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#ht09: some thoughts on hypertext

Just to unload somewhere the ideas coming from conversations at Hypertext 2009 and reading an advance copy of Reading Hypertext (thanks, Mark!) on the way back.

[I’m not an expert in hypertext as a field of study and these are my “thinking aloud” notes when trying to understand it].


I think it makes sense to distinguish between

  • hypertext as a presentation format – e.g. what we encounter on the web
  • hypertext works – e.g. hypertext fiction, written to use the format to impact readers in specific – not always predictable – ways by (probably intentionally) connecting presentation-plot-story into a whole
  • conceptual hypertext – the conceptual principles of how it works/could work and why that is interesting and valuable


There was some discussion on difficulties of reading hypertext and the rightful comment by Mark that it shouldn’t be something special since people somehow manage to deal with reading the web. I don’t think that the hypertext as a presentation format is a problem, but from what I’ve seen/read so far it seems that reading hypertext works might be. The challenge is very much about cognitive model (re: Reading Hypertext, chapter 5 by Lowe, I’m only half way through it!) that requires more conscious reading (probably coming from the need to keep all three panels Lowe describes active at the same time to be able to get the story).

I can imagine that in some cases there is also conceptual overhead and usability overhead: the need to understand the principles behind hypertext (=some of what I call conceptual hypertext) and the learning needed to adjust reading behaviour to the particular hypertext system. I’d suggest that it’s those things that could make reading hypertext works difficult for those who don’t have a problem of dealing with hypertext presentations.


We had a few interesting conversations about weblogs and hypertext. I don’t have any problems agreeing that a weblog is hypertext when we talk about hypertext-as-presentation-format, but woludn’t equate blogging to writing hypertext works. There is more to think and to write about in this respect, but what I think matters most is the (lack of) intentionality in blogging, focus on an individual rather than a story and the time, telling bits and pieces about various stories as they unfold, so there is no way of knowing that the something that appears in the text today will actually fire later the way Chekhov’s gun does.


Wondering if those who build hypertext tools are busy more with conceptually perfect tools rather than those that serve a purpose/easy to use/fit with the rest of things people do online.


Since I was asked a couple of times about it I’ll probably come up with what tools I might need as a blogger, but I can already say that I don’t need tools. I need plug-ins and mashups that use conceptual hypertext ideas to turn what I already have on my weblogs into something that works better for me and/or those who come across it.

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  • Chris July 8, 2009, 05:09

    I’m curious if you could elaborate on the conflict you see between conceptually good tools and, um, useful ones? Are you thinking of tools that espouse a particular philosophy of how hypertext should work, and constrain authors accordingly? Or are you more concerned with how they would influence how readers will interact with the text? … Or something else? It’s an interesting point and, since I’m wasn’t there, I’m wondering whether there was much discussion about it.

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