The Electronic Labyrinth


Hypertext is the presentation of information as a linked network of nodes which readers are free to navigate in a non-linear fashion. It allows for multiple authors, a blurring of the author and reader functions, extended works with diffuse boundaries, and multiple reading paths.

The term "hypertext" was coined by Ted Nelson, who defined it in his self-published Literary Machines as "non-sequential writing" (0/2).

Many subsequent writers have taken hypertext to be a distinctly electronic technology--one which must involve a computer. For example, Janet Fiderio, in her overview "A Grand Vision," writes:

Hypertext, at its most basic level, is a DBMS that lets you connect screens of information using associative links. At its most sophisticated level, hypertext is a software environment for collaborative work, communication, and knowledge acquisition. Hypertext products mimic the brain's ability to store and retrieve information by referential links for quick and intuitive access. (237)

Our definition does not limit itself to electronic text; hypertext is not inherently tied to technology, content, or medium. It is an organizational form which may just as readily be delivered on paper as electronically. Thus, Sterne's Tristram Shandy is no less a hypertext than Joyce's Afternoon. The latter we would term a hyperbook.

Other important definitions include those of Jakob Nielsen, the InterMedia development team, and Delany & Landow. Contrast these to the perspective of the information sciences.

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
contact us