1.5: How the Internet is different

The Internet has been compared to a physical place called cyberspace, defined as the total interconnectedness of human beings through computers and telecommunication without regard to physical geography. William Gibson is sometimes credited with inventing or popularizing the term by using it in his novel of 1984, Neuromancer.

The Net also has been compared to a highway, or as former Vice President Al Gore is credited with calling it, an information superhighway. Like all highways, the Net can become clogged with traffic during peak hours.

Another metaphor is that of the information marketplace. where consumers search for information and services. The Information Marketplace can be best described by a passage from the book What Will Be by Michael Dertouzos, former head of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science. Dertouzos wrote:

“By Information Marketplace I mean the collection of people, computers, communications, software, and services that will be engaged in the intraorganizational and interpersonal informational transactions of the future. These transactions will involve the processing and communication of information under the same economic motives that drive today’s traditional marketplace for material goods and services.…”;

Nearly two decades ago Dertouzos accurately predicted today’s world of information, including the Internet and e-mail.

Hypertext vs. linear text

Ted Nelson

Web pages are written in a code called HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and produce HyperText.

HyperText is not constrained to being linear; the reader (or “user”) can enter it an any point and read it in any order. Linear text is designed to be read from the beginning to the end, in linear fashion. An example is a novel, such as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Of course, you can read a linear text, such as a novel, any way you want. You can skip ahead to the ending, for example, and find out who killed Dumbledore.

What makes HyperText different are HyperLinks, clickable links to other texts. Web pages can be organized around these links that allow readers to navigate the site in any order they want. A website is designed to be read this way.

As an added attraction, websites can present virtually any type of media. When a web page has sound files, video, photos and text, it has HyperMedia. This gives the website buildiner unprecedented storytelling power.

The terms hypertext and hypermedia were coined by Ted Nelson (right). His biggest project, Xanadu, was to be a world-wide electronic publishing system that would have created a universal libary for the people. He is featured in Hyperland, Douglas Adams’ 1990 documentary.

HyperText and HyperMedia are concepts, not products. Don’t be conned into the idea that you need complicated, expensive software to produce informative, useful pages that look professional.