(originally published: 1997)
Ten years ago, in his keynote talk at the First Hypertext Conference, Frank Halasz speculated that hypertext might soon be so common that it would become uninteresting. That hasn't happened yet, but hypertext is starting to appear everywhere.
Consider the lowly About Box, the dialog that identifies a program's version and contains copyright information and credits. Suddenly, without much fanfare, the simple About Box has acquired links! Here, for example, is the About Box for the current development release of Web Squirrel for Cyberdog:
It's a plain, simple About Box; no gratuitous animations, no sound effects. But, in the lower left hand corner, you'll notice a pair of cyberitems -- hypertext links that users can press to connect directly to Eastgate through the Web and through email.
This link wasn't hard to program: it took us an hour or two to get everything right, and the next time we use this trick it will take almost no time at all. The link isn't hard to use: users don't have to do anything special, or know much about the network.
Many users won't even care that they're fetching the information over the net; they just want the information.
A year ago, writing an About Box with built-in links would have been a challenge. Today, it's almost trivial, whether through system facilities like Apple's Cyberdog or through developer tools like Metrowerks' PowerPlant. That means we can put hypertext links everywhere we want them. We can embed links in online documentation that will automatically get current information -- checking with the vendor, if necessary, to see what might have changed. We can embed links in About Boxes to help people get answers, and to let them know when newer versions are available.
We can even arrange to customize these links, so that an organization can provide its own on-line help, seamlessly integrated into the software.
Of course, even as links show up everywhere, the challenge of structuring links remains the central challenge of hypertext. We still have much to learn about using links effectively and eloquently.