Hacking Hypertext

Have you ever wondered: “What if clicking on a hyperlink could transport me — not just the screen in front of me — to a new location?”...

Hacking Hypertext

Have you ever wondered: “What if clicking on a hyperlink could transport me — not just the screen in front of me — to a new location?”

That’s what the founders of Uber wondered. So, they transformed an ordinary link into a request for a ride.

This is called “hacking hypertext”.

Imagine, a link—a button, a menu, a search result—being able to accomplish something in the real world with a single click.

Google is a great example of this. They hacked hypertext in two ways: 1) They realized a hyperlink to a page meant that page is more valuable and 2) They gave everyone access to the most valuable links with the click of a Search button.

Facebook took hyperlinks to the next level by making them represent people and their relationships. Events, messages, profile pages, relationship statuses — all available with a click.

Who else has hacked hypertext?

  • Amazon has 1-Click ordering that makes products show up at your door
  • Airbnb lets you rent apartments around the world with a click
  • Netflix makes thousands of tv shows and movies accessible with a single click

These companies transform the good ol’ hyperlink into something incredibly powerful.

For most of us, though, links are still just plain, boring links.

As an ordinary person on the internet, I can’t create a link out of thin air that will show a list of my upcoming events or let someone rent my apartment — I rely on Facebook and Airbnb to create these kinds of links.

So, the question is: why isn’t hypertext more powerful by default?

The answer is: it’s wildly expensive to transform an ordinary hyperlink into something more.

Big companies like Google and Facebook spend billions of dollars a year building the infrastructure and hiring the talent necessary to support their hypertext hacks.

Usually, the most an ordinary citizen of the internet can do is use a hyperlink to link to their social media profile or personal website.

But... what if someone decided to democratize the incredible power these big companies have to hack hypertext?

What if anyone could hack hypertext?

More and more companies are buying into the “Low-Code” movement. Companies like Stripe, Webflow, and Shopify are making it easier to create online businesses. And companies like Airtable, Bubble, and Glide are making it possible for ordinary people to build powerful experiences using a set of hypertext hacks they invented.

But the foundation is still lacking. Hypertext itself hasn’t changed that much in the past three decades. It’s still, by default, pretty weak. It’s meant to create links between pages, not links to real-world actions.

I believe there’s a stage after “Low-Code”, a kind of hypertext 2.0. Maybe it comes with virtual reality, or cryptocurrency — or maybe it’s born when someone creates a new type of web browser. I don’t know. But, when it comes, it’s going to let anyone have the power to reshape the real world with a good ol’ hyperlink.