Hypertext structure and annotation  10/5/04

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.