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What Is Hypertext?
Internet Terminology
updated May 2002
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The World Wide Web (WWW) combines computer networking (the Internet) and Hypertext MarkUp Language (HTML) into an easy to use system by which people can access information around the world from a desktop computer. Hypertext is the medium used to transmit the information in a non-linear fashion via computer by  clicking on a "link"  using a mouse.

We commonly think of links as the underlined text on graphical Web browsers, such as Netscape and Internet Explore, which, when we click it, takes us to a new document or other type of information. Before there was a graphical Web browser, computer users could access linked material on the Internet by using a program such as LYNX, a non-graphical Web browser.

Hypertext links can access numerous types of material, for example, educational material such as course syllabi and resources, explanatory notes for a Web-based document, sources for references, explanatory notes, commentaries by other writers, links to other relevant resources or publications, graphics, sound, video.  The term "hypertext" is being replaced by "hyperlink," since text is not the only kind of link. By simply clicking, the user can be taken to a new bit of information, a new Web page or multimedia such as sound, graphics or video.  For example, if you click on this animated butterfly you will be sent to my home page. CD-ROM based encyclopedias use hypertext, for example, to take readers to pictures and additional information about a particular topic.  Many applications, such as word processing programs, can now use links to access other material accessed via a computer.  Web-based e-mail programs and discussion forums allow users to link to on-line resources by embedding HTML tags in the material.

Links are not always as obvious as underlined text. Web designers can create links to text without using underlines. As Web design becomes more sophisticated, the user has to become more familiar with subtle ways information is linked. Sometimes it is difficult to uncover all of the links on a given Web page. Moving the cursor over the complete surface of the page will uncover links, as text or other visual cues appear.  Web designers who want their material easily accessed avoid such subtle handling of links. Cutting edge sites, designed for sophisticated Web users, delight in challenging the users of their sites. Your purpose should determine the style you use when creating a Web site.  If you are providing instructions or selling a product, for example, you want your information to be clear and easily accessed. 

Hypertext fiction is interactive with often intricate paths to different threads of the story and related graphics.  With some hypertect fiction, just by clicking on a word, the reader experiences the story in a way that is not easily repeatable, given the numerous possibliities to approaching the story. Some stories are designed to not allow the the reader to have the same experience twice. 

Hypertext poetry links different passages of the poem that stem from the primary text. Some hypertext poetry does not have a primary text.  By selecting random paths to create her or his own version of the fiction and poetry, the reader creates his or her version of the story/poem.  Although the author has created a set number of paths, the linking pattern the reader chooses determines the version of the story. Some hypertext literary works do provide an overall map of the structure. An early fiction work, Afternoon, a Story, by Michael Joyce (1991, Cambridge, Mass: Eastgate Press, on computer disk) does not provide the readers with the overall structure. Some sections have few links, while others have numerous links. The effect when reading the story is that the reader is creating the story as she/he proceeds, even though Joyce has written all of the possible narrative threads.


© Virginia Montecino August 2000
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