Who first proposed using a visual cue (of any kind) for hyperlinks the user has already visited? If the individual is not known, what hypertext viewer first offered this feature?

My guess would be NCSA Mosaic, but I cannot find confirmation of that. This article attempts to explain why hyperlinks default to blue in browsers, but does not explore why visited links are purple (or red, depending on your color spectrum sensitivity). Tim Berners-Lee and Ted Nelson say, at first, color wasn't used to indicate links at all (only underlines). The article doesn't touch on when a visual cue for a previously visited link was first offered.

When I think back on pre-WWW hypertext viewers (WinHelp, Hypercard, etc.), none I recall offered the concept of a browsing history, which would be necessary to support the concept of a visited link. Did the WWW introduce visited links to hypertext?

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    If memory serves, the visual cue for visited hyperlinks was a new feature in Netscape, prompting people to switch from Mosaic to Netscape. – Leo B. Sep 9 '20 at 5:36
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    I could swear the copy of Mosaic I downloaded in 1995 had a color configuration option for visited hyperlinks. I cannot prove that, however. – Jim Nelson Sep 9 '20 at 5:38
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    Given that Netscape Navigator 1.0 appeared in late 1994, some features could have been back-ported. The main claim to fame of Netscape was on-the-fly rendering, of course, not the visual cue; even if it was there first. – Leo B. Sep 9 '20 at 5:56
  • Ah, you're probably right! I forgot about the chronology. – Jim Nelson Sep 9 '20 at 6:07
  • @LeoB. The killer feature for us was that Netscape could render progressively while downloading. Mosaic didn't display the page until it was finished. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Sep 10 '20 at 16:37

As far as I can determine, the earliest tool with a visual cue identifying previously-visited links is Netscape Navigator, which already features purple visited links in beta versions (see this screenshot of 0.9, released in October 1994). I haven’t found any other web browser release available at the time with a similar feature.

Competing browsers implemented the feature too; for example, NCSA Mosaic added it (and improved it by changing the underline to a dashed underline for visited links), as can be seen in this article on Gopher (the photo label is inaccurate, version 1.0 didn’t do this).

Other potential candidates include Gopher browsers; but none of those available before 1994 that I’ve checked had any indication that a link had already been visited. TurboGopher on the Mac had bookmarks and kept a brief history, but didn’t differentiate links.

There might have been earlier hypertext systems with a visual indicator, but I haven’t found one. (I’m thinking of systems such as PLATO Notes, even Xanadu although it was mostly vapourware in the 1990s...)

  • I also thought about PLATO, but it doesn't seem to mark hyperlinks. I'd also have a look at Xerox Alto software, possibly they had hyperlinks somewhere, too. – dirkt Sep 10 '20 at 2:58
  • @WalterMitty thanks, that’s a very interesting site; unless I’ve missed something though, it doesn’t mention a distinction between unvisited and visited links, does it? Regarding Smalltalk specifically, I don’t think its development environments make (or at least, made) the distinction either. – Stephen Kitt Sep 10 '20 at 15:23
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    You are right. I should have marked this as a "by the way" comment. It doesn't address the question of "previously visited". indicators. I just wanted to point out how far back hypertext goes. – Walter Mitty Sep 10 '20 at 18:02

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