Tag Archives: Hypermedia Theory

A Possible Anthology

Mark is considering an anthology on reading and writing hypertext. Something like this is sorely needed, as the literature has not been collected, and most outside of the very specific hypertext literary community seem to have very poor models for how to read hypertext. So, as Mark’s asking for proposals, if you have something, get in touch with him.

I think we need an anthology of articles about writing (and reading) hypertext. Have favorites? Email me, even if they’re obvious. Have something in your drawer? Email me, too
[From Greco on Hypertext]

An Archaeologist of the Book

What sort of thing is a book? Imagine if an archaeologist from another time (or planet) arrived and wanted to know what it was. What are the sorts of things that you could and would need to describe and explain? What are its qualities or properties? How would you describe its use: what would a manual for a book have to include?

Here’s a preliminary list:
Pages. Bound. Cover. Title page. ISBN number (they’re all registered). Serial. Page numbers. Index. Table of Contents. Has an author/s. Fixed. Margins. Sentences, paragraphs. Header, footers. Footnotes and references, which point to things that live outside of this book and you have to usually visit special buildings to find them. Can’t change its size. Can’t be edited. Can be marked. Gets worn, a patina. Can be found in a book store, a library (where special people classify, store, and retrieve them, a whole priesthood). If you borrow them there are various protocols you have to follow (return them, don’t mark them). Certain legal property rights are attached to them.

Then I suggested that many, if not most, of the same things apply to a record, a roll of film, a video tape. They’re linear, sequential, fixed, can’t be edited or added to, and so on.

Now, think about all the qualities of a blog. If you use the same list that we used for a book which are the same and which are different? (This gets very interesting because virtually everything is now changed). A simple example. We can use common sense to say that there is writing in a book. It is physically in the book. But writing in a blog. It is not physically on the screen, certainly not like a book, everything on the screen is transitory. Any post can be edited, at any time, even after publication. What appears on the ‘cover’ of the blog changes, a lot. Readers can leave notes that other readers (all other readers) can actually see. There is no ‘one copy’. It is stored in a database (in the case of wordpress) and so each page only ever exists if and when it is requested by a browser. The pages have variable dimensions (so they’re not really pages at all, not sure why we even call them pages…). And so on. Finally, they are made up of short bits (posts) so that each post pretty much makes sense by itself. While a book is made up of short bits (sentences) and each sentence makes sense by itself, there is a very strong sense that it gets most of its meaning from what came earlier, and even what comes later. Yet I can read a blog post without having to read the entire blog, which is why it is possible for me here to pull in posts from 70 other blogs and things still pretty much still make sense. Imagine grabbing paragraphs from 70 different books and then expecting the parts, and the whole, to still make sense?

Now, the problem for you all, and you should blog this, is what would have to happen to video and or audio to move from being more or less book like to being more or less blog like? In other words if we claimed that most of our video and audio online is, at the moment, closer to a book than a blog, what would have to be different for it to become more like a blog?

Small Pieces

This is self quotation or possibly self plagiarism. In drafting a post (not published yet) about the sort of media practice my students, Seth, and I will be exploring this semester I wrote:

In this media stories happen not in the individual works, but between them, by the relations we can establish, create and compose between them.

Decided it was worth repeating all by itself.

Storyspace for MacOS X

Mark Bernstein wonders out aloud in his blog about my earlier comments on Storyspace for OS X:

Tinderbox does give you more export options, though, and the presence of those export options might in fact be a hurdle. Knowing that you might be destined for HTML can lead to to start working on graphic design too early, before you really get down to writing, perhaps before you’re certain that there’s something to be written. More than once, I’ve been left with a nice design for a project that didn’t pan ou

I don’t actually have a real answer. I know perfectly well what Mark means, and that I could write an essay in Tinderbox just as easily as in Storyspace. I’m not sure if I prefer Storyspace because that is where I started, and familiarity breeds comfort (and ease), or if it is that very close to the surface in Tinderbox there are lots (and I mean lots) of things that you could do. Add user attributes, color the nodes, write an agent, decide you should add some attributes to help structure things. Before I know it I’m writing a Tinderbox document not an essay. In Storyspace I don’t have this problem. There are links, there are guard fields. If I’m using Storyspace to get to the web then the guard fields don’t even come into it. So it isn’t that I start designing in Tinderbox for HTML presentation but that I start fiddling inside Tinderbox itself. Why? Because it is so close to the surface, I know it is there, I now how to ‘turn them on’. I guess in my hypertext text tool box I have two key tools, Storyspace and Tinderbox, and I keep using them as two separate tools (as any good tradesperson ought).

Media Paucity

Once upon a time there was broadcast media. Broadcast media owned access to a very scarce resource called spectrum, or sometimes cable. This resource was scarce because you could only send one thing at a time – so to be successful you needed to saturate that channel with continuous broadcasting. This was further developed so that programming mirrored (and constructed) a diurnal pattern of content delivery that wove itself into familial, domestic schedules. As a consequence of this access to these channels is extremely valuable. If I am a television maker then I require access to this highly constrained channel, without it I have no product.

(This is much like supermarket shelves, which are also highly constrained and notoriously expensive – if your product can’t get access to those shelves, it’s dead. It is very simply a retail model of product.)

Access to this channel defines commercial practice. Prime time earns more than midnight, and there is the corresponding assumption that producing for prime time will cost more than producing for after midnight. This is an economy media paucity, not because there is not a lot of media being made, but because the possibilities for publication are so highly limited (movie screens, television stations).

These days are now gone. With the rise of networked delivered media this economy of scarcity is erased. This has enormous implications for professional media practice because now media consumers (you and I) experience an excess of media – in exactly the same way that we now have an excess of information. Because of this access to excess, of an any-media-whatever-whenever media professionals are now in a media field that is saturated by all comers. In this environment, what is it that professionals have that ensures that their material would be viewed before or instead of anyone elses? If you don’t have an answer to that I’d be worried.

Storyspace For OS X.

Mark has announced the release of Storyspace 2.5 for OS X. This is very good news, this is the first real hypertext program I used, quite a few years ago now, and is what I used to teach hypertext theory with in my first full time years. It is software that I am very fond of. I find it very easy to write in, much easier than Tinderbox (which I tend to use to collect information in, but not for writing longer pieces). I’m looking forward to getting this, and once again writing hypertext, hypertextually. (That is, writing in a purely hypertext environment where my practice is concerned with writing, and writing as hypertext. Design, which is what happens when I write in html, can come later. In Storyspace things get pared down, words, links, nodes, link structures, maps.) A return to basics for me, but also to get back into a writing that embraces the nitty gritty materiality of thought and an embedded or embodied hypertextual practice. Where structure emerges through writing, and where the rowdy complexity jostling of my thought is given permission to be rowdily jostled.)