Word Circuits


Forpaper by Elin Sjurston Johston and Jill Walker
for Messenger Morphs the Media 99

 Our paper for the workshop consists of a description of a hypertext project we're working on as well as a few general points that we're interested in discussing. The word chamber, as we've called the project, is only just beginning to take shape now, although we hope to have made some progress by the time we'll meet in Darmstadt. We know we'll get lots of inspiration and ideas on how to approach this at the workshop!

The intention of the project is to (begin to) express and understand how contact between people is changed by communicating by email and on moos and other virtual places rather than in "real life." We plan to approach this topic from different angles, tying together fragments of writing about our own experiences and short excerpts from fiction and theory about communication between individuals.

When the reader enters the word chamber, her screen will fill with words that describe emotions and experiences that we encounter when communicating with others in cyberspace. The words are interconnected by lines or perhaps just positioning, but they shift and pulsate according to how the reader moves her mouse among them. Clicking upon different words calls forth longer fragments and thoughts (and fragmented thoughts?) about virtual contact between people. Some of the words in the word chamber will be "distance, writing, words, intimacy, love, hope, never, friends, frustration, sorrow".

One thing we need to think about is how (whether) the nodes "beneath" the initial floating words will be connected to each other. Perhaps words could float throughout the text? Perhaps instead of individual words being links, we could allow certain words to be "pullable," so that the reader can pull words around within each node to create new links? Shall each node or fragment be shown on the same screen as the initial words?

We're interested in how hypertext is spreading into more forms than the "traditional" model where nodes and links are more or less static, and also in how graphical presentation affects the reading of a text. If words in the word chamber are constantly in flux, in motion, does this actually change the experience of reading? Or might they just as well be printed in a book?

  In her paper for this workshop, Deena Larsen asks "Is it important to try to convey meaning in elements other than text? What does this add to a hypertext that we can't get elsewhere?" This is a crucial discussion. While Deena primarily discusses the effect of links, and how they can give meaning, we would like to enlarge the discussion to the visual side of electronic texts as well.

  If you write for the web, or for the screen at all, you are forced to consider how you want your text to look, not only which words you want to use. This not only means we need to be aware of how we use graphics and layout, but it often means we need to figure out more advanced technical solutions. Does this need to spread our attention to several fields (words, images, programming) limit us or free us?

The fusion of the text and the visual, the technical and the theoretical is an important issue to us &emdash; we want to underline the major textual themes in our project by employing visual effects that can add to the reader's experience. In this attempt we expect to be faced with concerns like how to create a project that does not limit the user's own imagination by an overuse of effects &emdash; how can we gently provoke her thoughts and ideas to float in any direction she wishes?

 There are also technical concerns like the practical accessibility of the project online.

By using advanced techniques we might as an unwanted consequence limit the audience of the word chamber; possible problems that might arise here may be issues like:

  • Different behavior in the html code by browsers such as Netscape vs. Internet Explorer
  • The use of plugins, heavy programming and weighty graphics might ruin the viewer's concentration by a long download and/or response time.
  • Too many moving and floating objects on the screen might be too distracting.

  Who is the audience we want to reach? Shall the project be easily accessible for everyone, or is there a particular group we want to reach &emdash; and if so, is this group willing to download the necessary plugins we would like to use? These, and more, are questions we have to consider when piecing The Word Chamber together.

  This makes it is important for us to thoroughly research our technical opportunities; In order to choose the best combination of techniques from the available solutions, we have to consider the needs of our targeted audience. At this moment we are considering Macromedia's Director and Flash (as possible programming tools), as well as advanced html like Cascading Stylesheets and Javascript in addition to graphical applications such as Photoshop.

  The fusion of the technical and theoretical aspect in our project is an attempt to make The Word Chamber a highly interactive chamber; the readers experience when using The Word Chamber is aimed to be a creative one as well as a reflecting one. The aim here is not so much to teach the reader something specific as it is to engage in the act of communication, where the user herself can determine how to participate, and what to derive from it.

  We're looking forward to seeing other people's projects, and to discussing all these issues and more.  



Contact site director Robert Kendall at kendall@wordcircuits.com.
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