The novelty of hypertext over traditional text is the direct linking of references. This allows the reader to navigate immediately from one text to another, or to another part of the same text, or expose more detail of some aspect of that text in place. This kind of hyperlinking is now ubiquitous through the World Wide Web and most of us don’t give it a second thought.
I was looking up hypermedia for the blog post I wanted to write today when I discovered that there’s another meaning of the term hypertext in the study of semiotics and, further, that the term has a counterpart, hypotext. Thse two are defined in relation to one another, credited to Gérard Genette: “Hypertextuality refers to any relationship uniting a text B (which I shall call the hypertext) to an earlier text A (I shall, of course, call it the hypotext), upon which it is grafted in a manner that is not that of commentary.”
In a somewhat meta diversion, following a path through the pages describing these terms realised a notion that I’d had floating around partially-formed for a while: quite apart from the convenience, an aspect of hypertext that I find particularly valuable is the potential for maintaining and developing the momentum of a thought by chasing it through a chain of references. I frequently find that this process and the speed of it, is itself a spur to further ideas and new connections. For example, when I’m stuck on a problem and searching hasn’t got me to the answer, I will sometimes recourse to following links through sets of web pages in the area, guided by the sense that they might be applicable, by them appearing to be about stuff I am not familiar with, by my own interest, by my gut.
I don’t imagine that I would have thought that just now had I not followed hyperlink to its alternative definition and then to hypolink and then made the connection from the links between pages to the chain of thoughts which parallels, or perhaps entwines, or maybe leaps off from them.
And that itself is pleasing because the thing I wanted to capture today grew from the act of clicking through links (I so wish that could be a single verb and at least one other person thinks so too: clinking anyone?). I started at Adam Knight’s The Facebook Effect, clinked through to a Twitter thread from which Adam obtained the image he used and then on to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome which contained the original image.
The image that unites these three is the one I’m using at the top here and what it solidified for me was the way that we can be inhibited from sharing information because we feel that everyone around us will already know it or will have remembered it because we know we told them it once before. I’ve seen it, done it and still do it myself in loads of contexts including circulating interesting links to the team, running our standups and reporting the results of investigations to colleagues.
As testers it can be particularly dangerous, not necessarily because of impostor or Facebook effects, but because we need to be aware that when we choose not to share, or acknowledge, or reacknowledge some significant issue with the thing we’re testing we may be inadvertently hiding it (although context should guide the extent to which we need to temper the temptation to over-report and be accepting of others reminding us of existing information). It’s one of the reasons I favour open notebook testing.
Note to self: I don’t know what you know, you know?
Image: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome