Reading Hypertext Gardens

Mark Bernstein
25 Feb 2015

Hypertext Gardens

HG and Price

Bernstein states the central matter on his first page. And in the way he violates Price's ideas of linking from the first, he sets up differences:

The attention of the audience is a writer's most precious possession, and the value of audience attention is seldom more clear than in writing for the Web. The time, care, and expense devoted to creating and promoting a hypertext are lost if readers arrive, glance around, and click elsewhere.

Price would agree with that - but not with the solution. That solution is a link that MUST be followed to continue reading. That's a significant gesture: by clicking, you agree, SUBMIT your order.
How can the craft of hypertext invite readers to stay, to explore, and to reflect?

That text links to B's thesis/central idea/statement of purpose on the destination page:
In learning to hold the reader's attention, we may seek guidance from the literary arts, from narrative theory and criticism. Like creators in any new field, however, hypertext authors should look to many disciplines for forms, techniques, and insights. Lessons from literature are found in "Patterns of Hypertext" and "Chasing our Tales"; here, I explore how architecture and landscape design might guide us in crafting hypertexts.

And at this point, we HAVE to follow a link again. We also have to CHOOSE which one to follow.

There's a stylistic flaw in the last sentence. "Here" isn't emphatic enough to suggest that it means, "Here, in this hypertext essay." That's not a link problem. It's a problem of emphasis and reference.

Price's advice overlooks the idea that a link is primarily a rhetorical element. A reader is persuaded to use the link or not by the writer. The link in Price is most often a distraction from a straight-and-narrow pursuit for the end of the reading. It is not something can be used rhetorically to deepen the reader's understanding, engagement, or attention to the text and ideas.

To get to this idea, we can walk through some choices, to see how links can be used rhetorically, and to see how using links is a rhetorical move, that constructs a reader of the hypertext, just as any text does. The success of the text depends on how willing and how able, a reader is to engage that roll - again, just as it is in any text.

I'll walk through some of this reading, watching for
link text to page title disjuncts
where the link is embedded
link choices offered

What is B arguing

B is arguing for looser and alternative structures in hypertext - right across the board: NOT just in "creative" text but ALL hypertexts including research and academic texts. That is, his ideas are based on looking at expository texts, such as scholarly texts, that make arguments.

From the conclusion

"designers should strive for the comfort, interest, and habitability of parks and gardens: places that invite visitors to remain, and that are designed to engage and delight them, to invite them to linger, to explore, and to reflect."

He places as central point for his argument on its own page - which tells the reader to focus on it AND violates Price's advice.

Central to his argument is the page The Limits of Structure. We'll start this reading at that page.

"The structural rigidity that makes navigation simple and ubiquitous, though it gives a hypertext the appearance of efficiency, can make that hypertext seem sterile, inert, and distant. ... Rigid structure is often promoted for its efficiency and cost-effectiveness, particularly for large Web sites, but excessive rigidity can be costly:"

"Overly-efficient traversal may benefit neither the author nor the reader. A hypertext catalog, for example, is not merely a reference database; merchants want to give readers opportunities to discover things they need or want, including items the reader has never seen. Shoppers learn of new and useful things and find unexpected ways to meet their needs. Supermarkets and museums, similarly, serve both customers and proprietors by offering more than visitors expect. Efficient traversal provides the information readers think they want, but may hide information readers need."

This is a premise the B sets against each and all of four other ideas as indicated by links at the bottom of the page. Lesson: the page is the setting for the hypertext.

By "set against" I mean, CAN BE or MUST BE READ IN OPPOSITION to one another. Each selection suggests a different kind of opposition:

B places one link as emphatic:

In counterpoint to the argument for structure, we get the premise that "the artful combination of regularity and irregularity ... awakens interest and maintains attention." That is, structure doesn't do what it claims: It doesn't waken interest and maintain attention. Artful design maintains attention.
"Today's Web designers are taught to avoid irregularity, but in a hypertext, as in a garden, it is the artful combination of regularity and irregularity that awakens interest and maintains attention.

"Rigid design considers irregularity a mistake to be corrected. Each place should behave exactly as expected, each path should be clearly marked, and a few familiar paths should suffice for all."

B uses some traditional argument structures: 3 bullets on The Limits of Structure page, typical of number of arguments, and they are arranged climatically.

But he's also using single pages to emphasize points, and to lead to elaboration of the point.

Virtue of Irregularity brings up "rigid design" and highlights "exactly as expected" - that creates an enthymeme - which leads to node Shapes of Space, which highlights the link "the promises of the unexpected." The "promise of the unexpected" finishes the promise in the link text with the node title Unexpected Delight. (This last is an example of pragmatic rhetoric. See Austin, How To Do Things with Words) (The enthymeme has got be one of the ideal arguments for hypertexts. A premise is left out, which can then be filled by the writer placing links, or refusing to place them.]

What's as important is the content of the node Virtue of Irregularity and how it's structured. First, there are no in-text links. Two paras, and the second one is well-structured, but not rigidly -
Rigid design provides | more fluid design offers
Rigid design places | organic design interweaves

Like this
A rigid design might provide identical thumb tabs on each page leading to the hypertext's entrances;

a more fluid design might always offer both some consistent choices and some choices unique to each writing space.

Where a rigid design places separate, stand-alone items within a navigational shell,

an organic design might interweave relevant sections, enhancing an old section by providing a new path to new material or showing how a new contribution illuminates or responds to another page.

This fluidity helps break monolithic articles and white papers into smaller, more natural units, pieces of writing that can be reread and relinked in new and unexpected contexts.

Sidebar on Rigid design
B mentions "rigid design" in the text but he does not link it. That's a little odd because he also has a node dedicated to rigid design, linked from "interesting things await us" on the node Gardens and Paths.
"Rigid hypertext is streetscape and corporate office: simple, orderly, unsurprising. We may find the scale impressive, we admire the richness of materials, but we soon tire of the repetitive view. We enter to get something we need: once our task is done we are unlikely to linger. We know what to expect, and we rarely receive anything more."

It's important to note that B DOESN'T link the use of "rigid design" in text to the Rigid Design node. He could have - he even should have - the opportunity is there. But he doesn't. Surprise.

Hypertext Gardens along the top of every page has two links
The word Hypertext leads to the beginning of the essay
The word Gardens leads to the node Seven Lessons (alluding to 9 Lessons and Carols - religious lessons, and using mystical 7).

The 7 lessons are in a formal register: lest, visitors, amid. Most seem to be in the imperative, as lessons are.

7 Lessons are his equivalent of Price's advice to writers - and, markedly, TO READERS.

We get to 7 lessons in two ways: by completing a reading of the text reading or by unknowingly clicking the head link. Surprise.

This Seven Lessons leads to Conclusion, and a full list of the top level nodes. The conclusion is a summary and restatement of the opening. This is a weak node in an emphatic place.

Advice in HT

We're setting HT against the advice of Price. Where is the advice in HT? What nodes? How do we get there? There are 7 Lessons, but that is not the only node containing advice.

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