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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Hypermedia and the Web: an Engineering Approach
Hypermedia and the Web: an Engineering Approach
Lowe, D. and Hall, W.John Wiley & SonsChichester1999626 pp.ISBN 0-471-98312-8$69.99Available: John Wiley & Sons, 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158; www.wiley.com/compbooks
Lowe and Hall acknowledge right away that the Web is currently the most ubiquitous medium for hypermedia delivery, but they quickly add that the Web is quite flawed when compared to the more flexible hypermedia systems, many of which have been in development since pre-WWW times. In their own words, they have "something of a love-hate relationship with the World Wide Web", and they are very willing to "criticise the Web (rather mercilessly in places)." This will come as a surprise to Web users and Web developers who may not be aware of the hypermedia research field. One of the dangers of this ignorance, according to the authors, is that we may end up re-inventing the wheel: tools and concepts already well researched by the hypermedia community are suddenly being "discovered" by Web developers. Thus, many of us would benefit greatly from reading part three of the book, "Hypermedia research developments", which outlines current research, future directions, and presents five hypermedia projects in detail.
The mission of this work is to get all Webheads thinking about the urgent need to use "a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach - in short, an engineering approach - to the development, operation, and maintenance of many hypermedia applications". And, according to the authors, there are good reasons for this urgency: current hypermedia development (specifically, current Web development) is piecemeal and costly. So far we have failed to create overall development approaches, such as modeling a system's life cycle. We lack the equivalent of CASE tools. Existing development methods do not scale well. Maintenance of ad hoc applications is complex. There are no tools for information reuse. In other words, Web application development is out of control.
Does an integrated hypermedia engineering approach exist, however? While there is much that we can learn from standard software engineering practices, the authors admit that many of the activities that an engineering approach requires (such as measuring, documenting, and managing development) are "either virtually non-existent or extremely primitive" in the hypermedia environment. Part one (Hypermedia Development Fundamentals) presents concepts that apply as well to general systems development (e.g. two chapters on obtaining quality software products and processes), with sections that are more specifically geared toward hypermedia engineering.
Web managers looking for a more practical approach to application development will find many useful insights in part two of the book, (Hypermedia development practice) (co-authored by Athula Ginige), which presents a description of best practices in hypermedia development. Chapter 9, (Development techniques), is especially valuable. The discussion includes methods for information structuring (the physical organization of information) and associative linking (navigational structure). The ABO (Archaic Banking Organization) case study is used to illustrate the process of link design that results in the "HyperBank", an integraded, Web-based application.
Hypermedia engineering is not well developed yet, and much of what this book presents is tentative. One is left wishing for more concrete Web-related experiences that could illustrate the parts of the process that so far are well understood and documented. For example, there are software applications available for building and maintaining large Web sites. What tools do these offer for the creation and maintenance of linking mechanisms? How do these tools measure up to the needs of hypermedia engineering? Multimedia and emerging standards are mentioned only in passing, but linking into images, and even into audio and video streams is already possible by using SMIL and XML. How do these compare to what hypermedia systems have already done? If usability testing is part of the systems development cycle, how do we approach hypermedia testing? Still, this book covers a lot of ground in its 626 pages. It provides an overview of the current state of hypermedia development and discusses the need for tools and research in this area. As such, this is not a good "how to" guide for developers with little time to ponder and an urgent need for fail-safe, practical advice, but it is a good reference source and a guide for deeper study of the issues in hypermedia engineering and its relationship to the World Wide Web.
Grete PaschLibrary Technology ConsultantTexas State Library