The Web today is a partial hypertext system, letting readers follow an author's
pointers to past documents. To give effective support to critical discussion
on topics of public interest such as nanotechnology, however, it must show
links into a document made by readers and later authors: it needs backlinks.
Authors cannot be expected to insert links that display criticisms or refutations
of their Web documents. With backlinks, hypertext can become a dialog --
more enduring than speech, more interactive than print, and better connected
than anything we've had before. It can help us deal with world-wide issues.
(See the essay Hypertext Publishing and the Evolution
of Knowledge for further discussion of the need for a full hypertext
Foresight's goal is to get the required features incorporated into Web standards.
To accomplish this, we will write public domain code which implements them,
run this code on our server and as many others as will participate, and
use the resulting system for critical discussion of an issue important to
the safe and widespread Deployment of nanotechnology: computer security.
for the software has been proposed.
In parallel with the technical work, Web documents will be uploaded onto
our server with some links already in place, so that when the software is
ready it will have a body of documents to operate on. Critical discussion
on computer security issues will begin, with backlinks and filtering done
by hand, prior to completion of our software.
We are now looking for funders for the Web Enhancement Project. We are also
interested in talking with those having influence on Web standards, both
the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and commercial server software providers.
In technical terms, our goal is to implement extrinsic, bidirectional, sub-document-level
links among Web documents on our server and (later) cooperating servers
(see Definitions below). One constraint on the
project is that it produce server software compatible with common Web browsers.
Software will be written in C or C++ to work in conjunction with an existing
http daemon (i.e. Web server software running on a UNIX computer) to enable
the following of backlinks. The software will initially run on a single
server and operate only on documents stored on that server; later it will
function with any cooperating server.
Original documents, in standard HTML, will be stored unchanged on the server.
Our software will store backlink information for these documents in a database.
When a user invokes a document's URL, our software will integrate the original
HTML and the backlink information, so that the user sees the backlinks in
The first version will make links only to anchors that have already been
placed by the original author of the document. Separately from the Web enhancement
software, Foresight may to add additional anchors to all documents on the
server, to enable fine-grained linking even at the initial stage.
Technical goals for later stages:
1. Support of documents on non-cooperating servers (with warning of edits,
but without sophisticated connectivity through edits).
2. Support of filtering (using Web forms to gather information on links
from the link author).
3. Fine-grained linking to the phrase or word level, if not done previously.
4. Readers' evaluation data (gathered by Web forms from readers) to use
5. Better connectivity through edits (e.g. links to obsolete wording can
be appended to the end of the current document).
Links from a document pointing onward to another document. For example,
if document A comments on document B, a forward link in A points to B. Forward
links are already standard on the Web.
Links appearing in a document that have been inserted, usually by
someone other than the author, pointing from that document to another. For
example, if document A comments on document B, a backward link visible in
B points to document A. Today, only forward links can be made on the Web;
no corresponding backward link appears. Readers can see only links made
by the original author.
Links that work both forward and backward.
Links that can be made visible from a document without the document-author's
cooperation. These are needed for critical discussion, since we cannot expect
all authors to go out of their way to attach critical comments to their
Web servers running our (or compatible) software.
Selective display of links based on reader-selected criteria (e.g.
links to criticisms only).
Hypertext markup language used to format information for the Web.
Address of a document on the Web, enabling a reader to retrieve that
Embedded marker enabling authors to link to a specific part of a Web
Budget for initial stage
We anticipate that the first version only can be produced in nine
months on a budget of $100,000. Individual and corporate donations of funds
are solicited. Foresight Institute is a nonprofit public foundation; donations
are tax-deductible in the U.S.