Will hypertext become the Web's missing link?


Michael Bieber (CIS Department, New Jersey Institute of Technology)


Wendy Hall (University of Southampton)


Michael Bieber (CIS Department, New Jersey Institute of Technology)
Cathy Marshall (Xerox Palo Alto Research Center)
Donald S. Retallack (Boeing Company, Shared Services Group)
Anne-Marie Vercoustre (INRIA and CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences)


Bebo White (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC))

Hypertext researchers complain that the Web incorporates a very rudimentary implementation of hypertext. Hypertext research has been on-going since the late 1950s with the first major research systems developed in the early 1960s. Yet the Web seems to have ignored most of the lessons learned by the hypertext research community. The Web community claims that the field is still open wide, and invites the hypertext community to participate, both by leading with examples on the Web and joining standards organizations.

This panel explores the role, hype, promise and future for hypertext in Web environments in a provocative and lively manner.

The moderator will begin the panel by briefly reviewing the kinds of hypermedia features often not supported in Web environments.


Michael Bieber: Hypertext will disappear from the Web. Most future Web pages will be converted legacy systems from business, and no one will bother to put links in them. These systems should have automated links that match the structure of the business application.

Biographical information: Michael Bieber is Assistant Professor of Information Systems in the Computer and Information Science Department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he also teaches in the distance learning program. He is an Associate Director of the Electronic Enterprise Architecture and Design program. He holds a Ph.D. in Decision Sciences from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Bieber has been performing hypermedia research since 1987, when he embarked on a research path in automating hypermedia support for analytical information systems. Dr. Bieber is active in the hypertext community, co-organizing conference minitracks and co-editing special journal issues concerning hypermedia approaches to information systems. He has published many articles in this and other areas. He recently was treasurer of ACM SIGLINK, the ACM's special interest group on hypermedia.

Cathy Marshall: Participation. It's key to why hypertext matters to the Web. The vision of hypertext — and of the Web — is as a collaborative, participatory medium, not just a cross-platform delivery vehicle for applications and information resources. Ideally then, Web growth relies on building on the work of others, not just creating new content and applications from scratch. The Web affords a variety of roles beyond a simple model of content and application producers and consumers; hypertext can support these more complex, more highly collaborative activities.

To make the Web fully participatory, we need richer, more natural modes of linking, gathering, organizing, annotating, interpreting, and publishing. Link services, spatial hypertext, and hypertext-based annotation and metadata services will all enhance the utility and tractability of the Web. In short, we need more hypertext on the Web, not less.

Biographical information: Cathy Marshall is a Member of the Research Staff at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, and an active participant in the international Hypertext, Digital Libraries, and WWW research communities. She has led a series of projects in the areas of spatial hypertext, collaborative narrative, annotation, and metadata including two system development efforts, Aquanet (named after the super-hold hairspray) and VIKI. Earlier, she was a member of the NoteCards project, an early-80s implementation of hypertext. She often lingers in the shadowy interstices between disciplines, working with ethnographers, designers, and artists, as well as her fellow computer scientists. She retains a research faculty affiliation with the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas A&M University.

Don Retallack: Hypertext WAS — but no longer is — very important to the World Wide Web. Initially, people found it cool to just click on a piece of hypertext to find what they wanted or to find something new. This was "information access" and it was new and exciting.

But today, hypertext is a minor part of the Web phenomena. Search engines — "information retrieval" - have taken over as THE most important ways for finding things. The new preferred method is "show me everything that's available, then I'll choose" rather than "hyperlink me to what the author thinks I need next". The most important role for hypertext in today's Web is as a method for Web crawlers to find things. Otherwise, hypertext and the current limitations of HTML on the Web just get in the way most of the time.

The Web infrastructure has moved on to search engines, multimedia, applets and applications, subscriptions/push and various forms of multi-dimensional displays. Hypertext is no longer contributing much to the Web.

Biographical information: Don Retallack is an Advanced Computing Technologist with The Boeing Company in Seattle, WA. Working in the Applied Research and Technology group, he assesses and acquires new information technologies for the Boeing Company, and has been particularly involved with Web technologies for the past four years. As leader of the influential WebMasters and Web strategies groups, he has been involved in developing corporate policies, implementing new Web-based information retrieval and visibility systems, and transitioning the Web from experimental amusement to supported business tool. Dr. Retallack's interests lie in technology transfer strategies, information retrieval, image processing and high performance computing.

Anne-Marie Vercoustre: The Web is fine now. People make do with the hypertext features that exist now quite well. The Web is fine for doing even more than it was designed for — publishing and accessing information in a globally distributed environment. The Web community mostly focuses on underlying architecture, portability, protocoles and languages, making only use of very basic aspects of hypertext. However the Web is evolving: XML might bring typed links; DOM and Java make documents and interfaces dynamic; so flexible and user-centered hypertexts will become possible with the current tools.

Biographical information: Anne-Marie Vercoustre is a Research Director at INRIA, France, where she has been involved in syntax-based programming environments, structured documents, and hypertext for more than 10 years. She currently is involved in databases for structured and semi-structured data. Her current research interest focuses on reusing heterogeneous information, including databases, SGML-like documents, Web pages, and digital videos, through virtual documents. CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences is visiting at CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences in Carlton, Victoria.

Bebo White is a computational physicist and the Webmaster at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). SLAC was the first Website in the United States. Bebo has been involved with Web development since the beginning, has written numerous articles and one book on Web issues, lectured internationally, and definitely believes that "there is too little hypertext in WWW".


Wendy Hall is a Professor in the Department of Electronics & Computer Science at the University of Southampton in the UK. She is Director of the Multimedia Research Group, the University's Interactive Learning Centre and the Digital Library Research Centre. Her research involves all aspects of multimedia information systems and their application to industry, commerce and education. Her group has been conducting hypermedia research for over 10 years. It has developed the highly successful Microcosm and Webcosm systems which are now available commercially. She was co-chair of the ACM Hypertext'97 conference which was held in Southampton and has recently become a member of the IW3C2.


We acknowledge the generous support of the NASA JOVE faculty fellowship program, the New Jersey Center for Multimedia Research, and by the National Center for Transportation and Industrial Productivity at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).


M. Bieber and F. Vitali, Toward support for hypermedia on the World Wide Web, IEEE Computer, 30(1): 62–70, 1997,

M. Bieber, F. Vitali, H. Ashman, V. Balasubramanian and H. Oinas-Kukkonen, Fourth generation hypermedia: some missing links for the World Wide Web, International Journal of Human Computer Studies, 47: 31–65, 1997,