Better ways to hyperlink

by Gene Michael Stover

created Sunday, 2013-01-27 T 20:35:17Z
updated Sunday, 2013-02-03 T 18:25:28Z

Two problems with hyperlinks as we use them is that they are only where the document's author thought they would be useful & that they lead to where the author thought would be useful, nowhere else. In fact, there are many reasons a person might select a word or phrase. They include:

We needn't limit selections to text...

We can do some of these things with HTML links or with modern search engines, but not all of them, & even those we can are not done well.

Implementation ideas

Can we achieve these features with the link feature of existing HTML, maybe by following some authorship conventions or with some automated pre-processing? Or do we need another technology?

With drop-down context menus, a user could select a word or phrase then select an item from the menu. There could be some standard items such as definition, find elsewhere in this document, search the web, but with current HTML, the author still must predict the words or phrases that will interest the user. Also with current HTML, it'd be difficult to distinguish between selecting a phrase or selecting a word in it. What's more, I think such drop-down context menus would require active content (Javascript).

People that have thought this before

At least gloss & cross index are part of Vanevar Bush's vision of memex. This is clear when in "As we may think", Bush says:

When the user is building a trail, he names it, insets the name in his code book, and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him are the two items to be joined, projected onto adjacent viewing positions. At the bottom of each there are a number of blank code spaces, and a pointer is set to indicate one of these on each item. The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently joined.

(You have to overlook the implementation & user interface details that Bush mentions.)

Most or all of the features I mention are part of Dr. Ted Nelson's vision for hypertext in Project Xanadu.

Notes a word or phrase...
As of 2013, selection is done by clicking with a cursor that is controlled by a mouse, backball, or game controller, or by touching with a finger. I say "select" because I don't know what user interface the future will use, & I don't want to imply that my idea is specific to current user interfaces.
...require active content
I could be wrong about the active content. I'm no HTML expert.