Hypertext and multimedia are emerging technologies in information systems
development. The justification for the use of hypertext is judged by two main
principles of hypertext itself. On the one hand it is a 'technology' that is
able to combine many kinds of media, providing a basis for multimedia. On the
other hand, with hypertext it is possible to provide to every user just the
information he needs, and even in the way he prefers.
Our aim was to examine how information systems descriptions can be effectively
utilised and represented in a user-friendly manner using hypertext as an
integral part of the CASE environment. We also aimed to examine how such
technologies can improve co-operation support between the systems developers.
Fundamentally the research is based on the concept of an 'intermediary
hypertext agent' developed by Kerola and Oinas-Kukkonen (1992). The four main
areas of how CASE tool components and their routine use can be empowered with
hypertext were recognised in (Oinas-Kukkonen, 1992) as support for the user
interface, document integration, the representation of semi-structured
information, and collaboration. A prototype hypertext application was
implemented with ToolBook for Windows for both methodology and CASE tool
tutoring, training and use (Oinas-Kukkonen, 1994a, 1994b). The preliminary
findings were presented in (Oinas-Kukkonen, 1993a). We found out that a
monolithic hypertext application did not support sufficiently the real
application of the methodology using the CASE tool. Therefore a new approach
was needed to incorporate the desired hypertext functionality into
"non-hypertext" information systems, i.e. the information system is provided
with additional support features with hypertext functionality
The preliminary findings also led us to focus on user-related
adaptability as a key feature when studying hypertext in CASE environments.
The general research question since then has been: How can one support
user-related adaptability in CASE environments with hypertext functionality?
Adaptability is characterised as a quality factor for an information system.
The key aspect to achieve user-related adaptability is to provide support for
the representation of semi-structured information, in particular in the early
phases of the development process, when the degree of formalisation is by
definition much lower than in the later phases of the development.
The two main (yet unpublished) contributions on hypertext in the latter part of
the project can be summarised as:
the recognition and definition of the new functionality approach, and
the development of the prototype of the hypertext functionality in MetaEdit+.
The prototype of the hypertext functionality in MetaEdit+, called the Linking
Ability, supports the basic MetaEdit+ tools, namely Draw Window, MatrixEditor
and Repository Browser, by providing an alternative way to navigate in the
collection of design documents based on a user's associations. See Figure 2.
However, the user of the MetaEdit+ will not necessarily even recognise that he
has used the Linking Ability, since he will access all the link information via
the normal user interface (the Workspace).
Accordingly, MetaEdit+ users are not required to create any links or nodes in
their design documents if they do not want to do so. The user can also connect
the existing documents or parts of them by links, without ever creating new
nodes. Therefore, the concept of a link was adopted as the basis for developing
the Linking Ability prototype. However, creating annotations and capturing the
design rationale is also enabled in the prototype.
A new link taxonomy has been developed (eight kinds of links) with facilities
to store and query information via link attributes, link typing, and the
attachment of keywords. The basic kinds of links are: association, note, and
bookmark. An association link connects two design documents or regions of them.
Via note links annotations can be attached to the documentation. A bookmark
link provides the tool user with an aid to remember to return to a specific
point in the documentation. Special kinds of association links can be used to
connect the deliverables of the different phases to the development process.
With special kinds of annotations, debate components, the support for design
rationale can be established. By supporting the capturing of design rationale
and the process modelling, Linking Ability is in tie with the Agent and
Activity (i.e. process) models. Landmark and other signs provide
specialisations for bookmark. We also provide links to documents created by
other applications. In addition to the selection of the links, navigation is
supported by composite link structures and link lists. A similar kind of
linking functionality is provided for text components, such as annotations, by
the use of hotwords.
In the future the prototype will be further developed and a descriptive
framework will be constructed for the development of the hypertext
functionality in CASE tools (or in information systems in general)
(Oinas-Kukkonen, 1993b). Reviews and a laboratory test on the use of the
hypertext functionality prototype are being planned.