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What Is Hypertext?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2014
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Text refers to words made of letters which are visually apprehended, whether they appear on paper in print or on a monitor, and is distinguished from oral language, which is apprehended as sound. In the usual understanding, text is linear, the eye following one line and going on to the next in sequence, although the sequence is culturally determined and may be left to right, right to left, or top to bottom on the page. Hypertext is text that is freed from linear constraints by the inclusion of links to other texts, either within the same work or in other, external and separate, works.

The word hypertext was coined by Ted Nelson in his article “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing, and the Indeterminate,” presented at the 20th National Conference of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1965. Nelson envisioned an interconnected system on which literature and other information was stored and could be accessed through hypertext. He called the project “Xanadu” after the reference in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” The World Wide Web is a hypertext-based project.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language and XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language) are basic technologies for building web pages, along with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). A hypertext link is signaled by a single underline and a different text color than the surrounding text. The link is constructed with an anchor element with the basic form being:

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<a href=”url”>Link text</a>

The text in the “Link text” position is the text that will appear as colored and underlined on the webpage. If the link is within the same website, a relative URL can be used; if it is external, an absolute URL will be required.

With the standard hyperlink given above, the link will open in the same browser window, replacing the material that was being viewed. It is also possible to force the link to open in a new browser window by using the target attribute and designating “_blank” like this:

<a href=”url” target=”_blank”>Link text</a>

Hypertext can be used to provide support, for example word definitions, that can be used discriminatingly by viewers, broadening the audience of a webpage. Dangers of hypertext use include distraction and broken links that go unfixed. Many sites also suffer from inappropriate links because an algorithm rather than a human being is forming them, resulting in, for example, links between two people or organizations when one of them has a name that is a subset of the other’s. Some people have objected to in-text advertising which uses a different text color and a double-underline on the grounds that it is too similar and that there should be a distinction between editorial and advertising content.

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