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Authoring and Design for the WWW


The future: a better hypertext system?

Web browsers have introduced some valuable hypertext features to a mass of users, notably the indication of links to documents which have already been opened, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Nielsen (see Web Resources) has proposed a list of facilities which browser ought to provide, which includes Of all these, in HE it is perhaps the last three which are of greatest importance.

Relevance rating of anchors

Once unusual, it is now common for retrievals from databases to be marked with relevance ratings. There is a need for such a system for the link anchors of the Web. This is one special case of a general need for more types of link than the ubiquitous go to of the current Web.

Guided tours

Laurillard (1993) has expressed the view that hypertext is not educational technology, on the grounds that it does not encapsulate a learning strategy. Laurillard's view is perhaps too dismissive given the many different kinds of hypertext which can be created, but nevertheless there is often a need to bind a hypertext more closely to a learning strategy. An obvious way of doing this is to devise virtual tours. Some of the characteristics of such a facility would need to include: A postgraduate student project exploring some of these ideas is written up in Bulmer 1995. One way to make the idea work might be through the filtering of anchors.

Filtering of anchors

A fundamental characteristic of HTML technology is that the link anchors are embedded in the document. This has the advantage of technical simplicity, since it is robust in the face of editing changes. But the disadvantage is that each file has only one set of links, and those links cannot be added or removed without editing the source file

We said (Uses of hypertext p12)) that in 1945, Vannevar Bush recognised that the trails which users would build would have their own intellectual (and commercial) value, which was built on the documents, but was not part of those documents. We can easily see how part of a page might form a part of one user-author's trail while another part of that page might be included in someone else's. Or two critics might gloss the same text, offering different links to commentary and supporting materials. It is clear that to be able to invoke and suppress particular sets of links would be useful for any Web user, but especially for educational users. The current technical structure of HTML makes this impossible.

Other hypertext systems have explored a technically different approach, where link information is kept separately from content information, in principle allowing any set of links to be summoned up or dismissed at will. Microcosm is a system developed at Southampton University which in addition to these advantages, is also enabled by its alternative architecture to link documents of any kind, even if the software applications which deliver them are not hypertext-capable.

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