Essay on The World Wide Web as Social Hypertext

Essay on The World Wide Web as Social Hypertext

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Something curious is happening on the World Wide Web. It is undergoing a slow transformation from an abstract, chaotic, information web into what I call a social hypertext.

Initially, I didn't pay much attention to the Web. After all, it was just a new take on distributed information server systems such as WAIS[8] and Gopher[1]. True, it was easier to use than WAIS, and the ability of Web browsers to display formatted text and graphics with embedded links made it more attractive and engaging than either WAIS or Gopher. But there was nothing really new; it was an incremental advance, a new combination of well known functionality. So I mentally categorized the Web as just the latest fashion to sweep the internet.

In this I was quite wrong, although the phrasing of my dismissal in terms of fashion contained a deep truth.

This isn't to say I ignored the Web. As a user experience specialist in Apple's Advanced Technology Group one of my jobs is to stay abreast of new things. So, I occasionally browsed it to see what was happening. And early in 1995 I had a conversion experience.

The cause of my change of heart was the widespread appearance of personal pages. Personal pages are something like informal resumes, except that in addition to professional material they often contain personal information. Hobbies, research interests, pets, professional publications, children, politics, friends, colleagues, all are grist for the personal page. I believe that this seemingly frivolous blending of the professional and the personal is the key to why the web is becoming a fundamentally different thing from the systems of information servers that preceded it. Personal pages and the world wide web are not being used to 'publish informatio...

... middle of paper ...

...e personal is fraught with potential. On the positive side it enables new search strategies based on our social knowledge, it lowers the social cost of accessing and sharing information, and it makes the web a more interesting and engaging place. On the negative side, it creates a host of new opportunities for social gaffes, and defines a new realm in which tensions between organizations and individuals may be manifested. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and whether the tensions can be resolved without losing the provocative blend of personal and professional that can engender social activity. Although the web may be just the latest fashion to sweep the Internet, if it turns out to be a medium that allows the construction, negotiation, and propagation of the styles of appearance that we refer to as fashion, then its impact may be profound indeed.

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