Critics also pointed to the limitations of links that pointed in only one direction and were untyped. The Web’s success has to a large extent overridden these criticisms without really proving them wrong. Ironically, it now seems that many of the early criticisms weren’t exactly incorrect per se, but merely shortsighted.
The W3C’s Semantic Web Education and Outreach group recently agreed to support a community project called Linking Open Data on the Semantic Web. The project’s goal is to make various open data sources available on the Web as RDF and to set RDF links between data items from different data sources. Groups in the field made progress before the community project even began. Examples include the dbpedia.org project and the D2R Server publishing the DBLP bibliography.
The Web’s utility does depend on its level of deployment—the network effect—and it’s doing rather well there. But it would be disappointing if, after all this time, the Web was only just catching up technically with its predecessors. Virtually all the hypertext features said to be lacking from the Web have been formalized within various specifications. Conceptually, the key is viewing the link as a unit of data. If this view is overlaid on the current Web, then not only are the shortfalls the critics describe illusory, but there’s still a huge amount of untapped potential in the Web even in its current “simplistic” architecture. We’re entering interesting times.
My first introduction to Hypertext was through a special issue of BYTE magazine. I recall reading every article on that issue with excitement of the potential of a link. Then I met Doug. I was amazed at how much his Augment did with links.
I am glad to read this article from Danny for it brings back all those linked memories.