The issue of typed links

The overall pattern of the project's hypertext has complexly linked nodes forming tangled regions that are linked in less complex ways to other regions. The regions fall into two large groups: expositions and narrative scenes. Several different voices appear in these regions and scenes.

The visual design will vary the color scheme on different sorts of pages, so that readers will have a better sense of where they are. But should more be done to help readers locate themselves and know where links might lead them?

This raises the issue of typed links. For instance, should links indicate the various voices? My decision was against that scheme, since I wanted the voices to collide and not be separated out.

A second possible use of typed links was to indicate paths appropriate to different purposes and different sorts of readers. Though this was part of the original plan, in the end I felt that it would be better to offer the reader a highly linked space to explore but not marked roads that tried to predefine the available types of readings.

A third use of typed links, however, remains a possibility. This would be a set of navigational types indicating whether a link will stay within the current region or move the reader into a different region.

As Richard Kopak points out (Kopak 1999), there are at least two different kinds of information that a reader might want when deciding which link to follow. One is the nature of the destination, the other is the discursive move or discourse function the link is asserting between the two nodes. While in general I agree with Kopak that discourse function is the more useful, in the project with its multiple regions, navigational information about the location and kind of node on the other end of the link would seem most immediately useful to a reader.

I first experimented with simple markings: Links staying within a region were unmarked, links to other regions of the same general sort (narrative, exposition) were marked by an appended "*", and links to the other sort of text were marked by an appended "#".

This seemed more visually confusing than useful. For the final version, my tentative plan is to assign titles to links, which would appear as tips when the reader has the mouse hover over a link.

This present essay uses such link titles, but has no fixed set of types. Writing this essay I found myself adding types beyond the kind of information suggested by Landow (Landow 1991) and Carter (Carter 2000). Some link titles offered chances for ironic commentary. This proliferation of uses for link titles -- even in a short essay such as this -- continues and extends the multiplication and inconsistent usage long discussed in the literature. (See Bernstein 2000 and his discussion of the history of typed links.)

I remain undecided whether to use link types at all, but am moving towards doing so. My fear, though, is that even in a minimal navigational form (such as my original three types) they might warn readers away from cross links, pushing the reader toward a "finish one section at a time" approach and so decreasing the mixing and collision of sections that I hope to bring about. The book structure would win again. On the other hand, evidence from reader comments indicate that typed links might be useful.

Do typed links increase or restrict the freedom of the reader? Do they increase or restrict the ability of the author to create complex linked structures? Do they indicate to the reader which links can be safely ignored? Would such indications increase the reader's freedom or insulate her from literary effects? But should such worries lead the author to leave the reader without guidance as to what kind of jump a link will make?