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Hypertext for Students

Students are used to working hypertextually in print but not electronically... it's there, but non-digital and not as a product, usually just as notes.

We need a hypertext writing skills course.... it's too steep a learning curve to be deposited on top of many curricula. "Kolb did it, and no one returned" (I'm not sure what that meant, three years later.) Furthermore, if students have only one product or project on which to learn hypertext authoring, they will lose the skills (Anne).

When and how is a hypertext more than a scrapbook... when and how does it become more than a collection of nodes? Perhaps when you don't just make an association with a link, but talk about the association. When considering the text as a whole, perception privileges nodes over links, lexia over the text "between" them. How do you teach that difference?

Perhaps the distinction is in some critical level of distribution, publication, or scale... will anyone see it? is the question. Well, not everyone must, but everyone can. You must also deal with student expectation that they could (or absolutely won't) become instant celebrities through something like the Slashdot effect. You can't predict it, but it does happen. It's a small community of good hypertext writers-- odds are good that if you write someone, you'll hear from them.

How do you get noticed, then? "Ego surfing" can reveal your search penetration and how various queries reveal your site. You have to deal with the sclerotic effect of too much information, 100,000 websites for a bad query. Someone referred to the "Mozart effect".

"You will not be allowed to fail" is an approach that takes out some of the fear of the new medium.

Patterns of Hypertext

Patterns of Hypertext is a clear, concise summary of structures found in hypertexts. The stated purpose of the article is to provide terms for patterns currently found in order to enable and foster discussion of structure in hypertexts. I read it for exactly that purpose, and it did well enough that I've taken notes to come back to later in other projects. Patterns seems to be a touchstone for much later work on narrative, pedagogy, and design in the field.

URL

http://www.eastgate.com/patterns/Print.html

Structural terminology is important to hypertext

One of the major ways that hypertext differs from [print,linear] text is that structures are more critical to the experience of the work. In a story, you don't necessarily need to know where you are because there is always a line stretching out ahead of you. There are structures underlying the story which are important, sure-- time rarely flows only forward, different plot threads come and go, and characters all have their own ways of thinking about the events of the story.

But in hypertext:

  • the reader is forced to consider (or even speculate or second-guess) structure in order to read through the text
  • in light of the (potentially arbitrary) linear order the reader gives to the lexia, secondary structures --the ways the reader pieces together the work conceptually-- become more significant

Non-hypertextual non-fiction is more like hypertext in that the author generally needs to place a more explicit structure over the work for lack of the easy line of the narrative. We can look at whether a history textbook moves through historical time periods linearly for each culture it examines or surveys all cultures in each time period before moving on, in a sort of geographic spiral.

But we have few terms for discussing those structures even in outside of hypertext, and the need to articulate them is more critical for discussion of hypertext.

Patterns

Cycle

Reader returns to a previously-visited lexia and eventually emerges along a new path.

Joyce's Cycle

Named for Michael Joyce, in this a reader returns to a previously visited portion of the hypertext and reads along a previously visited set of lexia before emerging onto a new path.

Douglas' Cycle

Named for J Yellowlees Douglas, an unbroken cycle (with no emergence) signals the end of a section or an exhaustion of the hypertext.

Web Ring

A Web ring is a grand cycle, connected by topic or more generally by shared readership. The experience of a web ring might be like the experience of one of the other cycles, but is distinguished by the fact that it is a grand structure, one which by necessity incorporates other structures and which may not include revisitation in an average reading.

Contour

A contour is formed where cycles meet, and allows access between cycles. I'm not sure how this is different from a set of connected cycles.

Counterpoint

Two voices alternate. This often communicates structure clearly and is good for interleaving themes or for theme and response.

MirrorWorld

A parallel or intertextual structure that is used specifically to create a different voice or contrasting perspective.

Tangle

A tangle is a structure where the reader has a multitude of links and insufficient information to choose between them. A tangle might be closed within a loop or might branch out into other structures-- the common point is that the reader has insufficient information to choose between the paths.

Sieve

A branching structure which sorts readers out into other structures by a sequence of choices. The choices may be informed (Table of Contents) or uninformed (in which case it looks more like a tangle)

Montage

Several lexia presented together create a montage.

Neighborhood

A Neighborhood establishes an association among [lexia] through proximity, shared ornament, or common navigational landmarks. The common features show that the lexia are "close" in some intentional way.

Episode

In the description of the Neighborhood structure, Bernstein describes "Rosenberg's episodes", which are like neighborhoods but with regard to the reader's perception rather than to meaning in the hypertext.

Split/Join

A split/join knits two or more sequences together. Those individual sequences may be composed of other structures; the point of the split/join is that a connection is made (implying, perhaps, a neighborhood).

Rashomon pattern

A split/join embedded in a cycle creates what Bernstein calls a Rashomon pattern, where the recurrence of the cycle is conducted over different threads (often creating a counterpoint either implicitly or explicitly)

Overview/Tour

A split/join where one side is more detailed than the other (but are rhetorically similar) frequently constitutes an overview or tour of other structures.

Moulthrop's Move

A split where the text "responds ironically" to the reader's apparent expressed interest (indicated by link choice).

Missing Link

An absent (or broken?) link where one is expected can be a meaningful structure when, like an ellipsis, allusion, or iteration, it implies a connection.

Navigational Feint

The offer of a navigational opportunity that cannot or is not followed immediately. It can establish a pattern for later in the reading or provide information about the structure or scope of the text

Cycle

Reader returns to a previously-visited lexia and eventually emerges along a new path.

Joyce's Cycle

Named for Michael Joyce, in this a reader returns to a previously visited portion of the hypertext and reads along a previously visited set of lexia before emerging onto a new path.

Douglas' Cycle

Named for J Yellowlees Douglas, an unbroken cycle (with no emergence) signals the end of a section or an exhaustion of the hypertext.

Web Ring

A Web ring is a grand cycle, connected by topic or more generally by shared readership. The experience of a web ring might be like the experience of one of the other cycles, but is distinguished by the fact that it is a grand structure, one which by necessity incorporates other structures and which may not include revisitation in an average reading.

Contour

A contour is formed where cycles meet, and allows access between cycles. I'm not sure how this is different from a set of connected cycles.

Counterpoint

Two voices alternate. This often communicates structure clearly and is good for interleaving themes or for theme and response.

MirrorWorld

A parallel or intertextual structure that is used specifically to create a different voice or contrasting perspective.

Tangle

A tangle is a structure where the reader has a multitude of links and insufficient information to choose between them. A tangle might be closed within a loop or might branch out into other structures-- the common point is that the reader has insufficient information to choose between the paths.

Sieve

A branching structure which sorts readers out into other structures by a sequence of choices. The choices may be informed (Table of Contents) or uninformed (in which case it looks more like a tangle)

Montage

Several lexia presented together create a montage.

Neighborhood

A Neighborhood establishes an association among [lexia] through proximity, shared ornament, or common navigational landmarks. The common features show that the lexia are "close" in some intentional way.

Episode

In the description of the Neighborhood structure, Bernstein describes "Rosenberg's episodes", which are like neighborhoods but with regard to the reader's perception rather than to meaning in the hypertext.

Split/Join

A split/join knits two or more sequences together. Those individual sequences may be composed of other structures; the point of the split/join is that a connection is made (implying, perhaps, a neighborhood).

Rashomon pattern

A split/join embedded in a cycle creates what Bernstein calls a Rashomon pattern, where the recurrence of the cycle is conducted over different threads (often creating a counterpoint either implicitly or explicitly)

Overview/Tour

A split/join where one side is more detailed than the other (but are rhetorically similar) frequently constitutes an overview or tour of other structures.

Moulthrop's Move

A split where the text "responds ironically" to the reader's apparent expressed interest (indicated by link choice).

Missing Link

An absent (or broken?) link where one is expected can be a meaningful structure when, like an ellipsis, allusion, or iteration, it implies a connection.

Navigational Feint

The offer of a navigational opportunity that cannot or is not followed immediately. It can establish a pattern for later in the reading or provide information about the structure or scope of the text

We can't visualize these yet

Bernstein notes that we don't yet have tools that help us visualize all of these adequately. Analytical tools that help us discover structures are good at examining trees, but often miss cycles. Node-link views (like Tinderbox map view) get individual cycles but don't handle contours well. Hierarchies keep views clean but hide structures that cross hierarchical levels. And massive structures (mirrorworld), negative structures (feint, missing link), and serendipitous structures (montage) are currently hard to display at all.

I think that some of what he's talking about here is what I'd like to see in my vaporware htext engine-- something that is so flexible and facilitates revision so much that seeing the structures doesn't require dragging entire areas out of others, and rearranging them-- the engine does it for you.

I wonder whether Ben Fry's tools might not help with the structures that we currently find hard to analyze.

Donna Leishman

As I've been updating my four-year-old, barely-even-casual understanding of the field of hypertext, I've found a lot of out-of-date research, moribund works and communities. How wonderful, then, to last night find myself pulled into Donna Leishman's work. I met her at eNarrative2 in Boston and enjoyed her Red Riding Hood retelling. She did that for her Master's thesis, so it was a while before I saw anything more on her site 6amhoover. She's been very active, though.

Several years later, last night, I spotted Donna's name in a back issue of Tekka and was pulled right back into her work. I enjoyed the dark smirk of Red Riding Hood twice through and assigned myself The Bloody Chamber to read soon. I'm inspired by Donna's work... if she can tell these stories with such reception (including an Emmy nomination), perhaps there's a market out there. Perhaps even outside academe.

Linear Narrative in an Interactive Environment

The Leishman pieces I've seen so far are of a promising type: linear narrative playing out in an interactive environment where exploration is rewarded with additional depth. As Red Riding Hood walks to her Grandmother's house, you can click in her basket to read her diary... but you don't need to. In The Bloody Chamber, clicking on buildings in a cityscape sets them to walking around in an unnerving manner that sets the mood well. You can watch it like a movie if you want, but interacting with it will be rewarded.

Kate Stables wrote in the Guardian Online: Leishman strikes just the right balance between plot and charming distractions, packing enough secret scenes under the skin of her story to make a repeat viewing a must. I watched each of Leishman's pieces several times, and the feeling was like playing a good video game. I worked through the main narrative once, but then when I realized that there were easter eggs available, I started 'playing' through the stories again, looking for mouseovers, guessing at where I might find detail... I wound up engaging the setting of the story as more than background, as a place to read more... as a setting.

This seems like a development on one of the genres that hypertext has always done well, the mysterious environment. Red Riding Hood is Myst-esque, but with the narrative brought to the fore and set on a more demanding and prominent timeline. It seems like a useful development... the timeline can carry you along if you get stuck

Brainstorming, now: this works like DVDs, in a way. DVDs coming out now always have extra features. Some of the extras are material within the story, many of the extras are about the making of the movie or its setting in the rest of the world. Sometimes you have audio tracks where you can follow the movie but get only the actors' or director's comments as a form of "secret scenes under the skin" of every scene. Either way, you've got a narrative happening on several levels and the work encourages repeat viewings at various levels.

Mark Bernstein

I've been delaying writing Mark Bernstein's bio for this site because he's one of the few people I've met, because he's likely to see this fairly quickly after I post it, and because I can't seem to spend more than fifteen minutes reading without running into his name in some acknowledgements or citations. He's founder and Chief Scientist of Eastgate Systems; has written software for hypertext, for Macintoshes, for other things; has helped organize several ACM hypertext conferences and all of the eNarrative conferences; has written innumerable (well, to me) articles and papers on hypertext (some linked down the left side of his blog); and he's a nice guy. I can't make a comprehensive list of his primary interests in hypertext as I can with several other bios I'm working on, but he has written a good bit about the themes of structure, making hypertexts interesting with human touches and good storytelling, elegant linking, and accessibility.

Tinderbox isn't yet groupware

Tinderbox is designed as a single-user application, and the awkwardness of trying to make it work as groupware is extremely frustrating considering the potential of the completely imaginary Tinderbox Server (which I will call Tinderboxen). I am amazed at many aspects of Tinderbox (and will be posting on them), but this frustrated me-- because I want it to be better still, not because it is broken.

Tinderbox would need a lot of work to facilitate sharing and groupwork. There's no client/server architecture available for it such as you find with FileMaker. There's no way to work with Tinderbox data except through Tinderbox, such as the clients-and-webform model of LiveJournal that makes groupwork across networks or platforms possible. There would need to be more integrated wizards that would help get users to where they wanted to go in the UI or data

There's also the more abstract issue of how to provide users other than the creator with easy entries into a Tinderbox file. With data that can be seen geographically, in outline form, as html, as text, or as a hierarchical chart, how do you communicate to a new user the structure of your particular file? There are rudimentary techniques for this such as "readme" notes and adornments, but these are cumbersome for trying to communicate an entire way of thinking-- and Tinderbox is flexible enough to accomodate extremely divergent tasks and ways of thinking.

At the same time, Tinderbox is almost there, and that proximity is agonizing. It stores data as xml, so the data structures are clean and accessible without proprietary closed-source markup. Other applications could work with the data. Tinderbox is great for seamlessly accomodating both live and static (archived) work, and has features built for workflow management. Recent versions of Tinderbox accomodate interactive wizards that could be the solution to the issue of paradigm-introduction. If I could share it, it would rock! (harder, that is)

An example of why it's so frustrating comes from a conversation with my girlfriend the other day. Her company is considering a production site for the show she's working on. Tinderbox could be great for this-- it would be part production blog, part static site, with FAQs and write-ins and enough other stuff that the organization and simplicity of Tinderbox would be an asset. The various staff members that might contribute wouldn't have to learn HTML or the structure of the site to provide content. The content would be abstracted and separated from the visual style (which the studio would likely want to have a say in) so that the design and copywriting for the project could proceed in parallel. It would accomodate funky HTML for those who want to use it, but would make the coding transparent to those who don't.

But to do this, they would have to get copies of Tinderbox for everyone who might contribute, or tie the project down to a single editing station. Tinderbox isn't very expensive as software goes, but it's really expensive if you might not use it. And then even if they got 15 copies they'd still have to pull a time-share on the data. If they could serve Tinderbox and have keyed licenses or the like, it would be the perfect tool. But, for now, sharing is a dealbreaker.

HCI and the hypertext community: style only?

I had a neat discussion with friend!Josh tonight about his "outsider" observations on the field of hypertext and where the work is in it right now. Some of the discussion circled things that surprised us by how they are not being addressed by the community. I jotted down some notes about things that caught my interest.

HC and hypertext communities aren't talking ... ?

It seems like there should be a lot more communication between the Human-Computer Interaction community and the hypertext community. Right now, most of the work between those two areas seems to be largely aesthetic: how do you design a web page so that people can navigate it, and what features do you put into your site to allow readers to do what they're trying to (or, perhaps, find things they weren't expecting)?

But there's so much more that could be going on! People don't only Interact with computers, they think with computers. One reason that hypertext is such a powerful tool is because it offers the potential for people to work with their information in ways that are more loyal to the way they think. Good hypertext tools usually solicit pages of raves by new users who are amazed to finally find a tool that facilitates they way they really work.

So who is:

  1. applying the research on hypertext to the ways that people actually read it?

  2. taking the research on how people browse websites (probably the largest dataset on how people read hypertext)

  3. applying that to the ways that we design hypertexts to be readable?

  4. taking the knowledge of the way that people work with computers and applying it to hypertext tools?

This stuff must be out there, but it's hard to find examples of people combining the study of how people interact with computers with the study of how people work with hypertext. "Hypertext" ought to be smack in the middle of people-and-computers. I think that Eastgate Systems has hit #4 with Tinderbox, but the prohibitive learning curve indicates that they've got a ways to go in terms of UI. I think that Dynamic Diagrams is a good example of some of the other points.

no one is looking at their hypertexts in terms of projections

Many companies right now not only have external websites but have internal websites, or documentation libraries, or both. And these libraries are typically organized and accessed around some sort of hierarchical index that you burrow down into or expand into lexia. They might allow plain-text or keyword searches. Or maybe both.

Looked at broadly, those libraries are hypertexts, and the readers of those hypertexts are very often coming in from some specialized angle that has nothing to do with the "official" hierarchy the index imposes. What is needed is specialized projections of that hypertext: indexes arranged along more of an FAQ model, or searches that give hierarchies and paths (structures) as a result. Multiple simultaneous hierarchies or paths. There's no reason not to except that the site designers aren't used to thinking of documentation as a hypertext like that, or not thinking about their site as a hypertext in the aggregate.

There's been some interesting thought about the role of narrative in business sites, and many good sites research the paths that visitors take through their sites, but few seem to be thinking (or talking) about giving readers structures for their personalized visits like customized site maps or multiple simultaneous indices.

The example we discussed was the documentation site for MySQL. What about a page that shows the site in terms of "how MySQL is SQL", or "trying to get MySQL to work with other platforms". These topics are worth more than a page, more than a lexia-- they've got their own hierarchies and paths of relevant information from sources all over the existing documentation.

napkin-sketch business model: Hypertext Projection consulting

So maybe there's a professional opportunity for a consultant or consulting company to come to a company and do just that: "We'll come in, take your site or your documentation, and organize it. In sixteen ways simultaneously. We'll talk to people about how you need to use it, how to set the new system up to grow with you, etc. And you'll have the site back at the end, plus some."

Afterward, the company will be aware of their sites or libraries as a text that readers interact with, build paths through and into. They'll have tools to continue applying that awareness to new material. Readers will have features that acknowledge and facilitate the process of building a productive or interesting narrative out of using the site.

This does depend on companies embracing that as a philosophy (internal documentation is worth the investment, or documentation will help people be productive), and that might be a tough sell. It might also require specific software or substantial redesigns of existing content, both of which might be frightening to clients.

related sites

Without getting too far into the various related fields of information-visualization or information architecture, here are some sites that seem particularly relevant. Maybe I should see if they have job openings. ^ _

Ben Fry went through MIT doing information visualization. The anemone tool shows realtime visualization of site structure, traffic, and exploration.

Dynamic Diagrams is a group I've had my eye on for some time as the work they do seems really interesting and impressive. I wonder how they work, and how their clients see them. Their case studies are fascinating and to my inexperienced eye seem to be a survey of practice in information architecture.

Document Strategies does some work in this field, billing it as "providing systems and services for converting paper documents to computer-based information and then accessing and managing that information."

It all comes back to LJs

The best English teacher that I had in high school used to assign Literary Journals, journals where we would write brief (two-page) responses to many things we read. She'd assign LJ entries for chapters in books we were reading, on sections of The New Yorker magazine, on poems, and on articles that other students had clipped out of the newspaper that related to our class topics. What I got from LJs: everything is readable, and sometimes it's worth writing out your thoughts to everyday readings.

I feel like textuality.org (t.org) is a direct descendant of Ms. Hepburn's LJs. It doesn't matter that every entry is a great work of art; it doesn't even matter that they all cohere as a greater work; what matters is that I'm forcing myself to organize and articulate my thoughts (and to have thoughts) on what goes past my eyes on a regular basis.

A Rationale for Teaching Hypertext Authoring in Literature Courses

This very short (3 print pages) article presents well one argument for teaching hypertext writing in courses that are not primarily about writing. That is: The process of marking up a hypertext provides the necessary defamiliarization of the text that enables students to look at the markup structures in stead of simply looking through them. Once they are able to see the markup in hypertext, they are more easily able to see the markup in the literature which the course presumably has at its center. The rest of the very accessible article teases out the pieces of that assertion: how writing hypertext defamiliarizes, why that process is necessary, why and how we look through markup in familiar media, and how students can transfer the skills from writing hypertext back to reading and writing other texts.

I love it! It's only one argument, one rationale to which I'd add more --teaching hypertext forces an engagement with structures and scales of thinking that students can gloss with more familiar media-- but it is a rationale, and it's made well and clearly.

Citation

Barndollar, David. A Rationale for Teaching Hypertext Authoring in Literature Courses. University of Texas at Austin: 2003. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~blogger/whitepapers/archives/000002.html. Also available in PDF form at http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/research/whitepapers/2003/030822-2.pdf

Hypertext is unfamiliar in a good way

In terms of content, the point of literature courses is to familiarize the students with the subjects, arguments, and contexts of the literature; in terms of skill-building, the point of literature courses is to teach students (new) methods of reading that facilitate understanding the literature. This typically means overcoming the students' belief that they know how to read. Using a new medium for their writing (hypertext) helps make clear that new methods for reading are necessary.

This is one case where transparency is a hindrance-- the process of creating hypertexts is sufficiently different from writing papers or essays that the students are forced to consider the way they read and write.

One thing to be careful of when using this technique, it seems to me, is that you re-associate the skills with reading when you're done. You don't want students thinking that the reading skills they are learning apply only to working with your software or with hypertext.

Transferring "markup" back to familiar texts

As McGann points out in Radiant Textuality, texts are always already marked as texts. The markup may be familiar enough in traditional print media to have become transparent, but there are conventions that give a text structure: a page in English begins in the upper left and continues left-to-right; capital letters denote the beginnings of sentences and proper nouns. Having to learn current hypertext formats and their conventions like you would a foreign language (e.g. blank line to separate paragraphs rather than indented first lines) helps break a reader out of the assumptions that make their reading a transparent process.

In a literature course, to teach reading skills, you want to indicate:

  • without markup, a text is meaningless
  • what counts as markup is dependient on the browser, not the document: readers make distinctions in texts
  • difficulty with a text is often a matter of missing some of the markup;
  • conversely, understanding markup can illuminate elements in the text that were present but invisible without an understanding of the "tags". This point reminds me of the thesis of the essay Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl. Barndollar notes that learning how to do this correctly is learning how to mark a text in the Elizabethan sense.

There's one sentence that links it all back for me for the t.org project: In fact, teaching hypertext authoring is really just teaching textuality in a practical way.... The hands-on nature of the authoring task provides an encounter with textuality that reading alone cannot.

A Good Practice

Barndollar used a MOO containing the text of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and assigned students to elucidate the references and allusions in the poem and present their work in the MOO. The connection between the hypertext and the poem became an avenue for discussing Eliot's own use of footnotes and references, and about how annotation and allusion work in general.

I want tales of woe

Barndollar says that "not only do instructors face a dearth of scholarship in the discipline, they also face bewilderment, if not outright resistance, in their institutions." This makes intuitive sense to me, but I'd love to have some anecdotal examples or case studies. I need to talk to more teachers who have taught hypertext authoring in their classes.

I do wonder whether this paper is of interest to people who are not already considering hypertext. As the title states, it's more of a rationale than an argument, more useful for defending a desired task than convincing others to use the technique.

Hypertext structure and annotation

As I've been working on textuality.org I've come across a productive reason to work in hypertext. Annotation and citation is less ambiguous when there are anchors within the text to use for point-by-point discussion, and it is easier to discuss the structure of the work when that structure is made more explicit.

Annotating marked up vs. monolithic work

For example, when discussing a printed paper, or one which is monolithic in its marked-up structure, I must work to explain to my reader what part of the work I am referring to. I can do this by quoting, which then requires the reader to find the source of my quotation in the original work. I can paraphrase, or point to a section, as with "when the author says x, y, and z, I say: For shame!"; that then requires a clear reference on my part and a familiarity with the work on the reader's part.

An example is my review of the Eastgate article Lindsay's Story: Hypertext and Liberation in High School. The article is monolithic, so I need to paraphrase to connect my thoughts to the author's. A counterexample is my discussion of the hypertext Chasing Our Tails. That work's short lexia make for small thought-grains to point to. Each page is an idea, so when I discuss the work, I can point very closely to the idea that I'm referring to.

A print analogy would be a paper written in response to another (monolithic work) vs. notes written in the margins of a page (hypertext annotation). When you can write in the margins, you can show where in the work you're pointing so that your comments are in the right context.

Anchors make for good annotation

This isn't strictly an issue for the hypertext tools that we know now-- html, Tinderbox, etc. It's really more a matter of markup and structure. Even in a linear printed document, if you have headings for chapters, topics or subtopics, or even page numbers, then an annotator writing even in a separate work can point more accurately to the location in your work that they are discussing. It's better to have a meta-structure (something which reveals the structure of your thought) like chapter headings than an arbitrary markup like page numbers, but either way you have anchors for annotation.

That structure is almost built into hypertext. Unless the author is working hard not to make their lexia correspond to discrete thoughts, then a hypertext has some sort of anchor structure to hook into for annotation. The granularity is smaller than "the entire work" if you break the work down into lexia or if you use anchors or headings to give the work some sort of structure. I say almost because it's easy to build a web page that doesn't have anchors, or headings in proper HTML. Many works on the web divide works depending on the length of the text, or how many advertisements they need to fit into the reading. This isn't entirely the fault of the authors-- most web tools make it far too easy to produce pretty documents with no meta-structure. They focus on presentation to the extent of making it possible to make a document look marked up ( for headings) without being marked up in a hypertextual way ( or even

).

Still, if the tools are built well, and are used moderately correctly, then the lexia, pages, sections, or chapters will not only correspond to thoughts, but those thoughts will be more easily referenced... and visible.

Chasing Our Tails

This is the best response that I've seen to Sven Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies. It is a thorough excoriation of the state of hypertext criticism. It circles around how criticism of (literary) hypertext is more often a statement of the critic's fears and ambitions than an examination of actual work. It explains in the most articulate manner that I've seen yet why recurrence, repetition, and circles in hypertext are a feature, not a bug: that we learn by connecting something we have just discovered with something we already understand, and that doing so involves revisiting what we have heard.

Wonderfully, the elegant structure of the text itself also demonstrates that point. I visited most of the lexia in this text more than once, and for once didn't mind... each page was illuminated from a different direction by the context of the link that I followed.

And it 'ends' with a call to action, and a good one. My pulse was actually raised by reading this little hypertext, and it began to tie many other works together. And did Mark Bernstein really propose the term breadcrumb as it is used in hypertext?

URL

http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/chorus/composition/bernstein/

eNarrative 2

Whee, zip, wow. A Keanu Reeves-like "whoah." Those were my first reactions to the eNarrative2 conference that happened Feb. 24-25, 2001. A year later, when I wrote up these notes for my own site, that was still true. The eNarrative roundtables kept on top of the field and did their small part to lead it as well. I use the past tense because the last of the eNarratives happened in 2003, and I know of no plans to bring them back.

During the roundtable I volunteered to collect and record the URLs discussed during the roundtables, and that was the majority of my notes. One of the most amazing things about the conference was the sheer brilliance of the readings; I walked through the site and gathered the URLs from there as well. My condensation doesn't have any of the cool discussion that the eNarrative site does, but it has nearly all the external site links.

The extensive notes on the content of eNarrative4 are, to me, much more interesting.

Links discussed at eNarrative2

The publicly available URLs that we discussed at the conference are below; we also discussed a fair number of in-progress or non-public URLs, and I held on to those: if you were at the conference and want the URLs, drop me a line. I've tried to put eNarrative2 participants' names by their pieces; apologies if I've missed putting your name next to your work.

URLs that are live as of Oct. 4 2004 are linked; discussed URLs that are broken are unlinked.

Silke Baumblüth sent a few German URLs that attend to related subjects. She wrote:

The first one is the NULL-Project with small Hypertexts combined to a chart that looks like a star-chart. Obviously the sites are mainly in German but maybe it can still be interesting to take a look.

Links from the eNarrative2 site

This is a condensation of the links within Eastgate System's eNarrative Conference website as of eNarrative2. The site is fascinating (the roundtables were fascinating), but as I sought to build a set of links to the really awesome online hypertext, I wanted a condensed index. Textuality.org has become that condensed index, and I really ought to go through and change many of these links to be internal (or functional). However, as an artifact of the time when I made it, of a prototype of this site pre-Tinderbox, this suffices-- and it encourages me to move on to more productive tasks than reworking my old links lists.

In the outline below,

  • The top layer are my categories: narrative sites, and communities, and tech sites.

    • The next layer is generally the eNarrative page where the links are discussed. Visit these.

      • Any other layers are categorical
        • The boxes contain the offsite links.


The Unknown

The Unknown is fabulous and hilarious. I've been looking for it for a while. It's awesome enough that I think I can entrust you to it before this review. You might get a kick out of reading it first, because it'll grab you.

Still here? Okay. It's hard to describe it because it's founded on a sleight of hand: it's the blog-like journal of a publicity tour for a book of essays about an anthology that never existed in either our world or the world of the story. The authors know it doesn't exist, but that doesn't stop them from writing about it, publicizing it, handing it out, or linking to it. The entire work swirls around so well that eventually it doesn't matter that the supposed subject never appeared; the real subject is the journey, the self-examination or lack thereof, and the ... aw-hell fun of it. Along the way they discuss hypertext, writing, spoof the publishing industry, parody themselves and what they're doing. It's House of Leaves, but funny instead of frightening.

It's the book tour my friends (known here as "the dudes") would take, and it's how they would record it, with a mix of cold-shower insight, riotous braggadocio, and disturbingly true hyperbole. It's written like it doesn't need to go anywhere, win any awards, be translated or made into a movie because the authors have already imagined it.

Structure so clear you can really lose yourself in it

The structure is well formed and well-communicated. At the bottom of each page is a distinct footer with a host of text links to boilerplate stuff: contact, press items, etc. But then there are six colored links for "lines"... basically threads or trails through the enormous number of lexia. The pages, one per lexia, are color-coded according to which thread they are on, which makes it possible for the reader to catalogue the entries and (in theory) read them exhaustively. Since you always have a couple of places to ground yourself and get your bearings, following links is a little less scary-- there's less at stake, you're not going to get lost. And if you feel like a change of pace, you can switch to another thread that feels better without the risk of not being lost once you get there, because the thread indices are still pretty opaque.

Nice Interstices, there

The Unknown takes the space between lexia to shift gears-- some lexia have a marathon feel to them, exhausting you in their decadence so that by the time you're ready to get off their drunken, debauched or just exhilirated ride (trying with half a mind to avert the hangover or its hypertext analogue lostness), there's a lexia on the other side of a link with a different pace-- perhaps a calmer, more meditative pace. Because it's an actual email, or just 'metafictional bullshit.'

Following links fits with the feel and rhythm of the story because the way the authors write is so fragmented to begin with. Many paragraphs or sentences feel like they might as well have a link between them. The excuse in the story might be that the writer is drunk and sitting in a loud bar, or that it's an excerpt of an email in reply to a message you haven't seen. Either way, it helps give the whole thing a consistent feel even while you move between authors, presented media, fiction, and fact. The Unknown escapes being dadaist cyberart despite the fragmentation.

Still getting the hang of this

It has been a long time since I wrote about a work. And even longer since I wrote in an even slightly unpretentious or non-academic way about something. I feel like I could sit down and write an entire paper about this one piece, but, man, it's a blog. There's so much out there. *shakes it out*

eNarrative 4

I took a fair number of notes at eNarrative 4, in March of 2002. Some of them are still readable and potentially interesting, and I've put them below.

The eNarrative roundtables were neat events; Eastgate did a good job of rounding up leading lights for the topics at hand, the venue was pleasant, and the roundtable format left the agenda flexible enough for that many smart and interested people to all participate as they wished.

This was my second eNarrative conference, and was much closer to my interests (education) than the first. Since it was also one of my last acts of participation in the community before this site, many of my notes are still central interests in this site's exploration of hypertext. I imagine that several of the subtopics of this entry will wind up recycled into other entries that follow.

Notes, such as they are, follow. I've done my best to make them read sensibly, but have not put much work into making it flow seamlessly. These are notes.

Have we read yet?

It's an easy and common misconception that reading means visiting each and every node once and only once. Six or seven weeks into a course, students will realize they won't get to or have to read everything, and then they're okay. (This happened to me in college with my regular reading for my English major, but I'm not sure that the sort of physically overwhelming amount of reading is a common experience before grad school for everyone, so I'm not sure whether I can generalize that analogy.) Still, though ...

.... "Are we reading yet?" - how do students know they've done the assignment in a non-linear text that doesn't necessarily chart their completion like page-counts do? The structure in hypertexts are often too obscure. There isn't an easily accessible history. And students don't have any experience what it's supposed to be like. A counter-argument is: don't underrate existing "hypertext"... games, websites, etc. Students know when they've gotten through those.

Information retrieval as hypertext-- Is searching on google equivalent to reading Patchwork Girl? It's a different model of authorship, of literacy. Or is that difference simply a matter of mapping and of history? Wth CubicEye you clearly build a text out of a web search. The spatial model is hard to get for some people.

Resistance to Hypertext

Is resistance to hypertext (on whose part?) intrinsic or habitual?

Why the vehement resentment to hypertext in general? A reluctance to give up existing competency and literacy for a new medium. Wanting a definitive experience, a closure even if it's misleading or false. Readers construct a schema as they read, their own mental map, and hypertext is disorienting 99% of the time. "[In most hypertexts] you don't have a schema for predicting what's next, for predicting where that text is going to go. We predict all the time." There's also an age aspect to this-- older writers are more invested in existing schema for reading.

Okay, but what about in social discourse, where you also can't predict the direction? Is hypertext better at representing social discourse and representing thought across discursive boundaries (i.e. multiple people's viewpoints)? Even in those cases, organization is still perceived as seriousness... and you can't fully get hypertext by maping it onto schema that you already know (ETA: it's like using tinderbox as just an outliner, or just a mapper). People resent you as an author taking their transparency away, and they don't know what's at the other end of the learning curve. There's also resentment from authors who feel that their artistry has been superseded or overshadowed by concerns or artistry of technology or of user interface. Who wants to worry about User Interface? It's ironic that "complex" pages end up getting perceived as "for kids".

Hypertext for Teachers

David asks: why make hypertext optional? Answer: because the learning curve is too steep for time to teach the tools with the whole class. Because their habit is to add things on, not build - to create threads, not cross-linking or webs.

The scariness of the idea that the grade is dependent on reading everything affects the professor, too-- must the professor fight hypertext itself to read everything?

It's also scary for professors to make the transition to reading and grading hypertexts because it's not so clear where and how to 'comment in the margins'. (my own professor, who was comfortable with Storyspace and assigning hypertexts, still made me in one class hand out a linear version of a paper to my fellow students and that is what he graded and commented on.)

How do you explain to a class the utility of complex structure when other classes and the educational system privilege short stuff and argumentation along the five-paragraph model (intro, support, support, support, conclusion)

How do you grade a hypertext, especially if it involves programming code? It's probably better not to comment in the code, but to make a separate report on the code. You must be careful to communicate the criteria. You can have other students make comments with pointers (something that is especially easy in Tinderbox, since you can cluster comments in their own space, group them visually with adornments, but have them linking to anywhere in the main text. There's also no reason not to have comments accumulate, and it's easy to pull comments into a selection of "comments worth sharing" in class discussion or with later classes.

One aspect of student anxiety about hypertext is a matter of escaping the One True Reading model. This anxiety is fed by the game analogy-- repetition is often equal to failure in games unless there's evident proof of advancement. Another stone on a pedestal (thinking of Dark Castle, here), etc. In most hypertexts there's precious little evidence for a student's advancement outside of a reader's self-assessment... and we're teaching them how to be readers in the first place. Too few hypertexts make explicit that a circular structure in the reading is in fact a spiral.

An excercise for a class: "is this website hypertextual?"

"Who's Cribbing" by Jack Lewis - just tryto map it. ... trying to pushes students out of the comfort zone and gets them to see some of the difference between complex linear text and "native" hypertext.

Writers (among the students?) like "WOE", "Is me past" (?). No luck with "Afternoon". They also like "The Unknown".

You can create a hypertext physically with notecards, yarn, and colored paper. Using a physical example gets the metaphors, the paradigm, down and then you can bring it back to the writing: writing is a process of taking all those ideas, making each grammatical, and putting transitions (links) between them. This gets the visual learners. You can see them get it when they link words, rather than boxes (lexia).

We need forii (forums?) for pedagogical practice in hypertext that doesn't reduce to academic papers. That includes actual practice and discussion between practicioners as well as advice for those who might be willing to incorporate hypertext but unable to crest the learning curve.

Anne's History Course

Anne taught a course that used hypertext to examine the stories of a "silent generation" in Japan. Her class used hypertext to break through a cultural avoidance of WWII stories by having students interview their grandparents and relatives for their personal stories to create a hypertext from them. One student interviewed her grandmother, who was reluctant at first, then opened up and shared photos, talked... and talked and talked. She had never in her life had her story asked of her.

even with a web page, people think of each piece as linked linear bits, rather than a network made linear

Why was this project different as a hypertext than as a "conventional" text?

  • The multimedia forced multiple voices. (Multimedia vs. hypertext was an issue in our discussion. "What is hypertext?" It's an irritating question but one for which we must have several, contextual, lucid answers.)

  • Learning new tools and structure forced new kinds of questions.

  • Creating the product as hypertext freed the student not only in structure but in content-- she could create contrasting voices.

The project led to empowerment and voicing so powerful that it could not be overstated. People break out of abusive relationships, discover family stories, discover multiplicity when faced with the inherent multivalence of hypertext. The students' responses to American responses to the WTC attacks.

Students struggled with the difference between a public act (for the web) and a personal one (for the professor) given the personal nature of the assignment. There was tension between commitment and participation in something larger. The public nature of the project, however, also gave the project an authenticity-- the students were involved in a real way in Japan's current discussions over its history in WWII, in building archives of memories. Their engagement in the assignment and the tasks behind it was immediate and (helped by the distance from known rhetorical structures) not defined by ideological authority structures. It was hypertext and it was on the web.

Would it be "selling out" a hypertext to give a "standard" version of a hypertext?

Tinderbox at eNarrative

Mark introduced Tinderbox, since it was a fairly new product when the conference happened. Some quick notes from that presentation:

  • Tinderbox split functionality off from Storyspace.

  • Anders Fagerjord's site uses tinderbox, and he has tips sometimes. Markbernstein.org is a tinderbox blog.

  • "The Victorian Web is like a blog of a community." NO - it's edited, 'posts' are approved by a secondary authority. YES - blogs get edited. NO - secondary editing party. YES - blog clusters get unlinked and ignored out of existence.

  • In a war, hypertext would be lost. The community would be lost. They're all overexcited geeks.

  • Agents can get distant blogs

Is a Tinderbox-built page a hypertext? No, there's no hiding and revealing. Yes, if you make links pop-ups? No - it's a rendered collage, hypertextual but not a hypertext. No, because you can't backtrack. Well, it's a hypertext with a non-hypertext projection, then.

Where Storyspace was about dynamic links and presentation, Tinderbox is more of an organizational tool. It's about notes, indexing, organization, agents. Eventually it would be nice if they were interoperable, so that you could drag things back and forth.

Storyspace has been around since 1987/1991 (what are those dates?) ... and has therefore spent more than a decade as a chunk of code. That's pretty rare. Victory Garden and Afternoon are still there after a decade. Things that were unusual about Storyspace then:

  • links.

  • Can find the spaces in another file despite being renamed, moved, a different version.

  • Links were stored within the file.

  • A text space = a window.

It was a tool for reading and writing large hypertexts, especially focused around narrative. There are features that are still unusual in 2002:

  • Guard fields to qualify the destination of links

  • external links are stored internally

  • you can have overlapping link sources

  • you can make anchors appear and disappear

  • two-handed reading (for showing links, at least).

Sarah: Hypertext for Linear Writers

Sarah (?) then discussed how she's used Storyspace and seen Storyspace used with tree-killing writers. Writing is a non-linear process, and Storyspace tools let a writer work in a virtual multi-dimensional space. You can create assets and then draw upon them-- creating spaces then creating paths through them (multiple paths, even) which then become the narrative flow. You can create aliases which you can then organize in various ways. You could place the spaces' aliases in a two-dimensional chart with characters along the y-axis and the flow of the story (or chapters) along the x-axis to show when characters come and go. You could lay the spaces out along the narrative flow in the x-axis and place them on the y-axis according to the tension to plot that in your novel. Or you could have your proofreaders do the same to show you their perspective. This is a process of organizing and filtering your assets, of bringing the words from data (about characters, places) to story. Plus, you might note that it's easier to get (and see) nonlinearity from this approach.

It would be really useful to watch authors working, especially together. In this roundtable we're working with abstractions, but seeing people work, try to make meaning out of interfaces, see how people share ideas when working physically together... that would really help us see how to make the tools facilitate what they do. How to build Tinderbox into a personal knowledge manager, beyond being just an information manager. At the same time, you need to be aware of and careful with your niche-- misspent expectations killed Agenda. Be careful about what is under your control vs. automatic, etc.

A Hypertext Reading Group

What would a hypertext reading group look like? A house party? A workshop, like a writer's workshop (and what would that look like)? A correspondence course might be a sensible approach, given the relative paucity of hypertext scholars and geographic dispersion. This would be a great way for writers to perform usability testing on their hypertexts. Would you want to follow the "cabin in Maine" or the "weekend house party" model? One participant related having a workshop where each participant brought one work, sent it around a few weeks before, and then discussed them for two days.

Issues for any sort of group would be: ways to share commentary (including links or visual arrangements), ways to work independently yet together simultaneously. Could you build a tool that would help share hypertexts? (Some Tinderbox files are small enough to share over instant messaging, but not all, and there's no way to actively serve a tinderbox file so that multiple people can see and edit it simultaneously on different computers.)

Confusion and Hidden Literacy

DAlso, don't forget that there is fun in not knowing, in serendipity and re-vision. When is confusion, misdirection, not knowing fun and when is it frustrating? Is the author or reader at fault for the frustration with Finnegan's Wake? Why do some of these texts gain a cult following or critical respect, but not others? It's not just complexity or simplicity-- why do people go for 12-tone music or atonality for that matter, but not for hypertext?

Rob (?) points out that there are visible vs. invisible literacies. Sarah adds that it's also about text vs. language-- people have less trouble with graphic (multimedia) hypertext than with blocks of text. Ann wonders whether it's just the level to which the reader can cop out of having to figure it out. When is it a matter of "fixing" the interface, and when do you want not to? A diagram (say, architectural) still contains some intentional and unintentional ambiguity.

We then looked at argument. There's some use in understanding and displaying intermediate structures, the way we're thinking in the midst of an argument, before we've completed a design. A final product inevitably has had questions decided or choices made that we may want to reconsider or present as questions. There's the idea of a second choice, which might be better for another context. We can represent that ambiguity in hypertext by hiding alternatives, or revealing them. There's no reason not to put other viewpoints in.

Aren't there issues with presenting meta or side conversations in a publshed hypertext, though? Is there a way to present it that's not ironic?

UVA has a new imprint for electronic scholarship in the humanities.

Links can contain a lot of information. It's a challenge for any given interface or presentation to incorporate that liminal data into the narrative flow. You could use tooltips for mouseovers. In a linear presentation you could put link text between the contents of the lexia. What you want to do (often) is telegraph that you'll be sending someone (through a link) somewhere else... especially if it's outside your text. And in this context, it's worth thinking about what outside means. By linking resources you bring them into your own text to some extent... but don't have editorial control over them.

Then we thought about intermediate levels of "telegraphy". You don't always want to give perfect information about where a link goes because you risk the reader assuming they understand or not being interested: and they won't follow your link. Yet you don't want to leave a reader stumped as to where to go or wandering aimlessly (unless that's your goal) because then they're lost. One neat idea is to create indeterminate links or links that can be hidden or revealed according to some level of exploration that the reader is willing to undertake. They could set their willingness to stray from a topic, or stay within an area. I brought up the hypertext in which I colored links according to link type (definition or explanation).

Do you need guardfields or programmingto enforce argument, structure, or complexity?

Understanding narrative shape is even more critical to new readers.

How about random entry into a hypertext-- when someone drops into your website, how do they get context, a sense of where they are, and whether their interest in the page they're on translates to an interest in the rest of your site? Short of framing (sidebars, logos and explanatory text), you could present a pop-up window if the referrer doesn't match your own site, you can have textual breadcrumbs, and you could present a tiny icon of a map which is linked to a larger map.

How do you represent where the reader is in the larger argument (which may or may not map onto the site map?

Don't forget that when it comes to hypertext, most readers are "children"... they need to know strategies.

Thespis

Mark Bernstein brings up the idea of thinking of links backwards-- everything is linked to everything else, and you as an author determine what *prevents* a visit. (Mark wrote a paper and presentation about a card game Thespis to model this.) Then set several players (agents?) who get points for going to certain lexia and provide links... and you've got structure. This goes back to the idea of a link server which revises the link structure for you based on criteria. What rhetorical structures (besides programming) will make the sculpturally, thespis-like approach accessible to authors? A timeline can help you set this up for a static site, but it's still dauntingly complex to make. And people will find the game analogy anaethema, not serious.

Also, the UI is difficult. You need an interface like the path builder, or like Windows Server's "resulting policy" feature which shows you: at this point on this path, what are my constraints and conditions?" Also, "what can't I do?" (Plus: do you show the reader that so that they have a sense of how far they've gotten through the potential of a text?)

There are some big challenges with the Thespis approach. It requires knowledge of the text; it is authorial only. Since it's drawing from a pool of lexia, the text itself must be compelling or the reader starts playing it like a game because the conditions become the focus of reading. If you can see where you're going and where you're not, a game develops around getting places.

In the metaphorical setting of thespis, what about false cards? Cards that a reader should play, but which reconfigure the goals like a game of Fluxx. At this point the people at the table wanted a way to see that possibility, a way to communicate loss ("cards you'll never see are..." or "this link has precluded you from...". Doing that discourages a linear text or linear reading. One interface for this might be a sort of possibility graph-- as you play cards your hand grows, shrinks, and eventually dries up. Parts of a map grow dim as they become inaccessible (or read)

There's a distinction between games and hypertext in the outcome. Having the outcome always the same might be bad game design, but good hypertext. It's a matter of agency and identification with the protagonist. The character in a good text, as in a game, must be limited.

Transitions

Integrating transitions into a text where the order of the lexia is flexible is an enormous challenge. You need to either create nodes/lexia that are transitions or find ways to integrate transitions into the nodes. It would be wonderful to find a way to avoid separating the text into nodes in the first place, and to avoid making the transitions static within the nodes.

Diane's Highlights from eNarrative

--------------Diane's highlights------------------

It's important to impress upon new readers the ida of relearning... to show them that it's a new and different way of reading and writing.

It would be neat to have a whole hypertext course, rather than just having a "unit" on hypertext in another course... you should use a hypertext as the course workspace, archive it, document it.

Emphasizing the game aspect of hypertext could be a way to get it to students, though it then faces the tension between ease and comfort of use vs. the seriousness

THere aren't enough models for what it means to read or write hypertext successfully. Some people seem to know it, but have a hard time articulating it.

We need a catalog of ways to show that life itself is hypertextual even outside of hypertext.

Links are a disappearing work-- how do we see links as a text themselves, how do we evaluate that text?

Mapping plot practices to hypertext and viceversa is wonderful, usefully interchangeable. Thinking of a book as a view onto a hypertext is a neat metaphor. (I feel that Proust's Rememberance of Things Past would be a particularly easy text to think of this way.) Tinderbox is good as a tool for creating multiple projections of a text.

Card Shark and Thespis

Mark Bernstein wrote a neat paper that turned my ideas of how to write hypertext inside out. We talk a fair bit about the ways that games are digital narratives, are hypertexts of a sort. Reverse that comparison, then: what if you wrote hypertext like a game? This paper (most accessible as a flash presentation) expands on that idea through the very accessible analogy of a card game with cards as lexia and players as characters.

URL

http://www.markbernstein.org/talks/HT01.html

Thespis

Mark Bernstein brings up the idea of thinking of links backwards-- everything is linked to everything else, and you as an author determine what *prevents* a visit. (Mark wrote a paper and presentation about a card game Thespis to model this.) Then set several players (agents?) who get points for going to certain lexia and provide links... and you've got structure. This goes back to the idea of a link server which revises the link structure for you based on criteria. What rhetorical structures (besides programming) will make the sculpturally, thespis-like approach accessible to authors? A timeline can help you set this up for a static site, but it's still dauntingly complex to make. And people will find the game analogy anaethema, not serious.

Also, the UI is difficult. You need an interface like the path builder, or like Windows Server's "resulting policy" feature which shows you: at this point on this path, what are my constraints and conditions?" Also, "what can't I do?" (Plus: do you show the reader that so that they have a sense of how far they've gotten through the potential of a text?)

There are some big challenges with the Thespis approach. It requires knowledge of the text; it is authorial only. Since it's drawing from a pool of lexia, the text itself must be compelling or the reader starts playing it like a game because the conditions become the focus of reading. If you can see where you're going and where you're not, a game develops around getting places.

In the metaphorical setting of thespis, what about false cards? Cards that a reader should play, but which reconfigure the goals like a game of Fluxx. At this point the people at the table wanted a way to see that possibility, a way to communicate loss ("cards you'll never see are..." or "this link has precluded you from...". Doing that discourages a linear text or linear reading. One interface for this might be a sort of possibility graph-- as you play cards your hand grows, shrinks, and eventually dries up. Parts of a map grow dim as they become inaccessible (or read)

There's a distinction between games and hypertext in the outcome. Having the outcome always the same might be bad game design, but good hypertext. It's a matter of agency and identification with the protagonist. The character in a good text, as in a game, must be limited.

Citation

Bernstein, Mark. "Card Shark and Thespis: Exotic Tools for Hypertext Narrative." Mark Bernstein, Talks. 2001. <http://www.markbernstein.org/talks/HT01.html>.

see also ACM Full Citation