Production of Hypermedia Ethnography some afterthoughts
Afterpaper by Bruce
Mason and Bella
for Messenger Morphs the Media
So what did we gain from the workshop? We both
learnt new things and were inspired to learn more. It
was also a reassuring experience, since to date we've been
working on this project without much insight into how other
people were using hypertext, and our work has been thowing
up all kinds of issues. Going to the workshop made us
realise that these problems are generic to the field and not
the result of unique incompetence. Some of the issues that
we highlighted and which we're still grappling with:.
- Big Nodes. Our interviews are often huge and
need to be broken into several nodes at a time.
This has implications for linking. For example most
hypertexts tend to assume that everything in the node
will fit on the screen at once so as long as the link
opens up the node that's OK. In our case, the data,
is intensively linked and we need to be able to bring it
up on the screen when linked to and current hypertext
systems (other than HTML ironically) don't like that.
- Hypermedia. Our work is strongly multi-media
based and linking between media is problematic.
This was contextualised for us at a tutorial by Linda
Hardman (developer involved with SMIL) who noted that
some media are time-based and others space-based which
means that hypermedia linking is extremely difficult to
So,in no particular order, here are some of the issues
that arose out of the experience of meeting up with other
writers. Just to be provocative the "I" may be either Bruce
or Bella or both of us. Guaranteed that it refers to
someone whose name begins with a 'b.'
- Simplicity can be a virtue. One of the
hypertexts demonstrated had a simple 'hit return and see
the next page' navigational model, which was very
sparsely linked. I found that provocative and
useful, as I had previously been working feverishly to
make everything I do as complex as possible. I
suspect that my work really did have "too many notes."
- Allied to the above is the importance of "base
paths." Jill Walker's discussion of
Afternoon was useful in that it brought home the
need for a default path through any hypertext. I
had tried to read Afternoon several times and
given up because I kept frantically clicking.
Learning to relax and hit return was vital for me as a
reader but also something I'm trying to remember as an
author to stress to future readers. Must remember
that hypertext is hard to read if you don't know what's
- Structure. I was intrigued by Deena's
Samplers as she uses "map views" as part of her
design. Similarly Kolb explores the need for and
type of structures. I came out of that workshop
with a deep fascination for cycles (or spirals maybe) and
pyramids and that has helped to structure our
project. It potentially has enough "orbits" now
that it's in danger of disappearing up Uranus, but I'll
avoid that joke.
- Post-structure. On the other hand I was most
impressed with Wendy's re-presentation of Monstrous
Angels. That deliberately collapsed, blurred
and otherwise confused all kinds of structures. I
think MA has played a large part in convincing me
that hypertext really does have something worthwhile to
add to academic argumentation.
- Links. Lots of food for thought about
links. We had already realised that links need to
be "motivated", i.e. that a link has to be
meaningful. The workshop opened our eyes to "link
technology" and the vast range of possibilities for
links. In general, we're fascinated now by the
narrative, lyrical or even subversive potentials for
links. Although our current project is quite
conservative in many ways, we might be inspired to add in
a little link deviance every now and then...
- Encouragement. It's easy to get quite
disenchanted by hypertext when working by yourself. This
workshop reinvigorated both of us.
We think that it would be really useful to try and set up
a non-fiction strand within the workshop. The annual
increase in numbers at the Hypertext Writers Workshop may,
in any case, require it to be restructured into smaller
groups. At the conference as a whole, we met several
people working in non-fiction and academic hypertexts.
Although there are many shared links when it comes to
fiction and non-fiction, there are also some quite different
foci of investigation. We suspect that the time has
come to put some serious effort into progressing the field
of non-fiction/scholastic hypertexts. We would be happy to
work together with other non-fiction writers in planning
such a strand. Any suggestions gratefully received.