Tim Berners-Lee

Date: April 1998, updated 9/97

Status: personal view. Editing status: Italic text is rough. Requires complete edit and possibly massaging, but content is basically there.

Audience: Those people who asked what I meant by a consistent user interface and then said, "Don't just say it, write it down!". For software developers in the hope that some of this will come true.  This has worked before. I'm a bit embarassed, as everyone has pet ideas about how the UI is frustrating, and listening to them can be tedious, I know! Perhaps this is why I haven't written this down before.

Contributions: Examples from Dan Connolly of what needs to be easy.

Up to Design Issues

Web Architecture: 6

See also ComNet 97 talk.

Cleaning up the User Interface 2: Hypertext editing

Tim BL 3 April 1998

If you think surfing hypertext is cool, that's because you haven't tried writing it. If you have found your bookmarks/favorites have become a more and more important part of your life, that's because you have learned to put up with the simplest form of hypertext editing there is as a compromise. If you are using a really intuitive hypertext editor, then tell me about it.

Hypertext editing

The Web is universal and so should be able to encompass everything across the range from the very rough scribbled idea on the back of a virtual envelope to a beautifully polished work of art.

Somewhere near the "draft" end of the scale is its use a hypertext communal or personal notebook which is very close to a major original use of the Web in 1990. In this mode I can browse over notes made by people in my group, and rapidly contribute new ideas.

I'm editing this now on a pretty intuitive editor. AOLPress is may not be a top of the line pape layout tool but it can do some of the things which my original "WorldWideWeb" program could do. I wouldn't say that either of these programs was the ideal interface, but if you look also at things like KMS and Doug Engelbart's interface, you see that for all the fancy HTML we have nowadays, there is some immediacy we have lost.

Here are some things I would like to be able to do very rapidly. Dan Connolly suggested a click count as a way of measuring the effort, with 10 clicks penalty when you have to think of a filename or anchor ID.

Imagine there's no mode, imagine there's no location

A first assumption, by the way, is that you have modeless interface in which browsing and editing are not separate functions. If to edit a page, you have to switch from browsing mode to editing mode, then you have lost already. If you have had to switch to edit mode, and think of a local filename in which to save the file, then you have lost doubly, If you have had to answer lots of difficult questions about where to save absolute or relative links, you have lost yet again and probably messed up the file already! You should not have to think about "where" things are.

Make a link

In WorldWideWeb, you had to

In AOLPress, I can do the same thing except the "Mark" function consists of three steps: Press the "anchor" button, hit return to accept the program's suggested anchor name, and then hit the "copy URL" button.

In a drag-and drop world, every window should have an icon for the document it holds which can be dragged to make a link. (Later versions of NeXTStep had this with alt/click on the titlebar).

Make a new linked node - Annotate

In WorldWide Web, this was deliberately easy:

The new node would be created from a template which could set up to have your signature at the bottom, etc. The original phrase was automatically linked to the new node. The cursor was left ready for you to type in what you'd just thought of.

In a world with PICS servers, then a neat operation is to annotate a page you don't have access to:

The XML LINK work will allow, we hope, a link to be made into the middle of an existing unwritable document with some hope of reliability.

Here are a few other operations which would be very useful when you really use hypertext as a thinking tool.


Dan is always asking for this and doing it by hand. I have never seen an editor which will do it automatically (though Dan has found some javascript hacks that work pretty well).

Insert an image

It's always nice to be able to grab a screen shot or a video frame and insert it into the minutes you are taking of a meeting -- but how many keystrokes does it take?

Back to User Interface 1; Up to Design Issues

TimBL, Apr 1998
$Id: Editor.html,v 1.14 2024/02/16 13:03:01 timbl Exp $