Making links

Some years ago, back when I was in sixth form and trying to decide what I wanted to study at University, the BBC broadcast a Horizon documentary on novel interfaces for computers, which was presented by Douglas Adams and Tom Baker. The documentary presented a future information system in which you could follow links between documents, images and videos, with software “agents” that helped you find things. More than anything else, it was a novel documentary by itself; how better to show what a new information system might be like, than to film the documentary as if it were being presented by that information system.

The memory of this documentary, Hyperland, stayed with me, and was one of the reasons why I decided to read computer science rather than electronics (this book and this book were the other reasons). Moving forward a few years, I first came across the Web in the autumn of 1993, with the release of the Mosaic browser (I can still remember various of my contemporaries, possibly including and , telling me that the Web wouldn’t come to anything).

The early Web was quite exhilarating, but it still didn’t live up to the promise of Hyperland. I graduated and moved to Cambridge. As I got more disillusioned with my employer (a certain large Scandinavian mobile telecoms company that isn’t Ericsson), I spent more time reading academic papers on the subject of hypertext and agents. In order to get a better grounding in AI, I studied for my Masters in Edinburgh. After that, I looked around for PhD places, and found that the University of Southampton was the place to go in the UK if you wanted to do research on hypertext.

The rest, as they say, is history.


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