Friday, February 22, 2002

Well, that was interesting. It took me a while to get BLOGGER to recognize that I was, indeed, a valid user of their site. It's been a while since I last used the site, and in the interim BLOGGER was hacked. The long and the short of it is that I've got a new password, and for some reason BLOGGER didn't recognize it. Anyway, it's fixed now.

The rant I had in mind, which prompted me to go through that mumbo-jumbo, was one about how the hyperlinkedness of the Internet was mostly underutilized. There is an anthology of stories set in Isaac Asimov's Foundation/Robots universe, entitled Foundation's Friends. While I don't have the book to hand, the link on Amazon that I just provided suggests that the title of the story I considered to be the best, was "The Originist" by Orson Scott Card.

A large part of the story describes the protagonist's research efforts through a database of the future. While the description of the holographic display was interesting, the best thing about this database was its incredible web of hyperlinks. One article led the researcher to another, to another, and further to another; the protagonist even stumbles onto an article about the evolution of the children's song "Ring around the Rosy" over the next ten million years or so (which masks a serious contemplation of the nature of the "community" of children, which is as profound as anything Card's written).

The story, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database tells us, is copyrighted 1989. While the Internet certainly existed then, the World Wide Web did not, and hyperlinks were for the most part simply thought experiments. (This actually isn't entirely true but I don't want to go off on yet another tangent.) Once the Web did come into existence, one of the features that was touted the most loudly was the concept of linking, of following up and down from page to page among similar or even totally disparate sites. To some small extent, this existed, even if it was mostly in the form of "my favorite links" sections on various web pages. But it never seemed to reach its potential.

Lately I've been occasionally perusing Salon.com. To add irony, or poignancy, or something, to this tale, I started because I was linked there. But anyway, the thing I like best about Salon is that it is fully hyperlinked. For example, if I were to begin reading an article on, say, the upcoming Spiderman movie, within the article, and at context-appropriate places, I would find links to the movie studio, the comic book publisher, many of the principal people involved in the making of the film, and stories on Salon itself about such things as the modification of the movie in the wake of Sept. 11. Most of the links, in fact, are to previous articles that Salon has written on the topic, and on tangential topics (the last example, for one, might lead me into an exploration of the events of Sept. 11 itself ... that is, if I (and all of us) weren't suffering from overload on that particular topic).

Following the dots, it falls to me to say that spending some time on Salon's site has felt more like research in Trantor's library, than anything else I've ever done. But I wonder how much it would feel like this, if I were reading Salon in its infancy. As I said, most of their links are to articles on Salon.com itself. How many links could there be, then, in Salon's first days, weeks, or even years? It's interesting enough to be linked back to articles written when the site's layout was significantly different (and more ad-free) than it is now. I wonder how interesting it would be if there weren't old links to go back to.

I'm stuck for how to end this article/rant. Salon recently started charging for full access to the site. I haven't paid; the limited access is still fascinating. But I've been more tempted than I ever have to a pay site. That, in itself, says something. Another is that I have attempted here to be as hyperlinked as possible. It is like me, too, to go through old articles and add more hyperlinks. No promises, but that's the sort of project that I embark upon for no earthly reason, every now and again. (Sort of like the site itself, now that I think of it.)