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Summary: Alexander Halavais’ “The Hyperlink as Organizing Principal”

In his article “The Hyperlink as Organizing Principal” Alexander Halavais attempts to define the hyperlink not just in relation to it’s original intended use, but also by examining the larger social effects. He explains that, because that the hyperlink has been adopted in everyday use on the internet, we can see that “they reflect deep social and cultural structures — a kind of collected unconscious” (39).

Halavais first goes on to explain how the history of the hyperlink is interwoven with the history of the citation assisting us in both our ability to teach and persuade (40), and allowing individual scholarship to become a “textual conversation” (41).

He then goes on to explain that although the hyperlink is still used as citation, we have moved away from this and towards a reading navigation system closer resembling that of  the Memex. We read on the internet in a fashion in which we are “transported along the pathways generated by large collections of hyperlinks” (42). More so, Google can organize our search results by measuring the importance of a page by how interconnected it is with the rest of the web (44).

The uses we now find for hyperlinks are so divergent that it is almost impossible to examine what specifically they are showing Halavais as examiner. He collects information about how these links within internet spaces are reflected in physical, geographical spaces, yet concludes that this information gives no answers though it raises some interesting questions (47).

Halavais is committed to understanding “networked society” as it has now become a “organizing social principal” (48). He goes on to explain that hyperlinks alone are not responsible for this shift but they have been a foundation on which this new communication system has been built (48). He gives examples of how these systems can be manipulated by authors, bloggers, and companies though Google bombing, “link whoring”, and “link dropping” (50) as well as other methods of general “search engine optimization” (49). He concludes it is through this manipulation and optimization that users have shown a self-awareness of the “importance of deep hypertext structures” and therefore a forming of a “kind of maturation of collective consciousness” (50).

Halavais concludes his discussion of the Hyperlink by agreeing with the futurists that if the network becomes self aware, “hyperlink networks are likely to be central to that process” (51). Therefore, hyperlinks will become more and more important to our day to day lives until it is mostly invisible. The once distinguishable blue text will become instead voice controls and touch icons which means it becomes “increasingly important that we understand how hyperlinked structures are formed and change” (53).

Works Cited

Halavais, Alexander “The Hyperlink as Organizing Principal”  The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor, MI. Michigan UP, 2008. Print.

About Emma

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo who is writing a dissertation about pornographic comics. This blog is for updates about my research as I progress though the PhD.

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