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The previous chapter concluded by reviewing some deficiencies with print as a medium of communication. A number of these deficiencies have only become apparent in the latter quarter of this century in comparison with some alternative technologies. Preeminent among these is the computer with its ability to handle a wide range of types of data, and communication technologies for moving data around.
These technologies can of course also be applied to scholarly communication. This chapter reviews developments in these fields to provide an overview of what is currently available. The emphasis is on what the technologies make possible, rather than the details of how they work. A certain amount of technical detail is provided to ensure that the concepts and capabilities are well understood.
Any starting point in such an interconnected area is in a sense arbitrary. Complicating matters, many of technologies are either invisible or opaque to the end-user. This chapter starts with the most obvious physical manifestation - the hardware that is now commonly found on the desktops of scholars in the developed world. From the nodes on the network, the discussion moves to the networks themselves that link these desktop computers to each other, and in turn to larger minicomputer and mainframe servers. Next comes the emergence of the notions of hypertext and hypermedia, which can be considered a technology for organising and working with information. Finally, the chapter looks at the various software technologies that support the creation of, and access to, hypermedia information.
Before discussing the available technologies, a significant caveat should be made. The electronic publishing revolution is not global, although there are some reasons for optimism [Jacobson, 1994]. There are dramatic disparities in access to information technology and networking between countries (and within countries). The following sections will assume a typical working environment in a knowledge-based organisation in the developed world.
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