Last updated

Written byDouglas Adams
Presented by Douglas Adams
Tom Baker
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes1
Producer(s) Max Whitby
Running time50 minutes
Production company(s) BBC
Original network BBC Two
Original releaseSep. 21, 1990 [1]

Hyperland is a 50-minute-long documentary film about hypertext and surrounding technologies. It was written by Douglas Adams and produced and directed by Max Whitby [2] for BBC Two in 1990. It stars Douglas Adams as a computer user and Tom Baker, with whom Adams had already worked on Doctor Who , as a personification of a software agent.

Hypertext text displayed on a computer display or other electronic devices with references (hyperlinks) to other text which the reader can immediately access

Hypertext is text displayed on a computer display or other electronic devices with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately access. Hypertext documents are interconnected by hyperlinks, which are typically activated by a mouse click, keypress set or by touching the screen. Apart from text, the term "hypertext" is also sometimes used to describe tables, images, and other presentational content formats with integrated hyperlinks. Hypertext is one of the key underlying concepts of the World Wide Web, where Web pages are often written in the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). As implemented on the Web, hypertext enables the easy-to-use publication of information over the Internet.

Douglas Adams British author and humorist

Douglas Noel Adams was an English author, scriptwriter, essayist, humorist, satirist and dramatist.

BBC Two second television channel operated by the BBC

BBC Two is the second flagship television channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. It covers a wide range of subject matter, but tends to broadcast more "highbrow" programmes than the more mainstream and popular BBC One. Like the BBC's other domestic TV and radio channels, it is funded by the television licence, and is therefore free of commercial advertising. It is a comparatively well-funded public-service network, regularly attaining a much higher audience share than most public-service networks worldwide.


In hindsight, what Hyperland describes and predicts is an approximation of today's World Wide Web. [3]

World Wide Web System of interlinked hypertext documents accessed over the Internet

The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as the Web, is an information system where documents and other web resources are identified by Uniform Resource Locators, which may be interlinked by hypertext, and are accessible over the Internet. The resources of the WWW may be accessed by users by a software application called a web browser.


The self-proclaimed "fantasy documentary" begins with Adams asleep by the fireside with his television still on. In a dream that follows, Adams, fed up by game shows and generally passive, non-interactive linear content, takes his TV to a rubbish dump, where he meets Tom, played by Tom Baker. Tom is a software agent, who shows him the future of TV: interactive multimedia. [4]

In computer science, a software agent is a computer program that acts for a user or other program in a relationship of agency, which derives from the Latin agere : an agreement to act on one's behalf. Such "action on behalf of" implies the authority to decide which, if any, action is appropriate. Agents are colloquially known as bots, from robot. They may be embodied, as when execution is paired with a robot body, or as software such as a chatbot executing on a phone or other computing device. Software agents may be autonomous or work together with other agents or people. Software agents interacting with people may possess human-like qualities such as natural language understanding and speech, personality or embody humanoid form.

Tom Baker plays a "software agent," whose appearance can be manipulated by Douglas Adams. Here, Adams has (temporarily) configured Tom to look like a stereotypical Neanderthal. Hyperland-agent.jpg
Tom Baker plays a "software agent," whose appearance can be manipulated by Douglas Adams. Here, Adams has (temporarily) configured Tom to look like a stereotypical Neanderthal.

Much like Apple Inc's Knowledge Navigator concept, Tom acts as a butler within a virtual space populated with hypermedia: linked text, sound, pictures and movies represented by animated icons. The documentary is centred on Adams browsing these media and discovering their interconnectedness.

The Knowledge Navigator is a concept described by former Apple Computer CEO John Sculley in his 1987 book, Odyssey. It describes a device that can access a large networked database of hypertext information, and use software agents to assist searching for information.

Hypermedia, an extension of the term hypertext, is a nonlinear medium of information that includes graphics, audio, video, plain text and hyperlinks. This designation contrasts with the broader term multimedia, which may include non-interactive linear presentations as well as hypermedia. It is also related to the field of electronic literature. The term was first used in a 1965 article written by Ted Nelson.

This process leads him, for example, from the topic Atlantic Ocean to literature about the sea to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge to the poem Kubla Khan by the same author to Xanadu and back to the topic of hypertext via Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu . The references to Coleridge and to Kubla Khan are rather knowing nods to Adams' own book Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency , where they play significant roles in the plot. Dirk Gently was published in 1987 and also touches on the themes of interconnectedness, suggesting that this was a subject Adams had thought about at some length and some time.

<i>The Rime of the Ancient Mariner</i> poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Some modern editions use a revised version printed in 1817 that featured a gloss. Along with other poems in Lyrical Ballads, it is often considered a signal shift to modern poetry and the beginning of British Romantic literature.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge English poet, literary critic and philosopher

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He also shared volumes and collaborated with Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, and Charles Lloyd. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on William Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge coined many familiar words and phrases, including suspension of disbelief. He had a major influence on Ralph Waldo Emerson and on American transcendentalism.

Kubla Khan poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, completed in 1797 and published in 1816. According to Coleridge's preface to Kubla Khan, the poem was composed one night after he experienced an opium-influenced dream after reading a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China Kublai Khan. Upon waking, he set about writing lines of poetry that came to him from the dream until he was interrupted by "a person from Porlock". The poem could not be completed according to its original 200–300 line plan as the interruption caused him to forget the lines. He left it unpublished and kept it for private readings for his friends until 1816 when, at the prompting of Lord Byron, it was published.

Many aspects of the documentary demonstrate Adams' noted enthusiasm for technology, and for Apple computers in particular. At the beginning of the documentary a Macintosh Portable can be seen, and most of the projects presented run on Apple hardware. Even the general design of the animated icons and environments featured in his dream are inspired by pre-OS X era Mac OS icons and design cues.

Macintosh Portable portable computer

The Macintosh Portable is a portable computer designed, manufactured and sold by Apple Computer, Inc. from September 1989 to October 1991. It is the first battery-powered Macintosh, which garnered significant excitement from critics, but sales to customers were quite low. It featured a fast, sharp, and expensive black and white active matrix LCD screen in a hinged design that covered the keyboard when the machine was not in use. The Portable was one of the early consumer laptops to employ an active matrix panel, and only the most expensive of the initial PowerBook line, the PowerBook 170, used one, due to the high cost. The cursor pointing function was handled by a built-in trackball that could be removed and located on either side of the keyboard. It used expensive SRAM in an effort to maximize battery life and to provide an "instant on" low power sleep mode. The machine was designed to deliver high performance, at the cost of price and weight.

Classic Mac OS original operating system of Apple Mac (1984–2001)

Classic Mac OS is the series of operating systems developed for the Macintosh family of personal computers by Apple Inc. from 1984 to 2001, starting with System 1 and ending with Mac OS 9. The Macintosh operating system is credited with having popularized the graphical user interface concept. It was included with every Macintosh that was sold during the era in which it was developed, and many updates to the system software were done in conjunction with the introduction of new Macintosh systems.


While Adams is browsing, many people and projects related to the general theme of hypertext and multimedia are presented:

Adams navigates through the interviews and explanations in the documentary using animated icons. Playback controls shown in the bottom right corner during each interview convey an additional sense of interactivity. Hyperland-micons.jpg
Adams navigates through the interviews and explanations in the documentary using animated icons. Playback controls shown in the bottom right corner during each interview convey an additional sense of interactivity.

The dream (and the documentary) ends with a vision of how information might be accessed in 2005. In hindsight, Hyperland does describe a number of features of the modern web and, apart from some underestimates of graphics and processing power available, the documentary paints a not inaccurate picture of hypermedia and hypertext and how they are used today. This is especially noteworthy considering that it predates the public release of the first Web browser by about a year.

Related Research Articles

Transclusion technical method of including some or all of one stored document in another document, without having to copy the data itself

In computer science, transclusion is the inclusion of part or all of an electronic document into one or more other documents by hypertext reference. Transclusion is usually performed when the referencing document is displayed, and is normally automatic and transparent to the end user. The result of transclusion is a single integrated document made of parts assembled dynamically from separate sources, possibly stored on different computers in disparate places.

Memex hypothetical proto-hypertext system that Vannevar Bush described in 1945

The memex is the name of the hypothetical proto-hypertext system that Vannevar Bush described in his 1945 The Atlantic Monthly article "As We May Think". Bush envisioned the memex as a device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications, "mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility". The memex would provide an "enlarged intimate supplement to one's memory". The concept of the memex influenced the development of early hypertext systems and personal knowledge base software. The hypothetical implementation depicted by Bush for the purpose of concrete illustration was based upon a document bookmark list of static microfilm pages and lacked a true hypertext system, where parts of pages would have internal structure beyond the common textual format. Early electronic hypertext systems were thus inspired by memex rather than modeled directly upon it.

Ted Nelson American information technologist, philosopher, and sociologist; coined the terms "hypertext" and "hypermedia"

Theodor Holm Nelson is an American pioneer of information technology, philosopher and sociologist. He coined the terms hypertext and hypermedia in 1963 and published them in 1965. Nelson coined the terms transclusion, virtuality, and intertwingularity, and teledildonics. According to a 1997 Forbes profile, Nelson "sees himself as a literary romantic, like a Cyrano de Bergerac, or 'the Orson Welles of software.'"

Hyperlink Computing term; reference to data that the reader can directly follow either by clicking, tapping, or hovering

In computing, a hyperlink, or simply a link, is a reference to data that the reader can follow by clicking or tapping. A hyperlink points to a whole document or to a specific element within a document. Hypertext is text with hyperlinks. The text that is linked from is called anchor text. A software system that is used for viewing and creating hypertext is a hypertext system, and to create a hyperlink is to hyperlink. A user following hyperlinks is said to navigate or browse the hypertext.

<i>Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency</i> 1987 book by Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a humorous detective novel by English writer Douglas Adams, first published in 1987. It is described by the author on its cover as a "thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic".

Project Xanadu was the first hypertext project, founded in 1960 by Ted Nelson. Administrators of Project Xanadu have declared it an improvement over the World Wide Web, with mission statement: "Today's popular software simulates paper. The World Wide Web trivialises our original hypertext model with one-way ever-breaking links and no management of version or contents."

Dirk Gently fictional character created by Douglas Adams

Dirk Gently is a fictional character created by English writer Douglas Adams and featured in the books Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. He is portrayed as a pudgy man who normally wears a heavy old light brown suit, red checked shirt with a green striped tie, long leather coat, red hat and thick metal-rimmed spectacles. "Dirk Gently" is not the character's real name. It is noted early on in the first book that it is a pseudonym for "Svlad Cjelli". Dirk himself states that the name has a "Scottish dagger feel" to it.

Person from Porlock

The person from Porlock was an unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khan in 1797. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream, but was interrupted by this visitor from Porlock while in the process of writing it. Kubla Khan, only 54 lines long, was never completed. Thus "person from Porlock", "man from Porlock", or just "Porlock" are literary allusions to unwanted intruders who disrupt inspired creativity.

This article presents a timeline of hypertext technology, including "hypermedia" and related human–computer interaction projects and developments from 1945 on. The term hypertext is credited to the author and philosopher Ted Nelson.

Intertwingularity is a term coined by Ted Nelson to express the complexity of interrelations in human knowledge.

ZigZag is Ted Nelson's trademark on a data model he has designed for computer interaction, both for users and between programs. Nelson's stated goal is on one hand a platform for the Project Xanadu hypertext and on the other a complete computing system built on new conventions. The design is centered on an information structure called a zzstructure and its interactive visualizations. Instead of conventional linear text or tree structures, zzstructure is a multidimensional extension of a spreadsheet whose cells can contain various kinds of data. At any moment, the display shows any two dimensions in table form much like a modern spreadsheet. Users can pivot the display about any cell to efficiently "rotate" any unseen dimension in place of either visible one, allowing them to browse high dimensional grids in a zigzag manner.

Mundaneum institution aimed to gather together all the worlds knowledge

The Mundaneum was an institution which aimed to gather together all the world's knowledge and classify it according to a system developed called the Universal Decimal Classification. It was developed at the turn of the 20th century by Belgian lawyers Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine. The Mundaneum has been identified as a milestone in the history of data collection and management, and as a precursor to the Internet.

Interactive design

Interactive Design is defined as a user-oriented field of study that focuses on meaningful communication of media through cyclical and collaborative processes between people and technology. Successful interactive designs have simple, clearly defined goals, a strong purpose and intuitive screen interface.

History of hypertext

Hypertext is text displayed on a computer or other electronic device with references (hyperlinks) to other text that the reader can immediately access, usually by a mouse click or keypress sequence.

<i>Dirk Gently</i> (TV series) British comedy detective drama TV series

Dirk Gently is a British comic science fiction detective television series based on characters from the novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. The series was created by Howard Overman and stars Stephen Mangan as holistic detective Dirk Gently and Darren Boyd as his sidekick Richard MacDuff. Recurring actors include Helen Baxendale as MacDuff's girlfriend Susan Harmison, Jason Watkins as Dirk's nemesis DI Gilks and Lisa Jackson as Dirk's receptionist Janice Pearce. Unlike most detective series Dirk Gently features broadly comic touches and even some science fiction themes such as time travel and artificial intelligence.


  1. TheTVDB.com
  2. Ted Nelson: Possiplex. 2010, page 272f.
  3. "The Internet – the last battleground of the 20th century". The BBC . Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  4. "Hyperland". douglasadams.com. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  5. Vannevar Bush (July 1945). "As We May Think". The Atlantic . Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  6. Robert Epstein (29 January 1991). "'Future Tense': The New Link Between Arts and Technology". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 1 May 2012.