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Currents: An E-Journal Realism and a General Economy of the Link

by Adrian Miles 
InterMedia UiB and RMIT 

Currents in Electronic Literacy Spring 2001 (4), < 

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Much of the writing on navigation and rhetorical architecture in hypertext appears to treat the context of reading and writing as null conditions, that is, that the meaning or status of what is read remains neutral in the face of different readers performing different readings. This might appear surprising, given that a great deal of hypertext theory is written by humanities scholars who know something of the role of context in writing and interpretation, but it appears that hypertext linking has assumed no more status than that of a neutral connection. This seems to reflect an instrumental understanding of communication flow in which a message is encoded for a sender to receive and decode, and in such a model an emphasis is placed on the exclusion of "noise" which would hinder the successful transmission and reception of this message.

Hayles has extensively explored the theoretical assumptions of communication as information and its relevance to contemporary electronic cultures and literature (Hayles, Chaos Bound, Posthuman). It is worth noting the affinity between an emphasis on the preservation of transparency in the movement of information, and the similar emphasis on transparency in hypertext design considered in terms of link architectures. When Nielsen writes

Links are the most important part of hypertext: They connect the pages and allow users to go to new and exciting places on the Web. There are three main forms of links:

< li>Structural navigation links. These links outline the structure of the information space and allow users to go to other parts of the space. Typical examples are home page buttons and links to a set of pages that are subordinate to the current page[.]

< li > Associative links within the content of the page. These links are usually underlined words (although they can also be imagemaps) and point to pages with more information about the anchor text.

< li > See Also lists of additional references. These links are provided to help users find what they want if the current page isn't the right one. Considering the difficulty of navigating the Web, users are often saved by a well chosen set of See Also links. (Web Usability, 51)

It is apparent that the use value of the link is only in relation to its role as an informational marker or indicator and that its context is neutralised by the redundant nature of the link origin (Landow and Nielsen's "rhetoric of departure") but also in the work the link is understood to perform in its passage of connection.

Currents: An E-Journal