Hypertext Research: The Development of HyperTIES

Edited by Ben Shneiderman and Catherine Plaisant - Last edit: July 2018

Hypertext title screen Hypertext intro figure2 hyperties sun worktation

Starting in 1982, HCIL developed an early hypertext system on the IBM PC computers. Ben Shneiderman invented the idea of having the text itself be the link marker, a concept that came to be called embedded menus or illuminated links. Earlier systems used typed-in codes, numbered menus or link icons. Embedded menus were first implemented by Dan Ostroff in 1983 and then applied and tested by Larry Koved (Koved and Shneiderman, 1986). In 1984-85 the work was supported by a contract from the US Department of Interior in connection with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Education Center. Originally called The Interactive Encyclopedia Systems (TIES), we ran into trademark conflicts and in 1986 changed the name to HyperTIES as we moved toward commercial licensing with Cognetics Corporation.

We conducted approximately 20 empirical studies of many design variables which were reported at the Hypertext 1987 conference and in array of journals and books. Issues such as the use of light blue highlighting as the default color for links, the inclusion of a history stack, easy access to a BACK button, article length, and global string search were all studied empirically.

We used Hyperties in the widely circulated ACM-published disk Hypertext on Hypertext which contained the full text of the 8 papers in the July 1988 issue of Communications of the ACM. .

A Unix-based Sun implementation in the SUN OS and NEWS environments was built by Don Hopkins, Bill Weiland, and Rodrigo Botafogo under the leadership of Catherine Plaisant, implementing novel window strategies using pie menus, and novel popup graphic links.

In the spring of 1988 a touchscreen version was developed by Catherine Plaisant and Richard Potter, for a public access kiosk used in the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit "King Herod's Dream". It was called "Guide to Opportunities in Volunteer Archaeology (GOVA) and toured for 18 months in six cities. It was one of the first - if not the first - touchscreen information kiosk ever used in museums. Rodrigo Botafogo developed the first image map implementation on the PC to allow links on maps for that museum version.

HyperTies was made available commercially by Cognetics Corp.

In 1989, Ben Shneiderman and Greg Kearsley published Hypertext Hands-on!, the world's first commercial electronic book with the highlighted links idea. This innovative book/software package provided the first hands-on, non-technical introduction to hypertext. The publicity claimed:


- describes hypertext applications for travel guides, product catalogs, technical documentation, novels, blueprints, textbooks, encyclopedias, and more
- software contains examples of a hyper novella, hyper travel guide, hyper business procedures, hyper blueprints, and even a hyper joke.
- discusses system design issues such as user interface, performance, networks, direct manipulation, windows, browsing, indexes, etc.

   Table of Contents:

        1) Essential Concepts
        2) Applications
        3) System Design Issues
        4) Implementation Issues
        5) Authoring
        6) Systems
        7) Personalities
        8) Possibilities
        9) The End is Just the Beginning
        Epilog: The Making of Hypertext Hands-On!

Vannevar Bush Hyperties

Also in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee referred to "Hypertext on Hypertext" disk and used the term "hot spots" in his proposal Information Management: A Proposal, CERN, March 1989, May 1990, http://www.w3.org/History/1989/proposal.html. Berners-Lee stated,

 ". . .several programs have been made exploring these ideas, both commercially and academically. Most of them use "hot spots" in documents, like icons, or highlighted phrases, as sensitive areas. Touching a hot spot with a mouse brings up the relevant information, or expands the test on the screen to include it. Imagine, then, then references in this document, all being associated with the network address of the thing to which they referred, so that while reading this document you could skip to them with a click of the mouse."

See also the History of Hyperlinks in Wikipeda



1) A video of 1988 "Hypertext on Hypertext" version of July 1988 Communications of the ACM.

2) This 1990 video is a segment of User Interface Strategies (UIS) 1990 a Live Satellite TV Broadcast aired on December 5, 1990 from the University of Maryland Instructional Television, and organized by Ben Shneiderman. At 07:25 we see a demonstration of Hypertext Hands-On. The links (originally blue) were changed to a bright red for the television show to be more visible. Then at 13:05 we see a demonstration of the Sun Workstation version of Hyperties, showing information about the NASA Hubble Space Telescope. It demonstrates pie menus, window coordination and popup graphic hyperlinks.

hyperties sun workstation hyperties sun workstation 4 windows

3) The Guide for volunteer archaeology. This may very well have been the first touscreen museum kiosk, used by tens of thousands of patrons over several months, as the Smithsonia Museum exhibit travelled to several locations over the US and Canada (for which a French version was created). See also our paralel research on touchscreens

4) In this 1999 interview Ben Shneiderman reflects on the development of the embedded links, which became the WWW hotlinks.


Adapted from Ben Shneiderman's history review in

Designing the User Interface:

Strategies for Effective Human Computer Interaction, Third Edition (1998)


Hyperties was conceived of as a publication tool in which authors produce hypermedia for thousands of readers. It has separate tools for browsing and authoring documents. Hyperties was based on the metaphor of an electronic encyclopedia. Each document was called an article and cross-reference were implemented as highlighted text links and image maps. Using the metaphor of an electronic reference book comprised of a collection of titled articles made for easy acceptance and facilitated navigation. Built into Hyperties were author- generated and alphabetical tables of contents including every article plus history lists supporting reversible actions. Hyperties was one of the first software packages that needed no error messages since the design prevented the user from making errors.

ecs intro Hyperties author tool welcome

In the late 1980's, commercial hypertext applications began to appear. In 1987, Apple provided Bill Atkinson's HyperCard system free with every Macintosh. Although the brochures referred to Vannevar Bush's vision, Apple refrained from using the term hypertext in describing HyperCard (Figure 16.1a-b). Building on the metaphor of cards arranged in stacks, Apple claimed in the online help that "you can use HyperCard to create your own applications for gathering, organizing, presenting, searching and customizing information."

The July 1988 Communications of the ACM contained eight papers from the first hypertext conference. Three electronic versions of this issue, built with KMS, HyperCard, and Hyperties, were marketed by ACM to thousands of professionals. Hyperties was used the following year to create the first commercial electronic book, Hypertext Hands-On! (Shneiderman and Kearsley, 1989). Hewlett-Packard used Hyperties to distribute electronic documentation for its LaserJet 4 printers in 15 languages. This may have been the first worldwide distribution of hypertext prior to implementation of the World Wide Web.
HP laserjet 4 printer travel guide HP laserjet 4 printer error HP laserjet display map

Today, the World Wide Web uses hypertext to link tens of millions of documents together. The basic highlighted text link can be traced back to a key innovation, developed in 1983, as part of TIES (The Interactive Encyclopedia System, the research predecessor to Hyperties). The original concept was to eliminate menus by embedding highlighted link phrases directly in the text (Koved and Shneiderman, 1986). Earlier designs required typing codes, selecting from menu lists, or clicking on visually distracting markers in the text. The embedded text link idea was adopted by others and became a user interface component of the World Wide Web (Berners-Lee, 1994).

Other Hyperties features anticipated the World Wide Web. Charles Kreitzberg, Whitney Quesenbery, and programmers at Cognetics made professional implementations of image maps, animations, and a markup language called HTML (Hyperties Markup Language). It is quite similar to the HTML markup language used with web browsers; both drew on concepts in SGML, which continues to be an important markup language within the publishing community. Hyperties also had a Java-like scripting language, which allowed processes to be attached to pages or to links.
PhotoQuery 1983 screen 1 PhotoQuery 1983 screen 2

This first screen was the one that generated the aha! moment.  The names in the sentence were duplicated in the menu, so following the spirit of direct manipulation, it seemed natural to make them highlighted and selectable, as in the second screen.  The original PhotoQuery system became TIES and then Hyperties, refined and implemented by Dan Ostroff.

Hyperties: Smithsonian March '88' Hypertext on Hypertext - CACM July '88' Hyperties Applications
Hyperties: Applications 2 Hyperties Cognetics Demo Hyperties HP LaserJet User Manual

These screens show early Hyperties examples implemented at the Univ. of Maryland for various projects and then by Cognetics Corporation for its demos and commercial clients.  

Images available as PowerPoint


Early readings on HyperTIES:
(those papers and others are available in the HCIL Tech Report database)

Ewing, J., Mehrabanzad, S., Sheck, S. Ostroff, D., and Shneiderman, B., An experimental comparison of a mouse and arrow-jump keys for an interactive encyclopedia, International Journal of Man-Machine Studies 24, 1 (January 1986), 29-45.

Shneiderman, B., User interface design for the Hyperties electronic encyclopedia, Hypertext '87 Workshop Proceedings, Raleigh, NC, November 13-15, 1987, 199-204.

Shneiderman, B. (Editor), Hypertext on Hypertext, Hyperties disk with 1Mbyte data and graphics incorporating Communication of the ACM (July 1988), New York: ACM Press.

Koved, L. and Shneiderman, B., Embedded menus: Selecting items in context, Communications of the ACM 29, 4 (April 1986), 312-318.

Shneiderman, B., Reflections on authoring, editing, and managing hypertext. In Barrett, E. (Editor), The Society of Text, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (1989), 115-131./Volumes/hcil/.htaccess

Shneiderman, B. and Kearsley, G., Hypertext Hands-On! An Introduction to a New Way of Organizing and Accessing Information, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1989).

Shneiderman, B., Plaisant, C., Botafogo, R., Hopkins, D., and Weiland, W., Designing to facilitate browsing: A look back at the Hyperties workstation browser, Hypermedia 3, 2 (1991), 101-117.

Brethauer, D., Plaisant, C., Potter, R., and Shneiderman, B., Three evaluations of museum installations of a hypertext system, Journal of the American Society for Information Science 40, Special Issue on Hypertext, (May 1989), 172-182.

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