Official Thread: Hypertext
In the first activity for this week you are getting acquainted with HTML, the mark-up language that controls how the information on webpages appear in the browser window. I hope that activity worked for you – let me know if you have any problems or are confused (in some browsers, the ‘view source’ option is a few clicks away now – in Firefox, for instance, you may have to go to the Firefox menu > Web Developer > View page source, or use the Ctrl+U keyboard shortcut).
One of the most important aspects of HTML is that it supports the creation of hypertext links (sometimes also associated with the term hypermedia, when the link involves non-textual material such as sound, images or video). These have a whole range of practical and conceptual uses, some of which are covered in the following discussion questions:
- What is your reaction to the examples of hypertext novels?
- Why do you think that this kind of writing hasn’t really taken off on the Web? (Have you come across any other examples of this before, or tried writing it yourself?)
- How do you normally use hypertext links on the Web, and do you find them more useful in that context?
- Do you ever get lost in the Web?
1. What is your reaction to the examples of hypertext novels?
Hypertext novels? My reaction is “aarrgghh!”
Feelings of extreme disorientation and frustration at trying to figure out which step to take next to read the novel in the sequence it was intended. It definitely makes the novel feel fragmented with an ultimate feeling of weariness for the reader trying to navigate forwards and backwards, trying to recall where they came from, or open the story in multiple tabs to assist with navigating through it.
2. Why do you think that this kind of writing hasn’t really taken off on the Web? (Have you come across any other examples of this before, or tried writing it yourself?)
I think this type of novel hasn’t taken off on the web thus far for some of the reasons I stated above. However, upon further investigation, an author by the name of Paul La Farge has released a hypertext novel of own, entitled Luminous Airplanes. La Farge argues that our current age of technology would be more embracing of hypertext novels – that we are now used to going off on tangents, and are more geared to being “distracted”. He wrote a piece about this very topic for the Salon web site. Interestingly, La Farge finishes his commentary with “In the end, this isn’t a question of what hypertext can do for fiction, or for the novel; it’s a question of what fiction, and in particular the novel, can do for hypertext. Hypertext is here to stay, but the novel’s future may depend on the answer.” Perhaps, as he intimates, it is merely a matter of changing our mindset about the novel?
3. How do you normally use hypertext links on the Web, and do you find them more useful in that context?
I have always used hypertext links for complimentary or supplementary information to what I am reading at the time. I suppose because of my linear habits when reading, I always open such hypertext links in new tabs, so that if I want to return to where I was, all I have to do is close the secondary tab I opened. However, I recognise that my habits are evolving, as I spend a lot of my day on the web for a variety of reasons. I am able to jump about more now, and am not so worried about losing track of where I was, confident about returning to that information if needs be. Or, if the information is truly magnificent and worth returning to repeatedly, I tweet it, as I use Twitter as a personal curation tool – that way, I can definitely return to it later to access/use again, or share with others.
4. Do you ever get lost in the Web?
It is very rare for me to get lost on the web. If I detect poor navigation on a web site (i.e. very wordy, a lengthy read, poor use of white space), I open the hyperlinks in a new browser tab. I suppose that if I were to really find myself lost, I would probably not try and find where I was again, as that would speak volumes to me about the web designer’s UX considerations – I would most likely find myself doing an on-the-spot assessment of whether or not the information presented was truly worth the effort of seeking it out another time.