work shall be published or otherwise made generally available”.

    CERN has over 800 scientists working around the world on various projects; constantly improving accelerators and their other inventions.
    Particle accelerators shoot beams or particles in the air where they collide with each other or other objects. By studying what happens when particles collide, CERN scientists can learn about physics and the laws of nature. Accelerators are used in the basic makeup of televisions, as well as operating the internet. In fact Tim Berners- Lee, the scientist who invented the World Wide Web, is a CERN scientist. Because CERN scientists live and work all over the world, the World Wide Web was originally developed to be a communication tool between CERN scientists. The first website is http://info.cern.ch/ and was created and developed by CERN with the help of Tim Berners-Lee. On this website viewers can understand how the internet was born by using hyperlinks and hypertext to connect themselves to other pages; I hope you all will take a look.


  3. Janus Rogerson Says:

    Tim Berners-Lee is prominent in the hyperlink story because he is the inventor of the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee graduated from the Queen’s College at Oxford University with a degree in physics (Tim Berners-Lee, January 5, 2008). In 1980 he began working for CERN (refer to Hillary’s blog for details) as a consultant software engineer (Longer Bio, 2008). During his time at CERN he developed a program called Enquire which “allowed one to store snippets of information, and to link related pieces together in any way” (Berners-Lee). After leaving CERN for a short period Berners-Lee returned with the idea of redeveloping Enquire into “a global hypertext project [that would] allow people to work together by combining their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents” (Longer Bio).
    In 1989 after submitting a proposal to CERN to build this program, Berners-Lee began to write Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) “the language computers would use to communicate hypertext documents over the Internet” (Tim Berners-Lee, 2006). He also began to develop addresses or Uniform Resource Locators (URL), which would be used to locate these documents on the internet. In order to retrieve and view these documents Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web and a universal format known as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). This would allow computers to access the hypertext documents no matter what system or software they were using (Tim Berners-Lee, 2006).
    The World Wide Web was officially made available on the internet in the summer of 1991 and was quickly embraced by the internet community. As the World Wide Web gained popularity Berners-Lee became concerned that the Web was drifting away from its original purpose and becoming more “frivolous” (Tim Berners-Lee, 2006). As a result Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web Consortium; a forum that would “’lead the Web to its full potential,’ primarily by developing common protocols to enhance the interoperability and evolution of the Web” (Tim Berners-Lee, 2006). To this date Berners-Lee still acts as Director for the Consortium and is “a senior researcher and holder of the 3Com Founders Chair at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory” (Tim Berners-Lee, January 5, 2008).
    Works Cited
    Berners-Lee, T (1998). Information Management: A Proposal. Retrieved January 7, 2008, from W3 Web site: http://www.w3.org/History/1989/proposal.html

    (2008, Jan 5). Longer Bio: Tim Berners-Lee. Retrieved January 7, 2008, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

    (2006). Tim Berners-Lee. Retrieved January 7, 2008, from Ibiblio: Internet Pioneers Web site: http://www.ibiblio.org/pioneers/lee.html

    (2008, Jan 3). Tim Berners-Lee. Retrieved January 7, 2008, from W3 Web site: http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/Longer.html

  4. Eryn Gradwell Says:

    Dr. Vannevar Bush, former Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development and Science Advisor to president Roosevelt during WWII, is known for his work on analog computing, his political role in the development of the atomic bomb, and the idea of the memex—seen as a pioneering concept for the World Wide Web.

    Bush was never directly involved with the establishment or progress of the Internet. He died before the creation of the World Wide Web; however, many consider Bush to be the Godfather of our wired age” by often making reference to his 1945 essay that we just read, “As We May Think.” Bush describes an imaginary machine he called a “memex,” a conceptual device that can store large amounts of information, in which users have the ability to create information trails, links of related texts and illustrations, which can be stored and used for future reference. The original description reads: “Slanting translucent viewing screens magnifying supermicrofilm filed by code numbers. At left is a mechanism which automatically photographs longhand notes, pictures and letters, then files them in the desk for future reference.” This is described to enhance human memory by allowing the user to store and recover documents connected by associations. This associative linking was very similar to what is known today as hypertext. This is what links him so closely to the modern world of today’s hyperlinking.

    Bush urges that men of science should turn to the substantial task of making the knowledge of the human brain more accessible. Bush’s ground-breaking idea for computerizing human memory was clearly significant in the advancement of the digital age, but even more important was his influence on the establishment of science in America. His effort to create a connection between the government and the scientific establishment during WWII changed the way scientific research is carried out in the United States and promotes the environment in which the Internet was later created.

    Bush has been recognized as the theoretical creator of “hypertext,” laying out the concept of the modern link 50 years before the Web became a public occurrence. His innovative essay calls for a new relationship between the thinking man and the sum of our knowledge.

    (Sources posted separately.)

  5. Eryn’s Sources:

    2002) “The Roads and Crossroads of Internet History” Gregory Gromov, Retreived January 7, 2008. Web site:

    (2006) Vannevar Bush. Retrieved January 7, 2008, from Ibiblio: Internet Pioneers Web site:

    (2006) “Foreseeing the Future: The legacy of Vannevar Bush” Erin Malone, Retreived January 7, 2008. Web site:

    (1945) “As We May Think” Vannevar Bush, Retrieved January 7, 2008. Web site:

    (2008) Biography: Vannevar Bush. Retrieved January 7, 2008, from Wikipedia Web site:

  6. Bethany Swanson Says:

    An Apple product, HyperCard was introduced in 1987 (it’s as old as me…) as a way for personal computer users to sort through huge amounts of information. At the time it as claimed by the people at Apple to be almost as important as the PC itself. Today, it’s still a pretty influential piece of software, but Apple doesn’t seem to think so. The company doesn’t even sell it any more; though the product does pop up in some really interesting locations. According to a iHUG, or the International HyperCard Users Group, the HyperCard system is used to power the lighting in the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lampur – two of the tallest buildings in the world.

    The software creates “a simple programming environment so powerful yet simple it is used by professionals and children alike,” and allows users to create custom applications. It is used in board rooms, in tall towers and elementary schools, by programmers, soccer moms and third graders, according to an article on wired.com by Leander Kahney.

    According to the wired.com article, the reason it is so effective is that it stores information a series of “cards” ordered into “stacks.” “The cards can be linked to each other, just like hypertext links on the Web,” Kahney writes. “A built-in, plain-English programming language, HyperTalk, executes commands.”

    This is so similar to the memex machine model Bush explained in his article. Information is stored using a series of really small cards, it is then accessed by calling up card backgrounds and items on the cards – similar to a rolodex, but not as linear. Key words can be searched, arranging information as in the machine he conceived. While Bush’s machine had everything on microfilm, Apple simply digitized the information so it would be more compact. Bush’s concept enabled everyone to have access to huge libraries of information. In addition, it allowed for the easy trailing of concepts and knowledge. With his machine, you could tack multiple items together through a string of association – you can sort of do that with HyperCard. You can assign backgrounds and additional information, like buttons, that would link cards to each other.

    The ease at which this program is used, they say elementary school kids use it to learn to read, is something Bush would have been thrilled to know. He mentioned again and again that in order for the public to be interested in any innovation and invention it must be both cost effective and reliable. The HyperCard has almost a cult following – they must be doing something right!

    (2004) “HyperCard Forgotten, but Not Gone” Leander Kahney, Retrieved January 7, 2008. Web site:

    (2008) “HyperCard.” Retrieved January 7, 2008, from Wikipedia Web site:

    (1987) “New Software Beginning to Unlock the Power of Personal Computers.” Brenton R. Shlender for The Wall Street Journal on iHUG.org. Web site: http://www.ihug.org/WSJ87.html

  7. Lauren Kelly Says:

    Dr. Douglas Engelbart, who would later draw inspiration from Vannevar Bush’s article, was born on a farm near Portland, Oregon in 1925. He served in the Navy during WWII and studied to become an electrical engineer at the University of Oregon.

    Engelbart greatly agreed with Vannevar’s concept that all knowledge should be more accessible in order to further human development and aid to resolve great conflicts. As seen in the video “The Mother of All Demos,” Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart is most well-known for linking humans with computers by demonstrating the use of hypertext. During this presentation he demonstrated his creation, the mouse, as well. While working at the Stanford Research Institude in the 1960’s, Engelbart and his team created the concept of the mouse as a means to allow computer users to interact with the computer screen.

    Congruent with Vannevar’s beliefs, it was Engelbart’s goal to have humans derive as much value out of their computer. “My professional motivations are strongly oriented toward maximizing the benefit which society might derive from the advancements in the computer field,” said Engelbart. “I might say then that my professional interests are toward the application of automatic information-handling equipment for helping human society, in the most significant way possible.”
    In October 1969, his hypertext creation was linked to Arpanet, a computer software program that paved the way of the modern day Internet.


  8. Shenee Howard Says:

    Ted Nelson is widely recognized for indirectly contirubting to the creation of the internet. Nelson is known for coining the term hypertext in 1963. He also coined the terms hypermedia, transclusion, virtuallity, intertwingularity and teledidonics.

    While at school at Harvard, Ted Nelson completed a computer programming course which brought about his thinking about a document management system which would help organize his writings. Drawing from his experiences as a filmmaker, Nelson applied the idea of motion picture effects, moving from one shot to the other, to coin the term hypertext. Soon after coining the term, he documented his concept in the book Literary Machines. In this book, he speaks of a “docuverse” where all data is “stored once, there are no deletions and all information is accessible by link from anywhere. This navigation system would be non-linear, focusing solely on the individuals wishes. Individuals would be able to choose their own experience within an electronic document.

    Project Xanadu is an offshoot of his hypertext theories. This system intended to accomplish very basic goals: It aimed to facilitate reusable hypermedia; copyrighted, but freely annotatable and quotable in an open network. The internet we know today accomplishes some of these goals. The main goal of his works was to create a interface that anyone could access. The creation of the internet is greatly influenced by Nelson and his Xanadu project. While the Xanadu Project is a concept Nelson has tried to introduce to the general public for numbers of years, many setbacks have made the institution of the Xanadu project impossible.


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