Subject: HTML
From: Steve Owens <uso01%eagle -at- UNIDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 31 Jan 1994 18:12:44 +0700

> HTML is Hypertext Markup Language which is used in an online document to
> create links from keywords to other parts of the text. It's used on the
> World-Wide Web (naturally referred to as WWW -- more acronyms!). The text

Actually, WWW is a TLA (Three Letter Acronym). :-)

> can be navigated in a nonlinear manner. For example, an online table of
> contents is a list of keywords. A user selects a topic and is linked to
> the text of that topic. When finished, the user can toggle back to the
> table of contents for another selection.

I suspect most of us have a basic understanding of the hypertext

> It eliminates scrolling through screens of unwanted text to reach the
> desired documentation, and it has an instant (a keystroke) way back to the
> table of contents. HTML also offers wonderful features for more advanced
> displays than a VT100 like different typfaces and fonts, graphics, and even
> color.

The most important thing about hypertext, if it's done right (and
often I've seen poor examples) is that it gives the user the ability to
do what he or she does naturally - essentially automating the "stick your
finger in the page, flip to the index, look up that term, flip to that
entry, read it, oh yeah, I get it now, flip back to the original page"
process." This is the way people read, quite often, so making it easier
makes it easier forthe reader to use the document.

There is also a danger, however, of the reader getting lost in
the document. Good design plays a role here, as well as good
navigation tools (subject (TOC) and alphabetical (index) listings, not
to mention back-tracking, next/previous, etc).

I'd really love to hear from somebody who's had experience with
designing a hypertext document, to hear what you learned about the
design process.

> It's pretty exciting stuff, but the question I have is, what are the
> resources (as in software, time, effort, etc.) required to do it?

The hardest part, and the part that everybody seems to completely
ignore, is linking. Properly linking a hypertext document is like indexing
it, only even more thorough and involving more work. In essence, imagine
going through a book (although you'd be better off designing the structure
from scratch) and finding every possible place you could cross-reference,
and adding a cross-reference.

I cobbled together the following example when explaining hypertext
to a coworker:

The VOC File as it Relates to UniBasic

The VOC (vocabulary) file is the central repository for almost all
information about an account's environment. VOC entries define files
and directories, dictionaries, verbs, keywords, prestored commands and
paragraphs, menu operations, and remote pointers.

UniQuery looks at the VOC for instructions to interpret the
expressions it reads and the location of files it opens.

The VOC file is the place where your investigation will begin when you
are analyzing a problem. If you do have a problem, check the VOC file
for file pointers before you begin to examine any data in question.

Now, when we display this on the screen, every significant
keyword (or as may as possible) should have a hyperlink to another
topic. That first paragraph would be a real pain (since the second
sentence is basically just one long list of keywords), but it'd be
worth it. Using the last paragraph as an example, the actual text
that the help entry is built from looks something like this:

The \START\VOC file\END,"VOC FILE STRUCTURE",NODE 315\ is the place
where your investigation will begin when you are analyzing a problem.
If you do have a problem, check the VOC file for \START\file
pointers\END,"FILE POINTERS IN THE VOC FILE",NODE 367\ before you
begin to examine any data in question.

Of course, the markers above are not HTML, just something I
invented for the purpose of the example.

I remember, way back when I first read about Drexler's
concept, the first thing I wondered was just how exactly all of those
links got put in place. I thought, "Gee, that's nifty, I wonder how
they made a program that figured out what information to link
together?". The answer was, they didn't. As is typical, a nifty idea
has everybody going gaga over the new technology and ignoring the fact
that it will STILL require work. But it can create an extremely
powerful tool for learning.

Anyway, for freeware hypertext, if you want to experiment, you
might be best off working with emacs texinfo. Emacs is kind of hefty,
space and CPU -wise (albeit free), so you might want to consider other
alternatives. The WWW people have some nifty stuff out, but when I
poked about a bit trying to see how easy it'd be to set up a local-only
hypertext document, I didn't get very far.

Steven J. Owens
uso01 -at- unidata -dot- com

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