Navigation devices

A standard navigation solution is to provide devices that give a vision of the whole and suggest to the reader regions or nodes that might otherwise be missed. In the case of literary hypertexts, such devices can work against the author's goals. But it is usually assumed that navigation aids are a good thing for expository and argumentative hypertexts. Is this always true?

The Sprawling Places hypertext has a navigation bar on the right with collapsible headings containing a great deal of detail. There may also be maps.

This short essay you are reading now has been deliberately overloaded with navigation devices: there are index links, a set of machine generated links to "nearby" nodes, a "major issues" page, plus different kinds of link typing that appear when the mouse hovers over a link. Some links are labelled by their destination, some by their rhetorical connection, some with comments on the text.

The web convention of marking "visited" links may undermine devices that depend on listing links, because the reader may not pay attention to the structural pointers but only to finding an unvisited page.

This essay hardly needs all the machinery, but it demonstrates how navigation devices can both help and hinder expository hypertext. It also shows the difficulty and potential arbitrariness of the decisions that go into setting up navigation devices that can guide or confuse the reader.

That these issues are not easily resolved is clear from the comments from readers of the project hypertext, or of both versions.

The underlying issues have to do with an author's goals, and their relation to the creativity of readers.