This is the second post in a mult-part series on Hyper-Publishing. Read Part 1 here.
Hyperlinks are the foundation of the internet.
Hyperlinks are like tour guides that guide from website to website. Many companies and marketers underestimate the power of hyperlinks.
Hyperlinks encourage new methods of thought, content creation and reshape relationships between companies and their customers. Hyperlinks juxtapose unrelated ideas together. They’re central to the foundation of the internet.
By tracing the history of ideas, from the Bible to World War II, to Wikipedia, we can understand how ideas are formed and why some ideas persist over time. Then, we can use that knowledge to encourage repeat website visits, cultivate an audience of loyal readers, and build a brand.
Humans have been hyperlinking ideas for centuries — beginning with the Bible. The Bible was written, refined and assembled by many people over hundreds of years. To write the Bible, given the constraints of time and space, linked people and ideas together in ways that resemble online hyperlinks. People have used the hyperlink style to navigate this sacred text for centuries, as shown in the photo below.
The Bible is a library of connected stories — 66 books, 1,189 chapters, 31,173 verses. It has 63,779 references. This makes the Bible one of the world’s largest hyperlinked-style documents.
In the photo above, every single line represents a Biblical verse. The length of each line is proportional to how many times that verse is referred to in some way by some other verse. The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible. Books alternate in color between white and light gray. The length of each bar denotes the number of verses in the chapter. The color corresponds to the distance between the two chapters, creating a rainbow-like effect.
By binding disparate ideas into an interconnected whole, the hyperlink style accelerates the evolution of knowledge and provide an infinite well of context to support webs of ideas.
This is exactly what the best blogs do. By incorporating insights from countless individuals, the Bible remains the most influential text in human history. Held together by a web of hyperlinks, the Bible connects hundreds of disparate stories and ideas into a cohesive structure.
The technology of hyperlinks has evolved but this basic method of linking information still stands.
A History of Hyperlinks
The term “hyperlink” was coined by Ted Nelson at the start of Project Zanadu coined in 1965, long before the internet. Nelson had been inspired by a popular 1945 essay called As We May Think, written by Vannevar Bush.
Bush headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II and led wartime military R&D initiatives including the Manhattan project. Writing in As We May Think, Bush observed that the human mind worked by association and wanted to create a technology to mimic human thought patterns.
The essay argued that humans should focus on high-value thinking activities. To make that happen, machines should automate as many repetitive or rules-based tasks as possible. Whenever logical thought processes occur, there is an opportunity for a machine to automate the system. Humans create trails of thought. Bush (in 1945!) conceptualized a device that replaced human memory and stored information from books, record, and communications in a fast and flexible way. By doing so, humans would use computers to supplement their memory.
While books store information, they can’t create idea trails. Books have too much friction.
On the internet, all the world’s information is just a single tap away. Users can hop from website to website in a matter of seconds. Jumping between books, though, is much more difficult. To do so, a reader must own a physical copy of the book, then find the right page. If the reader does not own the book, this process might take weeks.
Compared to the internet, books have a slow pace of conversation. Before modern communications technologies, writers responded to each other on multi-year timescales.
Hyperlinks distinguish the internet from the traditional, printed, static communications technologies that preceded it. Without hyperlinks, the online reading experience would resemble that of a book. Online dialogue is quick because of hyperlinks.
By decreasing friction between disparate bits of information, hyperlinks accelerate the speed of communication and boost connectivity. Since every webpage is connected through a web of hyperlinks, every blog post is both a node and a connection in a vast, global network of information. Over time, each webpage contributes to an interactive “web” of connections.
Hyperlinks explain why Google is the home page of the internet.
Before Google, websites were listed on directories that listed websites in alphabetical order. The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, envisioned a better solution. The Google search algorithm is built upon hyperlinks and driven by the connections between web pages.
Generating online traffic requires a deep understanding of hyperlinks — the language of the web. Nobody uses hyperlinks better than Wikipedia.
The Wiki Strategy
As marketers and business owners, how can we use hyperlinks to our advantage?
Writers should use the “Wiki Strategy,” a term coined by Nat Eliason. Once readers visit their site, the Wiki Strategy will encourage them to stay.
The “Wiki Strategy” was inspired by Wikipedia, the gold standard for internal linking. No other site has been so successful at creating quality content. By offering a digitally native solution that traditional encyclopedias couldn’t compete with, Wikipedia revolutionized the way we learn, research, and find information.
Wikipedia was an anomaly when it was created; the open-source encyclopedia defied precedent and few people thought it could succeed. Wikipedia has exceeded the expectations of even the most open-minded, speculative thinkers. People who doubted Wikipedia didn’t just doubt the power of networks — they doubted the power of the hyperlink.
Wikipedia proves the power of a well-organized crowd, working together at internet scale. Its success demonstrates the sheer scale of the internet and the under-appreciated power of large crowds of coordinated individuals acting in their self-interest and contributing to a collective goal. Today, Wikipedia reports more than 15 billion page views per month, 900 million edits, 42 million total pages, and 31 million registered users globally.
Above all else, Wikipedia has mastered the hyperlink. Wikipedia is a web within the web — an internet inside the internet. Hyperlinks keep people on Wikipedia. Every Wikipedia post is connected through hyperlinks, where thousands of hyperlinks bind web pages together into an interconnected village.
Since every hyperlink goes to another Wikipedia page, readers can only leave the site intentionally. Wikipedia never makes readers leave. This is why it’s so easy to dive into a rabbit hole on Wikipedia and an under-rated explanation for Wikipedia’s success.
Think Colleges, Not Nightclubs.
Social media is like a nightclub. It’s an excellent place to meet somebody, but it’s hard to build a relationship there.
Good blogs are like a college campus. Relationships built in college often last a lifetime. Over time, the campus feels smaller and smaller. People tend to stay a while and it feels like everybody knows one another.
The similarities don’t end there. Blogs, like universities, signal achievement, status, and expertise. University graduates continue to promote their alma mater, even after they graduate. Cross-pollination between students inspires new relationships and fresh opportunities. Likewise, blogs benefit from word-of-mouth marketing as loyal readers forward their favorite posts to friends and colleagues.
As consumer attention becomes more and more scarce, the companies who build direct relationships with readers and get them to their website will set themselves up well for success. On average, the faster a website can turn a new reader into a loyal one, the more successful it will be.
The benefits of evergreen content compound in value over time. The benefits of writing multiply themselves, which fosters momentum and accelerates growth. Once they reach a critical mass, websites become expansive ecosystems of articles and ideas.
The economic benefits are straightforward too. By adding value to readers, companies show their integrity and demonstrate their thoughtfulness. As people readers enjoy a company’s content, they develop trust for the organization and the people within it.
Hyper-publishing increases the chances that the audience will make a purchase in the future. A well-executed Wiki Strategy will boost site visits, page views, and average time spent on time. Customers who repeatedly visit a well-designed website with thoughtful content are more valuable than customers who only visit once. Repeat visitors have a higher lifetime value and are more likely to evangelize the brand.
Education is the best kind of marketing because it creates meaningful one-to-one relationships. Having an army of engaged, die-hard customers is the ultimate edge.
The Power of Networks
Products can’t compete with networks. Networks are faster, smarter, and more nimble. As the Bible shows, a network of individuals is infinitely more intelligent than any single person.
To kickstart the growth of a network, start writing. Through hyperlinks, blog posts cease to be atomic units; instead, they join a network of interconnected blog posts — the sum of which are greater than its individual parts.
As the network grows, trust will emerge. Armed with the force of their network, companies receive free, crowdsourced feedback on their ideas. People congregate around the mission and work to make it a reality.
Through hyperlinks, websites become worlds; and unique visitors become permanent residents.
In the internet age, a dedicated network is the best competitive edge.
To build a network, start with the “Wiki Strategy.”