The Death of Hypertext

Is blogging dead? It’s a fair question. From my perspective, it might be something to cheer about.

Surprised?

I’ve actually been mourning the death of blogging since around 2008. I might have mourned it sooner, but that’s when I really started to notice that the scenic byways of the “Information Superhighway” had become littered with billboards and tourist traps. Of course blogging is no more “dead” than the Interstate. It’s just been going through an ugly phase.

Part of the ugliness is that we’re all afraid to click links. The World Wide Web was built around this notion of hypertext, and now – we’re all terrified to click a link. Or we’re blind to the links – we no longer notice them at all, because we’ve been so assaulted and bombarded with them over the years by people desperate to sell us crap we don’t need. (I’m still waiting on the “triple your money back” guarantee on some penile enhancement product – I plan to retire when it can’t grow me one.) The term “hypertext” dates back to – trivia question: How old is the term hypertext, and who first coined it?

My first experience with “hypertext” came in the early 1990’s, designing Microsoft Windows Help. I was working for a small software company that was busy producing its first Windows application, and I was trying to establish a documentation plan. “So…do you want online Help, too?” Little did I know, I was opening a can of worms that was considerably more complicated than I’d anticipated.

The developers’ faces lit up. “That would be great! You know how to do that?”

“Well…no. I thought you did.”

“Oh. Nope. No idea. Just a user’s guide would be fine.” They looked mildly disappointed, but clearly they had never expected the technical writer to develop an online help system for their application.

I almost abandoned the idea altogether, until it dawned on me that every little freeware or shareware app written by some teenager and uploaded to a BBS had online Help. It couldn’t be that hard, surely. I called an online friend, Rick Ruhl. “How hard is it to create online Help for Windows? Is it something I can do, without any real programming knowledge? Can you teach me – like, yesterday?”

I’ll never forget his answer. “You know how to code RTF – rich text format?” I knew that RTF was a file format and one of the output options of Word. I’d never actually looked at it without a word processor as intermediary. I had a habit of cycling between WordPerfect and Microsoft Word every few years; at this point in time, I was doggedly determined to run Windows 3.1 in a window under DesqView. But okay – I saved a file as RTF and then opened it in a text editor. What came out of my mouth next was unprintable, but involved several colorful swear words and the phrase, “Life’s too short for this sh–!” A traditional, printed user’s guide is what the company would get.

About an hour later, Rick called me back. “Okay, you know how to use Word. Can you format text with an underscore?”

“Of course.”

“Double-underscore? Hidden text?”

“Hidden text?” Well, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to, but if it was a formatting option under Word…sure. I could figure it out. Rick sent me the Help compiler and a few basic instructions. Creating Help was easy; watching the compiler run was about as exciting as watching paint dry. It did train me to make fewer mistakes. After all, I didn’t want to have to run that for thirty minutes just to fix a minor typo.

I eventually got playful and creative with Help, making stand-alone Help systems for fun. Birthday cards with clickable candles. I tried adding MIDI files, and blew away the Windows kernel. I have no idea, to this day, how I managed that. I knew just enough to be dangerous. I have some brilliant friends who would probably say, “Not much has changed in twenty years, eh?” Or, as one colleague wrote in a LinkedIN recommendation:

Holly is one of those rare individuals who doesn’t allow a lack of specific technical expertise get in the way of accomplishing some very technical objectives. I have found her to be tenacious and extremely thorough, ensuring that the end result is either exactly what was requested or as close as the available technology can deliver. She is an asset to any organization fortunate enough to have her as part of the team.

Which I think means, “Holly is that rare thing: A natural blond with brains who will grab hold of a problem like a rabid dog if it piques her intellectual curiosity long enough to hold her attention. She will then beat her head bloody against a technological brick wall until the technology rolls over and begs, ‘I give! U-N-C-L-E!” I view technology as a tool – a means to accomplishing a goal, not necessarily the goal itself. I get really annoyed when it doesn’t instantly bend to my will. I remember telling my dad I’d never work with computers. Man, did he have the last laugh.

Anyway, how hypertext works isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the fun I can have with it. So it’s always a little disappointing to me when I realize no one clicks the links on my blog. I don’t add them randomly. I don’t use in-context link plug-ins. My links are hand-crafted. Sometimes, they will lead the reader down rabbit holes; sometimes, they add humor or irony to the post. Sometimes, they’re there for your convenience. But I know that some would generate comment if anyone clicked on (or even just hovered briefly over) them, so I know how few people do. And it makes me sad. In the early days of the World Wide Web, links generated curiosity. They were the strands of a wondrous Web, indeed. Now, too often, they make the Web look like it was spun by a spider on crack.

There’s just so much you can do with a well-spun Web! You can learn a new language, you can find instructions for doing all kinds of crafts, you can learn how to end a war, or how to start a war. But no, those wily sploggers and scrapers and other lowlifes of the Internet have made readers too wary to click! It’s a tragedy. I say we fight back against scammers and bloggers who would litter their online homes with booby-traps of cheap, mass-produced, possibly dangerous, useless, and misleading linkypoo.

I realize it may be very “retro,” but I’d like to see a hypertext revival. Let’s not let it die or be killed off.

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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31 thoughts on “The Death of Hypertext”

  1. I hover and check links before clicking on them, if there’s a reasonable chance that I’ll be interested in where the link is pointing. But I also don’t click through unless I’m genuinely interested, and a million irrelevant links is only going to annoy me. But hey, it’s all personal preference.
    Sonya Mann recently posted…Chocolate CloudsMy Profile

  2. I don’t think blogging is dead at all. I just think that personal bloggers have retreated a bit because all of the corporate blogs have overpowered the web. We personal folk just kind of hang out in our own circles and don’t do a ton of promotion. 🙂

  3. A blog post should be able to stand on it’s own two feet without any links involved. I usually do an initial reading of a post without following links or even hovering over them. Coming from a family of novel readers I like to get the whole picture before I start getting the individual pieces.

    That being said. I wrote the first paragraph after the initial read through and before checking out your links. You had some very interesting comments on them in there. I have to admit that I didn’t click on most of them because I’m very suspicious.

    I never did learn Hyper Text, at least not well enough to use it on a regular basis, but learning to write comments over my links would be interesting.

    One thing that this essay does remind me of is the original point of PMOG or The Nethernet.

    1. Casi, I agree! A blog post should stand on its own merits. But hypertext is useful for things that might otherwise be annoying little parenthetical expressions and asides, or for providing a deeper understanding of concepts mentioned in the post – and assumed to be understood by most readers. Hypertext can add depth and fun to a post.

      I’m glad you at least hovered over the links, here, and I hope that you’ll come back – and come to trust me enough to follow any links I bother to include. 🙂 Trust takes time, and we’ve only just met. I understand.

      But that’s my point – in a world full of Infolinks and Kontera spam, we train ourselves not to even hover over links. Links lead to annoying pop-ups and seedy places on the Internet.

      To write comments that pop up when someone hovers, Casi, use the title=” ” attribute in your A tag. The alt=” ” attribute is also useful; it’s really designed for vision-impaired readers, so try to be kind and descriptive about it, if you use it – particularly on images. Let me know if that’s not enough info to get you started!
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…In My Next Life…My Profile

  4. You should do a blog post explaining to people exactly how to do hyperlinks in a blog, email whatever. Then you would be passing on your knowledge.

  5. Monkey slingshot; that’s a new one on me. lol

    I do know how to create these things and yet I’ve never added the title text part… or maybe I have once or twice, I just don’t remember. For me, I add links to my blog posts that hopefully are related in some fashion, but I also know the SEO value in doing it. I’m not letting them go until the day when W3C changes all formats & they don’t work anymore.
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…The Art Of Doing A Live InterviewMy Profile

    1. The Monkey Slingshot was a good lesson in economics. MUCH cheaper (and faster!) just to buy the thing on the Internet with mom’s credit card than to schlep around the neighborhood taking orders for crap none of the neighbors really wanted. (I think you had to have 150 orders to “earn” the $3 monkey – I kid you not, it’s a cheap little thing, and highly entertaining – I don’t regret buying it, but would have been very annoyed to have to buy $300 worth of goods to “earn” one for my son! Two checks: $50 to the school, $5.95 – to cover S&H, you know – to the monkey people. Much cheaper, and everyone gets what they want.)
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…The Death of HypertextMy Profile

  6. I’ve started writing again on my website. I hesitate to call it “blogging.”

    I use fewer external hyperlinks now because so many pages I’ve linked to in the past now 404. Bummer. And a maintenance chore.

    1. Blogging is SOOOO last decade. Let’s call it… hmmm. What? WRITING!! Oh, and you Luddite… they have link-checking plug-ins, now. You just run them and they tell you right up in your toolbar: “Hey, you have two broken links!” and you can opt to remove all trace (edit the post), remove the link, fix the link, or do nothing (in the case of transient errors). It’s not high maintenance if you start with a clean slate and keep one running.

      Welcome back. 🙂 Nice to see you here, Dave.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…The Death of HypertextMy Profile

      1. Yeah yeah yeah, I know. Recall I wrote a very long article on the Broken Link Checker plugin, and even interviewed the plugin author. I won’t spam the link, but it’s still up. The plugin does, however, consume a fair amount of server resources when you have ~15,000 links. So I turned off.

        Back to lurking.

      2. Does it? I didn’t realize it was sucking down resources. I’m using it now. Better it should suck server resources than MY resources.

        And real people who visit my blog and have real conversations with me are generally allowed to include a link or two back to their own blogs/favorite posts. You’re allowed, Dave. If my plug-ins give you a hard time, you just let me know.

    1. It must be the cold, since I checked and updated them all just before posting, and they all worked! But what a clever CAT, to have such a clever owner. You both earned the bonus. 😉 Why is it that so many people, even if practically shoved down the rabbit hole, refuse to play? Ahh, right… cats are notoriously curious creatures, and so are writers. It stands to reason that you two would explore!

  7. I still enjoy following a few blogs, including yours with it’s range of subjects from tech stuff to unusual fruit like prickly pears.

    The main reason I do not click on many links, or comment frequently, is time, or the lack thereof.

    Rest assured there are many of us lurkers out here who read, enjoy and benefit from your writing even though we rarely click or comment.
    Peter Wright recently posted…Why goals could be counter-productive.My Profile

    1. That warms my heart, Peter – it’s especially nice to see you come back, even after this long, dry spell of “meh-ness” I’ve been going through, with the blog, and with writing in general. (Though the assurance isn’t always desperately needed – “needy” people can be tiresome, and I try not to be one – I confess that I like the conversation and validation as much as anyone.)

      Do keep in mind that I rarely include links unless it’s for more info (which you can safely ignore if you don’t need more), for a convenient purchase (no, honestly, I don’t expect to make enough for Amazon to send me a check, let alone help me to retire), or for fun and playfulness (that covers most of the links in this particular post). You don’t HAVE to click any of them, ever – but it saddens me to think that dishonest people have practically killed off hypertext, and that people don’t click because they’re afraid to. I get not having the time to go down every rabbit hole. Fair enough, that. But I like to think my links are more like the little snippet you get if you sit through the credits at a movie – the kind that’s maybe worth sitting through, not just the kind that implies a sequel.

  8. Hey Holly,

    Thanks so much for pointing me to this article (from that LinkedIn discussion that didn’t allow links).

    This whole no hyperlinking crap really gets my goat. From time to time, I have occasion to write a comment about how hypertext links were created to bridge knowledge … You’ve explained it so well in your article, I don’t want to repeat it.

    With respect to those info links, contextual link and whatever else they’re called, I’ve avoided adding them to my sites because they annoy me so, I can imagine how much they’d annoy a visitor. The pennies they pay are not worth the aggravation they perpetuate.

    Geek! Talking about title tags. LOL Yep, I include them on most of my links … I’m like you, I figure if people would hover over a link, they’d know what that link was about and could feel comfortable following it to get more info, if it was relevant.

    Sigh, I still love the idea of linking. And I’m willing to put this out there: keep living and you will get to see the return of the importance of linking. For those of us that have continued to do so despite the naysayers, spammers and search engine hoopla will be glad we did. We’re doing our part to keep knowledge and information accessible, only a click away.

    Thanks Holly.

    1. Thank you, Vernessa! I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this. I finally figured I’d just dance to the beat of my own drummer, do my thing my way, and have fun with it. The only “business” aspect of my blog is to show that I’m capable of writing and to let people know where they can find my books, and to have fun with the regular (and new regular, I hope!) readers who come to hang out here. I’m glad you found me from those little breadcrumbs “over there.” 😉 Subversive (but really nice!) bloggers, unite!

      1. Hahah… you’re awesome! Thank you. I feel subversive, some days – although a true subversive would scoff. Was just telling someone how I used to take the kids to Barnes & Noble, in September, and give them carte blanche at the Banned Books table. My daughter’s 26, and lives 5 hours away, but I took great pleasure in sending her a “banned” classic last fall, and will continue to do so as long as there are books on that list. THAT is my kind of subversive.
        HollyJahangiri recently posted…Champagne and Strawberries = VindicationMy Profile

  9. I followed a link to get here from More Ways to Share the Link Love

    For me, blogging isn’t dead. I’m just burnt out on it for now.

    Beginning in 2011, at Daily Observations of the Civil War, I scheduled 16,673 posts chronicling the American Civil War, day by day, from beginning to end, during the sesquicentennial of the war, which comes to a close next month. The posts were primarily from diaries written at the time of the war, though other sources were used. I was able to find all of them online, mainly on Google Books. Sadly, I burnt out before I had all that I had intended to post completed. There is still material, though, scheduled daily through sometime in the summer, a lot of it diary entries of war participants making their way home after being released from the service.

    Along with that, on Exit78, I posted every day from 2 December 2012 through sometime in December or January a year later.

    For now, I intend to blog at least once a month, but I plan to ramp that up, possibly sometime later this year.

    I’ve been blogging since 2004. Over time, I’ve observed that most people don’t persevere in blogging. Many blog friends slowed down — or stopped — after they got on social media, Facebook primarily.

    On the other hand, my wife used to dislike how much time I spent on the computer building websites and/or blogging. Now she blogs almost everyday, mostly about her quilting. When she said recently on her blog that she was thinking about cutting back on how often that she blogged, she had a surge of comments, some supportive, but mostly from people who said they read her blog every day and many hoping she wouldn’t cut back.

    Blogging isn’t dead. (I sure have quite a few blogs on my feed reader)
    Mike Goad recently posted…Shopping habits.My Profile

    1. No, blogging isn’t dead. I just think hypertext is nearly dead – and it’s a shame. It’s a trust issue.

      But I do wonder if people are reading blogs closely anymore. There’s so MUCH “shameless self-promotion” going on – so much information to be pored over – some of it good, some of it just a rehash of last year’s nonsense. I know bloggers who are burnt out, and readers who are burnt out. But I think that personal blogs may be making a comeback. 🙂

  10. Different strokes, I guess. I ignore most links, the same way I will ignore anything in an ‘enhanced’ ebook – I’m a straight text kind of person, and a linear reader, and don’t want anything but text.

    I think it’s an energy thing, not an age thing, but it could be that I’m just an old curmudgeon.

    I use links on my own blog mainly to lead to other posts of mine (so no 404) that provide more detail, and usually so state.

    Energy again: to create a link to something else I have to go find it, copy the URL, and write something for that link. It’s not often worth it – to me.

    It’s amazing the number of people who are completely incapable of typing a word or phrase or keyword into my search box.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Learn something new: a PAGE is NOT a POSTMy Profile

    1. People are lazy. (I’m lazy, sometimes, too – won’t lie about it.) During NaNoWriMo, one year, I was getting tired of all the questions that could have been answered by a really simple Google search – or a trip to the dictionary, for that matter. I mean, it’s one thing to ask questions like, “How would you describe a dead body that’s been burned, stabbed, and weighted down in a river that’s 52 degrees Fahrenheit – and how would the coroner go about determining which of these things killed him?” but seriously, “define heliotrope” ought to be an embarrassing question to ask anyone if you’re capable of asking it ONLINE. Anyway, I expressed my frustration, asking, “Don’t any of you people know how to use Google or a dictionary?” The answer? “We don’t have to. We have you.”

      I had to go offline for a while and rethink my life.

      1. I double-click on ‘heliotrope’ in the email, and the ‘Look it up’ feature pops up.

        People ARE lazy. I’m actually not – and when you think of it, someone asking you a question they could have looked the answer to up themselves means they have to type in the question, and then wait for you to respond.

        They must REALLY want diversion.

        People like that don’t deserve to be writers (don’t eat me for expressing this view). I recommend Stephen Pressfield’s little book, Turning Pro. It asks you to figure out if you’re going to do this writing thing professionally, or if you’re going to be a whiny amateur. I turned pro 12/12/12.

        There’s still all that angst to deal with – after all, this is a creative profession – but pro is a lot better place to deal with it from (and aren’t you amazed at my control of prepositions?).

        I’ll get to your other lovely responses later today – thanks for talking back! I have to block the internet and get my work done. The Obstacle Character appreciations aren’t going to fill themselves out.
        Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Awesome BookRiot post: promoting a book you lovedMy Profile

      2. That’s the irony of it – people often have to work at being lazy. All right, maybe that was uncharitable of me; perhaps you’re right, and they merely wanted conversation – diversion. Is it terrible that I think they could’ve tried harder to at least come up with more challenging questions, if that’s their approach? Or perhaps they wanted me to feel good about myself, so threw me easy ones? (That’s mildly insulting, if that’s the case!)

        Everyone who WANTS to write “deserves” to be a writer (perhaps in that Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times” kind of way). Do they deserve to be published? No, probably not. (I knew a woman, once, who hired a ghost writer to write her NOVEL. I’m still confused over that.)

        I’ve been a “pro” writer since 1983 or so. As in “able to earn a full time living at it.” I changed careers a few years ago because – well, writers are nothing if not curious and easily bored. I’ve also published several books (both traditionally published and self-published, though my first foray into self-publishing was mainly to figure out how difficult it was so I could write a blog post about it and help others – or dissuade them). 🙂

        You’re wise to know when you need to block the Internet – and DO it.
        HollyJahangiri recently posted…Bad Attitude BloggingMy Profile

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