Word Circuits


The Production of Hypermedia Ethnography some afterthoughts
Afterpaper by
Bruce Mason and Bella Dicks
for Messenger Morphs the Media 99


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 achieve.

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 going on.
  • 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.



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