Nelson's ELF and Hypertext

At first glance, Theodore Nelson's idea of the of a complex file structure looks eerily similar to the file structures and word processing applications available on today's operating systems. Nelson gives the reader three distinct elements that make up his revolutionary ELF system. These three elements are "entries", "lists", and "links". The "entries" that Nelson describes in his essay largely resemble the word processing, excel, and image files, and executable files of today. They are all individual entities that contain some sort of data but can be stored in the same place. The "lists" that Nelson describes could be described today as larger index files of even complete data volumes. Finally the "links" that Nelson describes can take could possibly be represented by a shortcut on your desktop or a hyperlink on a webpage.

Despite all of the parallels that can be drawn between Nelson's ELF system and the files systems today, I believe Nelson's vision has not been fully embodied by new technologies. The defining feature of Nelson's system is something he calls "hypertext". Nelson describes this "hypertext" as "a body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper" (144). Although it may seem to be a vast collection of data represented in nearly infinite ways, the web as we know it is very much a digital representation of things that could indeed be represented easily on paper. I rarely come across a webpage that could not be easily printed out and read on paper. Reading a webpage often feels like reading an endless book because there are no pages to turn.

Webpages are also usually all the same no matter who is looking at them. Unless you customize it yourself on your own homepage, the way in which the content you are seeking on the web is displayed in the manner that the webpage author wants you to read it. The individual pieces of content on webpages are often imbedded making it difficult for anyone to index the content in a different way than it already is. The more you analyze the majority of websites today, the more they resemble paper items like magazines.