Book and hypertext

Books need not be so linear as supposed by some hypertext theorists, and expository and argumentative books are not always read in the linear mode more characteristic of novels and narratives.

However, even if the organization of a book or the way it is read is not strictly linear, most books strive for a kind of clarity that is aimed at a reader who will read page by page through the physical object.

I found that working with the Sprawling Places project in both book and hypertext forms put pressure on the hypertext to be organized more like the presentation of the argument in the book. (An early attempt to give the book version a hypertext flavor met with little acceptance.)

There is a tension between wanting to argue for conclusions and wanting to offer the reader open paths for exploration and inquiry. While in the overall project it would have been easier to have the book version do the first and the hypertext version the second, I wanted to experiment with having each version do both tasks.

In the hypertext, points are argued, then qualified, then linked to other points. Distant parts of the hypertext are put in relation to one another. The linking is arranged so that readers may find themselves jumping to a second region before they have finished the first; they should see the argument coming into focus gradually as a whole, rather than make one step perfectly clear and then advancing to the next step, which is the way the book proceeds.

The book was written in parallel with the early stages of the hypertext, and my effort to give the book a clear argumentative structure tended to spill over into the hypertext. There was a fine linear arrangement already set up. It began to press on the hypertext, pushing it towards what I called elsewhere a "pyramid outline." This began to push the hypertext toward a more linear structure. I resisted this pressure by putting in many cross links among regions and creating "tangles" of links within each region. I hoped that this would encourage a gradual and growing familiarity with the whole rather than a tight step-by-step progression. Argumentative texts also, it seems to me, demand some variation in the number of links per page.

I also added to the argumentative and expository sections a large number of descriptive nodes narrating scenes from places relevant to the discussion. But these narrative sections presented issues of their own about linearity and link patterns.