Forerunners of Hypermedia
One of the key forerunners of hypermedia — the Memex — was envisioned in 1945, the same year that Frank published his seminal essay. As an aside, the only inference I am making is the odd coincidence of the two appearing at the same time and the evidence that multiple disciplines were concurrently considering the changes that were happening in communication. It was the end of the Second World War, and Bush was considering how new computational technologies could be used to further the lot of the human species. His proposition was a device called the Memex, a portmanteau for (Mem)ory Extender that was proposed in his essay, As We May Think [Bush, 1945]. It consisted of an interactive microfilm recording and annotation system for the storage and analysis of information pertinent to the user, plus a system to link and store associations between topics. Content, from personal photos to scholarly material, could be purchased ready-made or recorded directly on the translucent data screens on the top of the device.
The World-Wide Memex (Collage)
Looking at this device, one can see the amazing similarity to surface computing, with its ability to record and manipulate documents placed on the screen. But the defining feature of the Memex was “associative indexing”. This is where the operator can associate the selection of one item to cause the recall of another, or, in effect, create a hyperlink. As Bush states, “The process of tying two items together is the important thing” and the gesture at the foundation of all hypermedia. The links create trails of association, that don’t fade with time and that act as a form of retrievable metatagging. In addition, more items can also be added to the skeins of associations in the Memex, to create a database of preferences for the user(s). The process of reviewing the trails and indices of the Memex through interaction with interactive associative trails is the seminal description of hypermedia browsing, albeit electromechanical and non-networked. However, Bush’s device was designed for single users, and it would take Douglas Engelbart to lead the development of a multi-user, document environment that would resemble later developments such as the Wiki.
In 1962, Douglas Engelbart (also known as the inventor of the mouse) was working at Stanford Research Institute on the creation of the NLS, or oN-Line System [Bardini 2000, 135]. The NLS used a tightly ordered, collapsible outline format so that a uniform structure of information could be used across the NLS, defining the format of document creation and organization. In addition, the NLS utilized the mouse and a new five key chording interface. The new interface and uniformity of document structure represented Englebart’s belief in the co-evolution (or augmentation) of human-computer symbiosis in that humans and computers would need to challenge one another to create new ways of working [Bardini, 2000, 53-56]. Documents could be dynamically edited by all users on the mainframe, and also had the capability to link to other documents. Although at this time mainframes time-shared access to the system, the NLS allowed for live, asynchronous editing of documents by multiple users. Although the main artifact that remains from the NLS is the mouse, creating the point/click interface for later web browsing, Englebart’s document structure also laid the groundwork for the ordering of browser languages. But what is most significant is that the NLS created a paradigm of collective authoring in online spaces, which would be expanded upon later by the Wiki.