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[ih] origins of the term "hyperlink"
- Subject: [ih] origins of the term "hyperlink"
- From: vgcerf at gmail.com (vinton cerf)
- Date: Sun, 12 Apr 2020 12:41:05 -0400
I asked Jeff Rulifson if he could help us figure out when "hyperlink"
entered into usage. Jeff was the principal programmer for Douglas
Engelbart's NLS editing system in which such links were introduced. Ted
Nelson coined terms like "hypertext" in his Xanadu concept - the two were
contemporary in the 1960s.
Here is Jeff's response:
Vannevar Bush, (Atlantic Monthly, July 1945, p 107) introduces the idea of
"associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any
item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically
another." Bush goes on to discuss the idea of a named trail of such
associations. Engelbart's contemporaneous handwritten marginal notes in his
copy of the magazine call such a trail "links". The Computer History Museum
has a photocopy of Doug's personal copy with his handwritten marginal
notes. (I have a TIFF of their copy.)
By the time of the 1968 demo, I had fully implemented links. I used a very
general implementation. A link had two parts: the name of a document and a
search command. The named document could be the current document or any
other document available for searching. The search command was a regular
expression. Users could make their links very simple or extremely
sophisticated. As far as I know, this was the first general implementation.
In 1965, Ted Nelson had coined the term hypertext but never had an
implementation. I believe he used the term links but I cannot find the
paper for verification.
By 1967, not knowing about Nelson or Engelbart, Andy van Dam had built a
system called HES. Andy's system had the notion of links and they were
called "links". (See
Bush published the idea in 1945. Engelbart named the idea "links" about
1945 but did not tell anyone. Andy used links in a line editor in 1967 and
I implemented a general version in 1968. Up till then, they were called
When was "hyper" added as a prefix?
The article at
claims Ben Shneiderman invented them in 1988 and implies Shneiderman coined
the term. You can see more of Shneiderman's claims at
http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/hyperties/. Shneiderman added the prefix "hyper"
43 years after Doug named associative indexing "links" and 20 years after
The article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlink#History attributes
the term hyperlinks to Nelson in 1965. But, to my knowledge, Nelson used
the term "links" at that time.
My bet would be that hyper was added between 1980 and 1987. Maybe it was a
journalist and we will never know.
[image: Bush with Engelbart Annotation.png]