For centuries, scholars have been grappling with ways of organizing and compiling information for themselves, sharing with other scholars, and for the benefit of future generations of humankind. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, footnotes, and the Dewey decimal system are some examples.


In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote an article in The Atlantic Monthly called "As We May Think", about a futuristic proto-hypertext device he called a Memex. Memex would allow readers to create personal indexes to documents, and to link passages for different documents together with special markers. A Memex would hypothetically store — and record — content on reels of microfilm, using electric photocells to read coded symbols recorded next to individual microfilm frames while the reels spun at high speed, and stopping on command. The coded symbols would enable the Memex to index, search, and link content to create and follow associative trails. Because the Memex was never implemented and could only link content in a relatively crude fashion — by creating chains of entire microfilm frames — the Memex is now regarded only as a proto-hypertext device, but it is fundamental to the history of hypertext because it directly inspired the invention of hypertext by Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart.

The Mother of All Demos

Douglas Engelbart independently began working on his NLS system in 1962 at Stanford Research Institute, although delays in obtaining funding, personnel, and equipment meant that its key features were not completed until 1968. In December of that year, Engelbart demonstrated a 'hypertext' (meaning editing) interface to the public for the first time, in what has come to be known as "The Mother of All Demos".

Douglass Engelbart, of Stand Research Institute (SRI), presenting in 1968 what has become known as "the mother of all demos."

Cliff notes version

Project Xanadu

Project Xanadu was the first hypertext project, founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson. Administrators of Project Xanadu have declared it superior to the World Wide Web, with the mission statement: "Today's popular software simulates paper. The World Wide Web trivialises our original hypertext model with one-way ever-breaking links and no management of version or contents." Wired magazine published an article called "The Curse of Xanadu", calling Project Xanadu "the longest-running vaporware story in the history of the computer industry". The first attempt at implementation began in 1960, but it was not until 1998 that an incomplete implementation was released. A version described as "a working deliverable", OpenXanadu, was made available in 2014. In a paper written by Nelson in 1965 and published for a national conference of the Association for Computing Machinery, the word "hypertext" was coined.


The Complete Hypercard Reference book cover.
Click image for full-size view.

Hypercard, initially released on August 11, 1987, was a software application and development kit for Apple Macintosh and Apple IIGS computers. It is among the first successful hypermedia systems predating the World Wide Web.

HyperCard combines a flat-file database with a graphical, flexible, user-modifiable interface. HyperCard includes a built-in programming language called HyperTalk for manipulating data and the user interface.

This combination of features – a database with simple form layout, flexible support for graphics, and ease of programming – suits HyperCard for many different projects such as rapid application development of applications and databases, interactive applications with no database requirements, command and control systems, and many examples in the demoscene.

HyperCard was originally released in 1987 for $49.95 and was included free with all new Macs sold then. It was withdrawn from sale in March 2004, having received its final update in 1998 upon the return of Steve Jobs to Apple. HyperCard was not ported to Mac OS X, but can run in the Classic Environment on those Mac OS X that support it.


HyperCard contains an object oriented scripting language called HyperTalk, which was noted for having a syntax resembling casual English language. HyperTalk language features were predetermined by the HyperCard environment, although they could be extended by the use of externals functions (XFCN) and commands (XCMD), written in a compiled language. The weakly typed HyperTalk supports most standard programming structures such as "if-then" and "repeat". HyperTalk is verbose, hence its ease of use and readability. HyperTalk code segments are referred to as "scripts", a term that is considered[who?] less daunting to beginning programmers.

Hypercard Videos

Hypertext and the World Wide Web

In the late 1980s, Berners-Lee, then a scientist at CERN, invented the World Wide Web to meet the demand for simple and immediate information-sharing among physicists working at CERN and different universities or institutes all over the world.

"HyperText is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will. It provides a single user-interface to large classes of information (reports, notes, data-bases, computer documentation and on-line help). We propose a simple scheme incorporating servers already available at CERN... A program which provides access to the hypertext world we call a browser... " Tim Berners-Lee , R. Cailliau. 12 November 1990, CERN.

In 1992, Lynx was born as an early Internet web browser. Its ability to provide hypertext links within documents that could reach into documents anywhere on the Internet began the creation of the Web on the Internet.

Early in 1993, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois released the first version of their Mosaic web browser to supplement the two existing web browsers: one that ran only on NeXTSTEP and one that was only minimally user-friendly. Because it could display and link graphics as well as text, Mosaic quickly became the replacement for Lynx. Mosaic ran in the X Window System environment, which was then popular in the research community, and offered usable window-based interactions. It allowed images as well as text to anchor hypertext links. It also incorporated other protocols intended to coordinate information across the Internet, such as Gopher.

After the release of web browsers for both the PC and Macintosh environments, traffic on the World Wide Web quickly exploded from only 500 known web servers in 1993 to over 10,000 in 1994. Thus, all earlier hypertext systems were overshadowed by the success of the Web, even though it originally lacked many features of those earlier systems, such as an easy way to edit what you were reading, typed links, backlinks, transclusion, and source tracking.

In 1995, Ward Cunningham made the first wiki available, making the Web more hypertextual by adding easy editing, and (within a single wiki) backlinks and limited source tracking. It also added the innovation of making it possible to link to pages that did not yet exist. Wiki developers continue to implement novel features as well as those developed or imagined in the early explorations of hypertext but not included in the original web.

The Firefox Add-On Hyperwords which has been developed in cooperation with Doug Engelbart[15] and Ted Nelson[16] gives Web surfers the ability to issue many commands on any text on the web, not only pre-written links—a return to what users could do 40 years earlier with Doug Engelbart's NLS.

Links of Interest

Project Xanadu Website

Ted Nelson (Wikipedia page)