What is effective hypertext?

28 09 2007

There are two things I consider to be important when evaluating the effectiveness of a hypertext: the content, and the design. One of the unique attributes of hypertext is how these two criteria are capable of interacting with each other.

In regard to content, I think the criteria to be effective would be the same as any other literary publication. In other words, the same rules apply to a hypertext novel as a print novel. The reader has certain expectations of plot, perspective, characterization, etc. The medium shouldn’t extricate the author from forming a cohesive story. Similarly in poetry, the conventions of print poems should be adopted. (I’m not really familiar with what these are, but I would assume stanzas, rhyming, etc.) While these standards should be respected, I don’t think they cannot be manipulated. Story arcs need not be in a linear format, from one page to the next, but they do need to be included. Similarly, adding a link to an illustration of a character, or linking a description of a winter forest to a video of snow falling on trees would be further examples. These points become moot, however, if an author is using McLuhan’s perspective of the “medium as message”, by intentionally removing the hypertext from the traditions of print text. At this early stage of literary hypertext creation, I think the process would currently benefit from throwbacks to the old styles of print writing, while gradually evolving as the medium becomes more commonly accepted.

Considering the design of an effective hypertext is difficult. The computing technology used to create hypertexts changes so rapidly, that keeping design standards modern for any period of time becomes tedious. Ten years ago, putting more than a few images into a hypertext may diverted the audience because of download speeds. Today, a web page with nothing but text and 4 colors will drive away readers used to pages adorned with flash animations, video, and billions of colors. So at the most basic level, an effective hypertext design should simply require easy navigation, discernible boundaries, and as visually interesting an interface as possible. These standards are the same for a website using the most basic HTML, to a website using all the latest java, flash, xml, and whatever new advances come along.

The overlap of content and design is the point at which hypertext has the greatest possibilities to be uniquely effective. If a writer can successfully integrate the way a page looks with what the page is trying to communicate, then hypertext becomes a very interesting departure from the printed medium.

-Brian Howell




One response

1 10 2007

Good points, especially on design.

Landow makes a similar point in chapter 5, though he notes that there is a difference between effective informational hypertexts and effective literary ones–mostly having to do with content, and the content-design interaction.

–dr t

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