The Rise and Fall of Hypertext

or: How a stupid SEO Idea could destroy the Internet

This article is the second article in my metagaming series.

Part 1: Metagaming
Part 2: The Rise and Fall of Hypertext
Part 3: Sidenote: Google’s metagame
Part 4: Step outside and play your own game

The old sensei will get into the nitty gritty on destroying the idea of hypertext (and SEZeroes taking the net with them) later in the article. But as he is here to teach a thing or two (or just ramble along in his senile way), we’ll start with the basics.

The ht in your http:// – Hypertext

One thing that is referred to often is the “memex“. A fictional device introduced by Vannevar Bush in an article titled “As we may think“. To be honest, this is probably the most direct link from the modern internet to the first idea of hypertext.

But the idea of a level above the text you hold in your hand, holding meta-information and links to other texts was introduced even before that, in the text “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Borges.

Anyone having to do research the old way – digging out references to books in other books in a series of libraries – understands the pain that is the non-interlinked world of academia and research.

However, the basic idea – that sources and other information should be linked in a text – has been around for a long time and the basic concepts do not only still hold true, some of them have been cast into algorithms, such as Google’s infamous pagerank formula.

Now, if you have read the earlier article, you might ask “But sensei, where is the meta game here?”

Easy, young grasshopper.

Be assured that every time someone introduces a new level to a subject, new games will emerge.

Introducing Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann is one of the most influential sociologist of recent times (he died 1998). His work is still taught all over the world and continues to influence the social sciences.

Now many know that he was one of the first to intensively game the hypertext through his “Zettelkasten” or “box of papers”.

The man himself and his box of papers

The man himself and his box of papers

Luhmann basically built himself a manual wikipedia using nothing but index cards and numbers.

He would number an index card (to keep it neutral and keep himself from bias), jot down a note on it (reference, quote, book) and file it.

On each card, he would also add numbers to related cards to the bottom. This way he could work through his cards when writing an article and unearth the strangest connections.

He got so good at it, he had to describe his system in an article and the original paper box is now a museum piece.

There have been attempts to build software systems mimicking the Zettelkasten, but the one that is working best and is most popular is wikipedia.

This early hypertext metagame not only shows us what is possible with links, but also where the value lies.

The true value of networks

The value of a network is not in the content. While the content might have some value, the true value is in the links between the nodes and the whole picture and use coming from those links.

Some nodes might be more valuable than others, we will examine this with an example.

Let’s take a city’s road network as an example. Which streets are the most valuable for the network?

Probably not the dead end streets.

Instead, it is those streets that connect as many smaller streets as possible. A big street cutting through the city with branches off at every neigborhood will become the main artery for traffic.

At a smaller level, you will find the big neighborhood streets connecting a quarter to the smaller residential and shopping streets and back to the big city streets. And on and on.

In a social setting, we have people who are well connected “social hubs”.

Here as well, it is the interconnectedness that makes the man. If you are the strange hobo yelling obscenities at the street corner, but no one wants to talk to you, no dice. Everyone knows you, but you get to talk to no one. Dead end.

If everyone knows and likes you and you are able to bring people together (for business or pleasure) – you the hub!

And this brings us to the downfall of hypertext.

Linkjuice – a tremendously stupid idea

This is not how links work

This is not how links work

The concept of linkjuice has been around for a few years now. Someone came up with the idea of “link flow” after google introduced the “nofollow” attribute.

Not going into the details here “Page Rank Sculpting, etc..” in the end it all turns into “mine, mine, mine” in an attempt to get as many links as possible while not giving any out.

Why it is bad?

Son, you are building a dead end street, not a main thoroughfare.

Very, very few pieces of modern information (as in – pages and sites on the web) have no supplementary information they could link to.

Even if you write original fiction or publish your original photos – you could link to your neighborhood. To your fellow writers or to the photographers that inspire you or the art gallery that is displaying your pictures. All of which would increase the value to the traveling user, to the network and ultimately to your site.

Why is the concept of linkjuice not only bad, but bordering on idiocy?

How not to add value

Look at the web today. I can name a few sites that would be DEAD if the concept of linkjuice and -flow would hold true. I’ll just name one – wikipedia.

So by not sharing knowledge – and links – you are losing out and effectively destroying value of your site and the network as a whole. The network might survive without your sites, though.

And out.