(2020-05-15) Appleton A Short History Of Bidirectional Links

Maggie Appleton: A Short History of Bi-Directional Links. With the recent rise of Roam Research, the idea of bi-directional linking is having a bit of a moment.

A bi-directional link has social awareness - it knows about other pages or 'nodes' that point to it, and can make them visible to people. This means we get a two-way conversation flowing between our web locations

This concept goes all the way back to 1945, when Vannevar Bush dreamed up the Memex machine.

Ted Nelson took inspiration from Vannevar's ideas and coined the term hypertext to describe his vision for a sprawling network of interlinking text

The Xanadu system imagined that every sentence, block, and page would be part of a vast bi-directionally linked network

While Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote himself a note debating their pros and cons back in 1999, there is an obvious design issue with letting two-way connections flow freely around the web.

If every site that linked to yours was visible on your page, and you had no control over who could and couldn't link to you, it is not hard to imagine the Trollish implications... Figuring out how we might filter, moderate, and set permissions around link visibility turned into quite the challenge. The design details grew complex. (cf TrackBack spam)

There's been a flurry of interest around bi-directionals among my fellow digital gardeners, originally sparked by Andy Matuschak's notes.

Since it's all contained within a single-author site, our Spammish-Troll-risk factor is at a comfortable zero.

One fantastic option for non-developers is based around a personal wiki system called TiddlyWiki. Anne-Laure Le Cunff wrote up an easy-to-follow guide to getting your own up and running.


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