Digital Rhetoric/Hypertexts and Hyperlinks

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Hyperlink: usually shortened to link, is a directly followable reference within a hypertext document

Hypertext: text, displayed on a computer, with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately follow, usually by a mouse click or keypress sequence

Whether you realize it or not, hypertext has affected the daily lives of average people. Anyone that uses the internet or checks email is affected. Hypertexts and hyperlinks are now a part of society, and used on a daily basis.


The concept of the hyperlink goes back to 1945 when Vannevar Bush thought up the memex. The term hyperlink was created by Ted Nelson in 1965, and in 1989, Timothy Berners-Lee recognized the potential of the hyperlink as a tool and applied it to the World Wide Web. [1] Hyperlinks have been used on the Web since 1989. The principle behind the hyperlink is to 'link' two webpages, documents, or items and allow the user to move from one to another.

So what is a hyperlink? Let’s start with what is a link. A link is anything serving to connect one part or thing with another. So if we look at a link, and know that a hyperlink is often shortened to just 'link' then a hyperlink is a connection between two or more documents, webpages, items, etc.

Hang Woo Park of YeungNam University and Mike Thelwall of the University of Wolverhampton co-authored “Hyperlink Analysis of the World Wide Web: A Review” in the 2003 Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. This article reviews the Hyperlink Network Analysis (HNA) and Webometrics. HNA understand hyperlinks as casts links between Web sites with ties to Social Networks. Webometrics applies simpler techniques with a more in-depth focus on the hypotheses about possible interpretations of the results. The motivation for this research is the increasing importance of the Web as an “ever-broader” spectrum of human activities, which need to be more widely developed and exploited. Park and Thelwall discuss many sources for understanding hyperlinks and reveal the complex and problematic analysis of the hyperlink as a tool.

Hyperlinks have become widely popular and accepted over the last twenty years. Everyday programs such as Microsoft Word allow in-text hyperlinks for references to other documents, websites, and indexes. People have become so familiar with hyperlinks that there is no need for standardization. Initially, all hyperlinks on the Web had to be blue with underlining; however, their common use on the Web makes the typical blue underlining unnecessary. As long as the hyperlink is distinguishable from the text, they can be any color, size, emphasis, etc.

One of the major debates of hyperlinks is the concept of new windows or new tabs. New Web browsers offer tabbed windows, which is a helpful feature when viewing more than one website. Usually a hyperlink opens in the users current window, but many Web designers are now using the target="_blank" code to open the hyperlinks in new windows or tabs to prevent the user from losing their current page. This is helpful when a hyperlink leads off of the current site to an outside source, but is not always necessary. The big debate is whether the new window feature should be a standard function or an option for Web designers. Is this a functional tool, or just a personal preference?


1. In text: In text hyperlinks are words or phrases within a section of text that leads the user to another webpage. For example: The Statue of Liberty is located in New York City.

2. Navigation: Navigation hyperlinks are usually located on the left or right of the content. These hyperlinks will allow the user to move through the current website. For example: The blue links on the left side of this screen are navigational hyperlinks.

3. Internal: Internal hyperlinks are links to pages within the current website.

4. External: External hyperlinks are links to pages outside of the current website. For Example: James Madison University


Hyperlinks should not be confused with hypertexts. The term hypertext is a relatively new term that is not well known to the general population. For that matter, there is no consensus of what hypertext includes. Several individuals have written books, articles, and websites that try to explain the concept of a hypertext.

A Brief History

At the end of World War II, Vannevar Bush, the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, saw the need for an instrument that could retain and recall the sum of human knowledge. In As We May Think, published in The Atlantic Weekly in July of 1945, Bush discusses the potential (and futuristic for the time) inventions and instruments that would better world communication. In his article he mentions digital photography, credit cards, digital archives, computers, and most importantly, the memex.

The memex is a Utopian device that stores all books, records, and communications which can be consulted with speed and flexibility to tie two items together (Bush 8-9). Bush’s imagination in the mid-1940’s has mostly come true in the present time, and his theories/suggestions are the foundation of hypertext and web theorists. Two crucial elements of Bush’s memex are the ability to append one’s own thoughts and reactions to the text, and the ability to attach annotations virtually (Landow 11). The memex, as theorized by Bush, relies on associations made by the machine automatically, creating endless trails of links for any topic (Landow 11). Bush saw an miraculous device that had the potential to store all of the world's information interlinked, annotated, and available to everyone.

Hypertexts originally emerged as electronic stories. Eastgate Systems Inc. is the leading company for hypertext development. Their website offers information about hypertexts, software for designing hypertexts, and hypertext stories. Cutting Edge is part of the Eastgate website that offers articles on current hypertext topics and concerns. Some of the more prominent articles cover hypertextual layouts and navigation. While some initial concerns about hypertext stories included the fear of forgetting the novel, the last ten years has proven this fear to be false. Problems of navigation and cohesion on the other hand are still relevant to discussion.

Others areas considered for discussion are the development of vocabulary for the structures and concepts that explain how today's hypertext works as well as websites. Many issues up for discussion are the patterns of hypertext, the aesthetics involved, and polyvocal hypertexts.

An Emerging Technology

As an emerging technology, theories and standards for hypertexts are still a work in progress. W3C's homepage for XHTML2, The Working Group, was chartered in March 2007 to fulfill the promise of XML for applying XHTML to plethora of platforms with special attention to internalization, accessibility, document structuring and usability. W3C working groups and the Members of the Consortium reach a census together on what is the specification for various syntaxes. These become building blocks for the future markup languages made available for widespread use. These members provide knowledge for creating an appropriate model to use when coding.

A similar website that fosters forums between communication professionals is by HYPERtext by Text 100. Technology PR consultants work towards engaging members in discussion about emerging mainstream technology and their trends. Text 100 continues with a similar theme of constant discussions similar to W3C’s consistent research. Text 100 allows for discussion between media, analysts, investors, industry influencers, and social media visionaries.

When considering the possibilities the future holds for hypertext it is pertinent to also consider the beginnings of hypertext. In Hypertext and Beyond Jesse Woods discusses the early ideas of hypertext which were made possible by Vannevar Bush in 1945. He had proposed a machine, memex, for displaying and organizing information in a non-linear form. It would be a true digital library. Bush’s theories were before computers had been feasible, and it was his ideas which were studied by early computer pioneers. With constant change in technology and our abilities to communicate authors are following up with new idea for telling their stories.

While initial theories were based on stories and electronic novels, the changes to the internet over the last ten years has created a new environment for all types of hypertexts to thrive. Elements of hypertexts can be found in blogs, wikis, and basically every webpage. Web 2.0 (or possibly Web 3.0) has allowed hypertextual characteristics to become a part of everyday Web use.

Hypertext Theories

George Landow is one of such theorist. Landow says that the two crucial elements of Bush’s memex are the ability to append one’s own thoughts and reactions to the text, and the ability to attach annotations virtually. In Hypertext 3.0, Landow discusses various definitions of hypertext, and explains that a there are several characteristics that make a hypertext, but not all hypertexts have to have all characteristics.

In his book Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Text, Jay Bolter discusses how hypertextual features on the Web has resulted in a new writing space for authors. The book discusses the changes in writing styles, authorship, remediation, literature, and culture.

Landow and Bolter are two of the leading theorists of hypertexts and Web 2.0. Some of the major issues of hypertext include:

  • Death of the novel: initial responses to the hypertext fiction led many theorists to believe that the printed novel would become less frequent.
  • Death of the author: As discussed in class, the death of the author has been a concern in literary circles for some time. Many theorists question the authorship of hypertextual documents (such as blogs and wikis).
  • Intuitive navigation: because hypertexts were originally theorized to be chaotic, the topic of navigation is a touchy subject to many individuals. Some like the idea of chaotic navigation, while others prefer a slightly more organized approach. However, all parties agree that in order to be hypertextual, there must be many available pathways.
  • Web 3.0: Landow mentions in is book, that the hypertextual elements and multi-media approaches have created a new Web environment.
  • Re-theorizing: Much of the original theorizing on hypertexts took place in the early 1990s. Since then, much has changed. The web is changing the daily lives of average people. With the changes, theorists are beginning to develop new ideas and concepts.

What is a hypertext?

In Landow’s Hypertext 3.0, hypertext includes three definitions. Landow provides his own definition, and the definitions from Barthes and Nelson. According to Landow, hypertext, in terms of the Internet, is a text composed of blocks of texts or images linked by multiple paths, chains, or trails which are open-ended and continuously unfinished (Landow 2). Barthes explains hypertext as an ideal text, where several networks interact with a text that has no main entrance or beginning. This ideal text contains multiple texts, is interactive, and unpredictable to the user (Landow 2). The third definition of hypertext by Theodore Nelson, who coined the term “hypertext,” explains it as a non-sequential writing, which branches and allows the user to interact with the writing by choosing the best path (Landow 2-3).

Everything on the web has some element of hypertext. According to the definitions, a true hypertext

  • Combines linked texts and images
  • Has no beginning and no end
  • Contains many entrances and exits
  • Is interactive with users
  • Is unpredictable
  • Is discontinuous
  • Is not linear

Format and Design

Chapter 5 of Jakob Nielsen's book Multimedia and Hypertext: The Internet and Beyond, discusses the architectural component of hypertext systems. Nielsen divides the hypertext system into three levels. There is the presentation level (user interface), the hypertext abstract machine level known as HAM (nodes and links), and the database level (storage,shared data, and network access). Although currently most hypertext systems don't follow this model, they are typically a "confused mix of features".

Many hypertext systems are essentially hypertext engines that are able to display an array of hypertext documents. Systems built to display a single document can therefore provide a richer interaction for the user with a single piece. There are hypertext researchers that can work with systems designed as hypertext systems, as well as many other researchers who work with systems that assist them in performing all sorts of tasks. There can be a conflict between these two ideas and as a result a new approach is called open hypertext. Open hypertext is aimed at integrating hypertext capabilities along with the entire user's software environment. There was The Microcosm Project which looked into the three degrees of application for open hypertext, but has not been perfected and will continued to be researched.


1. The best example of a true hypertext is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a co-authored site that allows users to write, edit, comment, and annotate. A user can enter the site through any page and they can exit at any page. There is no set beginning or end, and a user can move through the seemingly unending site by using navigation links, searches, or in-text links.

2. The original hypertexts were electronic stories and novels. The navigation and movement through the stories will vary, but one example is Rhizome.

Connections to Digital Rhetoric[edit]

A hypertext is one of many virtual platforms for digital rhetoric. Hypertexts are the reason behind the success of digital rhetoric. The theories, concepts, and environments created by hypertexts have nurtured the designs, styles, and methods of digital rhetoric.


1. Web 2.0/3.0 environment - The features and abilities that web designers can use in the web environments go beyond the initial purpose and functions of the Web. Video, audio, graphics, color, links, etc., all aid in the development of digital rhetoric.

2. Concepts - Many people think of hypertexts as chaos... but it's not. Some of the initial theories stated that hypertexts should have a chaotic theme to them, but (fortunately) web designers realized that the mass audience does not what a chaotic environment. While there can be elements of chaos, the overall navigation, content, and design should have enough order to function properly.