He read both versions
Someone read both the book manuscript and an earlier version of the hypertext, which had a few but not all the navigation devices of the new version. He said:
As for the difference between formats, I find that the essay style presents a more compelling argument, but I think this is only because the hypertext suffers from two formal defects. First, it's a bit too fragmented in its presentation. Sometimes when I'm reading a web page, I'll note a connection to an idea touched on in an earlier page, but it can be difficult to figure out where that earlier page is, especially if I've traversed more than about a dozen pages. Larger chunks of text . . . would allow an idea to be more fully developed without having to click through several pages.
Related to this, the addition of more sophisticated navigational tools would make the hypertext more manageable. You have some fine insights into the nature of place and urban poetics, but they're effectively buried in the website. If you had a powerful search function, a path-finding tool (some way to make and save paths through the hypertext), and perhaps a few other tools, I think the hypertext would be much effective as a persuasive piece (though perhaps that's not your intention).
I have to say that I really enjoy the intertextuality of the web version. In many ways, the presentation comes off as being playful. One doesn't read it straight through; one surfs. The form itself encourages us to experience the material this way: a few paragraphs on Disney World, then a few on place grammar, then a few on Tokyo. How did I end up reading about this?!? It's frustrating sometimes because individual pages don't always feel like they're leading up to anything; and one can't peek ahead to read the conclusion in order to understand how and why a given digression fits into the larger framework. For this reason, it's almost impossible to consume more than a few pages a time. In a way, one can only surf.
Although I can consume and digest much larger and more satisfying chunks of the essay version, it lumbers by comparison. You (the author) have obviously been forced to present the material in some kind of order; sometimes the choice seems arbitrary. Which it is to some extent. I might have chosen to treat your topics in a different order. The hypertext version permits me the freedom to explore the topics in many different orders; but longer excursions into the hypertext leaves me feeling a bit disoriented. Is it possible to remain oriented within a network of ideas, yet leave enough wiggle room to play freely and joyfully?
The reader would like more navigation to cut down the "piecemeal" quality, but he enjoys the intertextual and playful effects of the web version. He reads to discover how each piece "fits into the larger framework," but he also wants to create paths of his own. In other emails he takes up, extends, and disputes points made in the hypertext, and relates them to other authors, so the text does seem to be stimulating thought in ways I had hoped. My linking patterns have been partly successful.
On the other hand, this reader would prefer longer more self-contained pages. This suggests that for him the link patterns are too confusingly intertextual, and argues for link typing that would enable cross-links to be consciously chosen.
Page length is a difficult issue. I tend to make individual nodes (lexias, pages) short to avoid producing a series of linked mini-essays. George Landow's Victorian Web shows the strength of that model for presenting extensive research, but I have been trying to write a single complex text.
About a third of the nodes in the large project contain less than a hundred words. (The example included in this essay includes a number of very short nodes.) My earliest hypertexts were written not for the web but for presentation in Storyspace, which encourages short nodes in multiple windows open together. Perhaps I need to outgrow that habit, though I've liked it as a mode of emphasis that stimulates thought.
I worry about readers' willingness to scroll down long pages. Also, the visual design for this project's web site will work best if individual pages are not more than four or five hundred words long. The average for the large project is 200 words, but with many outliers in both directions.
(This page, by the way, is the longest in this essay; it contains 851 words. The average for this essay, not including the examples from the Sprawling Places hypertext, is about 200 words. Only seven pages contain more than 500 words. I have deliberately varied the length of the nodes in this essay so that readers can judge for themselves the effects of the differing lengths.)