How to Make Sense of Hyperlinks? An Overview of Link Studies
A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of Internet and Society, September 2011
20 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2011
Date Written: September 12, 2011
Hypertextuality has always been a fundamental characteristic of the web since its inception. The ability to link pages, sites and documents stands out as what essentially differentiate the web from other media. For more than a decade now, scientists have investigated what kinds of links are present on websites, how links between sites are structured, how they can be interpreted as proxies for measuring other phenomena, and how they have an effect at the interface between users and online contents.
This paper aims at mapping the field of hyperlink research, by sketching broad distinctions between the different areas that have investigated the link. It aims at offering an overview of current and past research, and suggests a reasonable agenda for link studies in the future.
After a brief detour through history and precursors of hyperlinks, it argues that hyperlink research can be broadly divided in three main perspectives: the first is interested in the structure of the web and in large hyperlinks networks, the second explores the social significance of links in communities of websites, and the third discusses the impact of links on users. Those different levels are inevitably tied, as different facets of a same phenomenon.
The different works reviewed demonstrate that, behind their humble appearance, links are complex objects that need to be problematized.
Keywords: hyperlink, link, hypertext, hypertextuality
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