The Eighth ACM International Hypertext Conference

Southampton, UK
April 6-11, 1997



The Microcosm Approach to Open Hypermedia; A Technical Overview.

Hugh Davis and Wendy Hall


Half Day


Microcosm is an open hypermedia system that has been developed over the past 8 years, and it was one of the first link service systems. Although there are many papers on aspects of the system, and the authors have given many previous courses on using Microcosm, this course will cover the technical aspects of the Microcosm architecture and link service model, and will present the benefits and costs of such an implementation. The course will be liberally illustrated by examples from Microcosm applications that have been built at Southampton and elsewhere.


Introduction (15mins)

This section covers the motivations and the history of the Microcosm project and the general philosophy that has emerged. This will be illustrated with examples from historical archives and from teaching applications. We will discuss definitions of the term open as applied to hypermedia.

The Link Service Model (1 hour)

This section introduces the Microcosm architecture and messaging system in some technical detail. It will cover the different types of viewer, the filter architecture, the registry and the document management system. It will cover the implementation of the important filters such as linkbases and the computed linker. Comparisons will be made with other well known hypertext systems.

Working with third party applications (15mins)

One of the features of Microcosm is its facility to provide link services to third party applications. This section will cover, with examples using well known applications, how this integration may be achieved.

Working with multimedia data (15 mins)

This section will cover the problems, and some solutions, for anchoring within a range of data formats.

Working with changeable Data (15 mins)

This section will briefly discuss some solutions to the dangling link problem (which occurs when a document referenced by a link is moved) and the editing problem (which occurs when a document referenced by a link is changed so that the position of the anchor is no longer correct)

Working with the Web (30 mins)

This section will cover, by demonstration, the ways which Microcosm can work with the Web, and how Microcosm technology can be integrated into Web servers.

The Future (15 mins)

Microcosm is now a commercial product, produced and sold by Multicosm Ltd. However, the research laboratory at Southampton continues to use the product as a workbench for experimenting with new ideas, and is also working on the production of new systems. This section will look at work we conducting in hypermedia authoring, agent technology, distributed systems and digital libraries.

Intended Audience

This course is intended for people who have some awareness of hypermedia and who wish to know more about the Microcosm system, for research purposes or for commercial application.


Professor Wendy Hall is the director of the Multimedia Research Group at the University of Southampton. She and Dr Hugh Davis were the two academics responsible for the team that produced the Microcosm system. They have subsequently worked with the university and others to transfer the technology to industry and they are both now directors of Multicosm Ltd. Together they have delivered many courses on the management of links and on the use of Microcosm for developing applications.

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