Rheingold’s history of one of the first virtual communities was a fascinating bit of modern archeology and anthropology. And so it should come as no surprise that, like any historical record, it comes with plenty of anachronisms and outdated information. I expected these things to be in the content of the piece (old data, etcetera). Instead, I found them in the form, specifically in the hypertext. The vast majority of the links are dead. Those that are fortunate enough not to be housing 404 errors are ubiqitous placeholder sites or, in one case, porn.
In Ted Nelson’s piece (the one about the future of hypertext and its potential, for reference), the writer mentioned that one problem with modern hypertext is that links go dead. When I read it, I dismissed it as inevitable growing pains of the internet. Things shift around, and some links go dead. But this page has gone from being hypertext to being text; it has lost utility with the passage of time.
Of course, ideas and contexts change with time; allusions Shakespeare frequently are lost upon a modern reader without the footnotes, but in this work, the footnotes of the original author have actually died (and sometimes decomposed and been devoured by new sites of various repute). The web was also a very different place when this piece joined it (I couldn’t find an exact date, but this alone shows its age), and has solidified a great deal since the first forrays into it. Still, changes continue to occur. With an ever-growing web, this document raises the question of whether or not hypertext can, in its current form, avoid being rendered text as time passes.