Sunday, September 13, 2009

Outlines and Hypertext

According to common wisdom, Outliners and Hypertext are contradictory or at least contrary. Outliners unify information and provide clear insight into its structure, while “there is a point at which wikis become more trouble than the’re worth and they end up creating a mass of organized but fragmented information.”[A comment by Jack Crawford in the Outliner Forum that I frequent.]

It is true, a Hypertext or a Wiki allows for “unlimited internal branching,” since it does not commit you to a pre-defined structure. It also allows for meaningful clusters among the pieces that make up the information, while at the same time always keeping open the possibility of structuring and re-structuring the information (like an outliner). But there is not contradiction between this and outlining.[1] Perhaps it might be said that a a hypertextual (or wiki-like) database is like a two- or many-dimensional outliner. Hypertext and outlining are thus complementary and not opposed (as common wisdom has it).

Perhaps a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Here is a Graph of some of the Information of my Database in the newest version of ConnectedText (version 4) that will come out every day now:

To enlarge, click on picture.

It just presents the first two levels of branching in a database of almost 8000 entries. Clicking on any of the boxes will take you to the topic it refers to, which could have graphs that show even more detail.

Properly constructed, a wiki does not lead to fragmented, but to deeply connected information, like a multi-dimensional outliner.

1. See also Outlines and Meshes.

1 comment:

welcometosherwood said...


I agree with you that outlines and hypertext can co-exist and complement one another. In fact, GrandView, still the finest outliner I've ever used, included a rudimentary hypertext, one of the first DOS applications I found that did so. It was a simple linking from one node to another outline. Not sophisticated in its function, but with this feature I was able to build very useful "webs" of information.