Intro to HyperText

Hypertext? Why talk about hypertext? No one's thought very much about hypertext in years, let alone written a series of blog posts about hypertext, who cares?

Well I do, and since I foot the bill around here, I'm going to. So there.

Actually, as I was writing the productivity series, I realized that one of my personal productivity goals of the past year or so has been to be as compleatly paperless as I can mange. The less paper I have, the less there is to move, and this means that (theoretically) I can be better organized. The truth is that as a result of this drive to remove paper from my "workflow" I've collected a sizeable number of PDF files (a gigabyte or so). Though I'm a huge proponent of PDF (I suppose there will be more on this in the future), PDF files are effectivly "digital paper," and while more useful, they behave and function just like paper. Thus I've come to believe that this isn't a digital revolution, but really moving from one bad system to one that is only marginally more usefull.

I don't think it takes a lot of faith to belive that computer generated text present a lot of very clear benefits over its typeset counterparts. It's easily reproduceable, it's small, it's portable, there are virtually no production or distrobution costs, it's searchable, it's dynamic, and it's enviromental. I'm sure you could come up with a few more on your own as well.And while people do a lot of reading on computer screens (the success of blogs, which revolve primarily around text, are a testiment to this), yet eBooks have not yet proven themselves successful. In this series I want to explore this qunadry a little bit more. What seperates paper from pixels in practice? in terms of production and consumption?

While I will gladly accept that eBook technology is not yet fully developed--and Cory Doctrow is compleatly right that DRM presents a major road block to this development--there is another piece of the "electronic literature" puzzel missing. In an effort to explore what this piece(s) is/are, I think a renewed conversation about hypertext/hypermedia is worthwhile.

In addition to being digital, hypertext is characterized by Theodor Holm Nelson as having a non-linear structure created by "links," much like the links that we see throughout this website and by inclusions or transclusions, where in (potentially dynamic) blocks of text are pushed through into other refering pages. We see some of this on the internet these days, thanks to the fairly standard use of dynamic markup lanauges like PHP. I don't mean to suggest that this series will be a study of hypertext on the internet, because my attempt here is to discuss the form and structure of digital text, rather than the network and cultural aspects of the World Wide Web (when was the last time someone called it that?), but clearly there will be some overlap. Nelson (1987) is clearly a large influence on these writing--and in fairness I should note that I'm not anywhere near done with his book, hell I'm not even sure I'm reading Literary Machines correctly--but I think that it goes without saying that the internet itself has changed, and simultaniously changed the way that we operate computers and interact with hypertext(s).

Now that we're on the same page...

This series, I hope will allow us both to explore the practicalities and implications of consuming and producing hypertext. While I am by no means a communications studies expert, or a skilled literary artist, I do read a great deal of digital text, and write a lot of content that never makes it on to paper. And I think about this a fair amount. With luck this will mean something. In addtion to thinking about how hypertext affects reading and writing, I think that we'll aslo tuch upon the impacts on publication and the distrobution of text. This means broaching the DRM subject, and I should say now, that I'm not nearly enough of an expert on this as perhaps I should be, but I think that at least some consideration of the topic is worthwhile and necessary.

I also hope to consider some "emerging" media forms including XML, Wikis, the blog, RSS, Pod/Net/Vid-casts, as they fit into the basic questions of reading and writing text. And I would also be remiss as a blogger if I didn't mention the influence of the discussions in academe regaruding "Open Access" to scholorly publications, as I've been thinking about this series and the articles contained within.

With that, I think that we're sufficently introduced, and I hope that we're all on the same page regarding Hypertext. If you have any interests related to an aspect of Hypertext that I straight out forgot to mention, or have any thoughts, please be in touch. I'll see you all next week with more on this.

Cheers, tycho

comments powered by Disqus