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Is Hypertext Literature Dead?

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the 1-for-yes-2-for-no-3-to-start-over dept.

Books 208

First time accepted submitter dylan_k writes "In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a lot of buzz about ideas like 'hypertext literature' and 'electronic literature.' Nowadays, it's easier to create those things than ever before, and there are plenty of digital texts but it just doesn't seem like authors are writing any new 'hypertext' literature these days. Why?"

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Pet Food (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158631)

There was buzz about delivery pet food too.

Just because there's buzz, doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Re:Pet Food (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158663)

Just because there's buzz, doesn't mean it's a good idea.

I had not even heard of the term 'hypertext fiction' until I looked at the Wikipedia article. I thought he was talking about the New York Times. I can't imagine trying to either write it or read it as a novel. Basically it's a text based computer game. Apparently there isn't a whole lot of interest in same.

Re:Pet Food (3, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158889)

Quite frankly I find reading hypertext manuals and the like a lot more difficult than straight serial text with footnotes and references. But at least there's some justification for "click here to get more information on..." In fiction, it just makes things more awkward and hard to follow. It becomes a horrible distraction.

Re:Pet Food (4, Informative)

Solandri (704621) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159185)

The problem with hypertext manuals IMHO stems from viewing them with what's effectively a single-threaded reader. I run Firefox with the Tree Style Tab [] extension, which organizes my tabs much like early threaded newsgroup readers a couple decades ago. This is perfect for reading HTML manuals. If I want to delve more deeply into a links on a page, they open up in new tabs all sorted by hierarchy. Reading hyperthreaded Linux manuals in Firefox is a joy. Reading Microsoft manuals in their outdated help app is a pain.

Re:Pet Food (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159385)

"Tab Kit" also has an optional vertical tree that loks like what you mention and can color tabs by domains... but without trying out your suggested extension, I concede that it is superior because it saves history visually.

I strongly dislike having to hold-click the back button to see which tab has my session history and which were just spawned as New tabs by shift-clicking.

Re:Pet Food (2)

Garridan (597129) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158931)

Give it time... e-readers have this capability, and somebody may yet make the interface not suck.

Re:Pet Food (1)

savi (142689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158993)

Good point. If I want a text based computer game, I'll play [] (such a cool game).

Re:Pet Food (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159671)

I don't see why. There's already a whole genre of fiction just like this: interactive fiction or choose your own adventure hypertext games. Whole novels are written with the reader as participator in mind. These are less popular with the advent of modern graphics, but have a cult following and an enormous catalog of titles.

One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158641)

What part of "Wikipedia" don't you understand?

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (1)

boarder8925 (714555) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158659)

If you consider a catalog of information to be Literature, then yes, Wikipedia is Literature.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158707)

Considering how much fiction is on Wikipedia, I think the man's question is valid.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158775)

All information is data, but not all data is information. You're better off with a random number generator than Wankerpedia.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (2)

aix tom (902140) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158975)

Well, I for one consider "Literature" to be a narrative flow set out by the author, that I enjoy following. So "Hypertext Literature" is not dead or alive, it's an oxymoron.

"Literature" in itself of course *maybe* just evolved in a day and age where it was the only technical means to convey either storytelling or discussion. Which both have a feedback from the audience. And I think "Hypertext Discussion" is pretty alive today, and there might be good ways to create hypertext storytelling experiences.

In "storytelling" for example, the storyteller just telling the "and then the prince arrived on his mighty stallion" might be interrupted by the question "when was the stallion born and where?" by someone in the audience. *THAT* could be implemented quite good in hypertext.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159123)

In "storytelling" for example, the storyteller just telling the "and then the prince arrived on his mighty stallion" might be interrupted by the question "when was the stallion born and where?" by someone in the audience. *THAT* could be implemented quite good in hypertext.

And I thought effective world-building was both very hard to do right, and very impressive when done right, before you had to anticipate all possible audience questions and have good answers for them.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159197)

In "storytelling" for example, the storyteller just telling the "and then the prince arrived on his mighty stallion" might be interrupted by the question "when was the stallion born and where?" by someone in the audience. *THAT* could be implemented quite good in hypertext.

It could also be implemented quite well by telling the person asking the question to give up with the irrelevant questions. Possibly followed by the application of a captive-bolt gun.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159227)

Well, I for one consider "Literature" to be a narrative flow set out by the author, that I enjoy following. So "Hypertext Literature" is not dead or alive, it's an oxymoron.

You mean you never read those "choose your own adventure" books as a kid, keeping a stack of two or three pages back with your fingers in case Captain Kirk died so that you could pop your way back up the stack and try another path? Now imagine that, but with a back button.

Or perhaps better literature....

I could see this being interesting with an ensemble cast in which you get to choose which people to follow, and you end up reading the story from different perspectives, learning what the other characters were doing from conversations, etc.—one story, many variations.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (4, Informative)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159303)

The best case for Hypertext Literature is the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Those evolved into the old Infocom games which turned into the Sierra games which turned into RPG games which evolved into MMOs. If you want to do Hypertext Literature, pick one of the various forms of evolution and be done with it.

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159451)

"If you want Hypertext literature, play WOW"

Re:One man's Britannica is another man's Dickens (1)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158895)

Other people are complaining that Wikipedia isn't really "literature" because it's non-fiction, so how about [] instead? It does have a passing acquaintance with facts but its primary intent is clearly to entertain.

In fact, according to wikipedia "Texts based on factual rather than original or imaginative content, such as informative and polemical works and autobiography, are often denied literary status, but reflective essays or belles-lettres [] are accepted." So wikipedia says wikipedia may not be literature, but is.

(Note that i'm not going to argue about the quality of, but the question wasn't if any _good_ hypertext literature was being written ;)

It's not dead, it just smells funny. (4, Insightful)

spyked (1878060) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158667)

I don't know if I got the "hypertext literature" bit too well, but I think blogs are literature as much as books. So I don't believe that only because the format is different, "hypertext literature" is in itself dead.

Because it is difficult (5, Interesting)

gshegosh (1587463) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158677)

Maybe human brain is massively parallel at physical level, but it is NOT multithreaded when it comes to consiousness and thinking. It is really hard to write fiction with multiple hyperlinked threads. It is also not very pleasant to read, therefore not much demand and not much supply. Simple.

Re:Because it is difficult (3, Interesting)

jet_silver (27654) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158899)

Yup. Samuel Delany tries a little of this here and there and it not only looks strange, it's also difficult to read. Hyperlinking is throwing off some ideas like multiple finishes to a novel. If it's going to flower as a new art form, it has to start with an idea that is really new and not just an obvious mechanism. It's probably even odds that someone has actually come up with genuinely new fiction that is enhanced a lot by its hyperlinking, and it's sitting on a drive someplace with the creator wondering what it is for.

Re:Because it is difficult (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159093)

That's not the problem. You only have to write/read each thread you choose. The problem is it will take a lot more time and work to create.

Imagine if you had a "choose your own adventure hypertext book" where each page only had 2 different options that don't ever merge. After 16 of these steps you'd have only:
1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256 + 512 + 1024 + 2048 + 4096 + 8192 + 16384 + 32768 + 65536 = 131072 pages to write.

So most authors would eventually merge many paths, but then it starts looking like a linear story. And for what benefit are those paths for? When you go to a restaurant for a good meal you might want some choice, but you don't want a zillion choices. You don't want to choose which herbs go in your dish etc, you want the Chef to make most of the decisions and hopefully you enjoy the final result. So you pick a book, and you hope the author has written stuff that you'd like.

On the other hand, I think it would be interesting if Tolkien was alive today and put his stuff on wikia or something. I might actually pay to access that :). I found the LoTR rather plodding to read. But I can imagine if he had filled a wiki with all of the poems, definitions, languages etc (see the Silmarillion for examples), quite a number of nerds would get lost in it for hours.

Re:Because it is difficult (4, Funny)

colinrichardday (768814) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159521)

1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256 + 512 + 1024 + 2048 + 4096 + 8192 + 16384 + 32768 + 65536 = 131071


Come on, people! This is Slashdot! There is exactly one odd summand of the left-hand side, so the sum must be odd.

Re:Because it is difficult (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159169)

I'm not a native English speaker, so, whenever I find something interesting, a term, a name, a concept etc, I look it up on the internet.

Re:Because it is difficult (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159237)

It is really hard to write fiction with multiple hyperlinked threads. It is also not very pleasant to read

Oh yeah, with this there can be no disagreement. As to that part of fiction that is called literature, I do not think that it is even possible to write it as hypertext.

Literature is a one dimensional thing: one word follows another, one sentence has meaning because of the sequence of sentences that came before it, each chapter or verse can be uniquely identified by a single number: its distance from the beginning. Other uses of language are not so limited: think of organizational charts, flow diagrams, and the like: you can jump in anywhere and have multiple choices of directions to folllow. But these are not literature.

A Euclidean definition of literature could start by saying that a piece of literature has no color, no taste, and no branches. It has only one point of entry, only one place of ending, and only one route between the two. Anything else, like fiction written in hypertext, might be good or bad art, but it is not literature.

We are going to need a new category for the emerging art of constructing pieces of fiction like the blueprints for the Starship Enterprise, the dictionaries and grammar of the Klingon language, and so on. Many of these works are essentially hypertext constructions, and some are quite elegant, definitely pieces of art. But they are not literature; they are representatives of a genre that we have not needed to name before now.

Re:Because it is difficult (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159387)

Speak for yourself. We are quite multithreaded.

Re:Because it is difficult (3, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159503)

Most audiences above the age of 6 just want to be told a story, not to direct it themselves. There just isn't a demand for choose-your-own-adventure storytelling.

Furthermore, there's little excess supply of it because how many writers want to tell stories that way? When I sit down to write a story, it's because I have a plot in mind for it, or at the least a character arc in which the protagonist begins at point A and ends at point Z. The possible detours off to M, Q, and V... just don't interest me.

crap idea (3, Insightful)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158681)

because it's a crap idea, just like choose your own adventure books stop being interesting once you hit puberty and discover girls

Re:crap idea (3, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158823)

... and discover girls

This is /. - please explain. Are they some sort of attachment for your game controller?

yes, yes they are. (3, Funny)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159107)

for certain meanings of 'game controller'

Re:crap idea (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159141)

...girls... yes, that is where the vibrate option of a better hand controller comes in.

Re:crap idea (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159277)

Basically [] .

Re:crap idea (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158867)

To hit puberty and discover girls, go to page 23.

To become a eunuch go to page 82.

To hit puberty and discover unix, go to page 64.

Re:crap idea (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159163)

To become a eunuch go to page 82. To hit puberty and discover unix, go to page 64.

Why would those have different paths?

Clearly you have missed the obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159613)

That if you get to p.64, then it is more likely you will get to p.82

Think man/woman/other!

Re:crap idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158955)

because it's a crap idea, just like MMORPGs stop being interesting once you hit puberty and discover girls


Re:crap idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159131)

Or boys.

Re:crap idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159211) []

Or people who make these sorts of things have moved on to other mediums? Such as youtube, video, games, etc etc etc. Pick a path books were very rudimentary adventure games. You can make a much more interesting story using a game instead...

Adventure style is still there. FPS has just over dominated the landscape. That is starting to change with the 'idea' of 'casual' games. You for a long time were seeing publishers wanting to spend 500k-4 million on a game and would only look at you if you could quadruple that. So the guys who make these sorts of games have started ignoring the established publishing houses and going on it their own.

God (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158685)

God is dead. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158871)

Fuck off.

Was it born? (1)

fph il quozientatore (971015) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158701)

Well, one could argue it was never born in the first place.
[Incidentally, does that make it an abortion?]

There is too such a thing. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158711)

It's called Wikipedia.

Just a hunch... (1)

DreadfulGrape (398188) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158715)

... but I would say lack of money, i.e. no commercial potential. Lots of endeavors are difficult, but if they pay off, great. If not, not so great.

Is there money to be made there? Then I'm in. (1)

Buddy the WIld Geek (978961) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158725)

But I don't think there's money to be made in hypertext fiction. Please, show me I'm wrong, I think I could create some content, but I don't know anyone paying for it.

Re:Is there money to be made there? Then I'm in. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158771)

Two words: Visual Novel

Yes, those Japanese "dating sims" (and Western analogues like the controversially acclaimed Katawa Shoujo) are precisely this. They're not only hypertext literature, they're multimedia. How much more 90s buzzwordy could you get?

for the same reason (2)

superwiz (655733) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158751)

That programs with goto's are not more readable than the ones without them. Programming and writing literature are both exercises in attention span management.

the format isn't well suited to fiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158759)

The main story can't assume that the reader has followed any links before the current sentence, because following links is optional. But good fiction requires more concentration from the reader as opposed to, let's say a news story, and people have super limited time (to steal an apt phrase from Bill Gates) and they usually don't have the patience to go back and follow all the wormholes. Then there's the possibility of broken links.

Maybe a parable (think "One Minute Manager") could succeed as hypertext, where the main story is really just scaffolding. But that hardly even deserves to be called fiction.

Are you blind? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158765)

It's effing everywhere! Even the summary has a freaking hyperlink in it.

Go read a blog or something.

RPGs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158779)

Skyrim, Outcast, ..., all hypertext fiction.

The opposite. (2)

ricky-road-flats (770129) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158787)

I haven't read TFA, but if the summary is anything like right, then they are dead wrong. From very recently, [] []

And more people are reading more than ever before using hypertext - fiction, fact, opinion - every kind of literature you can think of. I think it's called the web, or something.

Re:The opposite. (2)

ricky-road-flats (770129) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158831)

To clarify:

The books that existed before Hypertext came along were the way they were because of the medium. Books are linear, searching is a PITA, pictures were expensive and static..

HTML and related technologies changed that. Many forms of delivering literature have flourished -, and spring to mind of examples of completely different formats of delivering content that can include story-telling, education and much more.

There's more literature out there than there ever has been before, and a lot of it is hypertext. Is all of it good, or high quality, or of lasting value? Of course not. But then there's plenty of dross printed on dead tree too.

Re:The opposite. (3, Insightful)

DThorne (21879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158989)

It's a gimmick, it's like 3D movies and internet-enabled television. While there might be a few success stories(Avatar, Hugo), there are mostly failures(most 3D movies and almost all 'smart' tv). That doesn't mean the success stories have no value, nor does it mean that there won't be more, but does the average reader want literature in the form of a reference work? Nope, just like the vast majority of movie goers don't want the hassle and extra expense of 3D, and the *extremely* vast majority of television buyers just want a great picture and shrug when someone tells them they can share their movie watching habits on twitter at the click of about 5 buttons. It's a format in search of an audience, and has been found wanting. It also complete ignores the fact that the entire point of literature is to chain together words in such an order that it can cause a universal reaction in an audience. All art seeks that universal experience. When you turn it into a wikipedia session, it might be interesting, but that doesn't make it either writing or popular.

This isn't intended to belittle any rare exceptions. It's just that, like evolution, the audience has voted. It's not thriving.

It happened, but it was called "games" (4, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158837)

Things like role-playing games are, in effect, hypertexts with branching narratives. The error that is made by people who write about "literature" is of confusing it with books. As Ray Bradbury observed back in Fahrenheit-451, this isn't about books but the ideas they contain.

The concept of "literature" as purely book-bound started to die when Dickens published as serials in magazines, short stores and bound novels, and also by reading extracts from his work on lecture tours. It was inevitable that ideas like hypertext would find new forms of expression. The premise of the article seems to be as if the car industry had developed by building tractor units to replace horses, and then never got around to the idea of combining them with the passenger wagon. The first motor vehicles were simply tractors. We don't look at the roads now and say "Whatever happened to the idea of pulling carts with engines?"

Because it sucks (3, Interesting)

Telvin_3d (855514) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158847)

Because it turns out that it is great for documentation, hence Wikipedia, but a really lousy way to tell a narrative.

Re:Because it sucks (3, Interesting)

Sique (173459) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159083)

I like to read up historical topics on Wikipedia, and all those branches and different developments and final reunion of history lines are really faszinating and a good read. So yes, hyperlinking can be a very interesting way to tell a narrative, which in turn consists of many different interwoven narratives.

There are also narratives you can easily turn into hyperlinking, so for instance Michael Ende's Never Ending Story [] has lots of points which you could turn into hyperlinks - often there is a substory indicated but not written down, instead you find the sentence: "but this is a different story and shall be told at another time".

Or imagine all those fan fiction written for the likes of Star Trek or Star Wars, which takes some characters and develop a separate story around them - they could have been turned into hyperlinks woven into the main story.

The Silmarillon stories could have been hyperlinks inside of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and the Disk World novels form a large network of stories which are connected by places, names and concepts - and which could be hyperlinked at those connections.

The main problem with that concept is that it is a gargantuan task to write all those sub-plots and sub-stories, make them consistent with the main story, and don't lose your drive. I guess not many writers are productive enough to give it a try.

Re:Because it sucks (1)

guttergod (94044) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159547)

I can't remember who said it, but this brings to mind something I heard on TV (some standup or maybe QI?) some time ago about how the wheel in itself is a less impressive idea than the idea of putting more of them together and using them for transport. Perhaps it's just a question of nobody finding the right format for a "readable" kind of hypertext literature rather than it just being crap? Also, I ask myself if interactive storybooks wouldn't fit under the banner of "hypertext literature" even though it's not technically text, it still is clickable images.

durr fanfics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158861)

Ther'e's literallly over a billion words of hypertext writing on alone.

Every article is hypertext already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158881)

Hard enough to focus on a work without a bunch of links everywhere. That article was very difficult to read. Anyway, any article I read on my browser is "hypertext literature." I just highlight, right click, and and click "Search Youtube now" or "Search Google now" depending on what I have up.

Making those decisions is the writer's job (4, Insightful)

DavidinAla (639952) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158887)

It's really very simple. When you're reading literature, you WANT the writer to have made those decisions. That's the writer's job. The story decisions are the heart of what makes a collection of stories into literature. Otherwise, you're just creating a world and throwing a reader into it to do the work of building his own story. There's nothing wrong with it for the tiny minority who want to do it, of course, but for the vast majority of people, having someone else make those artistic decisions and give them a satisfying story -- with interesting twists along the way before arriving at an interesting end -- is what makes reading literature worth doing. The people who favor the reader-driven plots don't really understand what literature is. As others have pointed out, hypertext stories are simply games. There's nothing wrong with that format, but it's neither fish nor fowl. People who want a good linear narrative story are best served by a traditional book. Those who want an interactive game are best served by graphics-heavy games. Hypertext stories serve a tiny niche that will never grow, IMO.

Very few linear narratives are literature (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159133)

Telling a story is not necessarily literature. Even limiting literature to narrative includes wide variation. The Odyssey comes fairly close to a story but is around 3000 years old. Tristram Shandy, which is an early modern novel, jumps all over the place and the reader has to spend a long time working out exactly what is going on. Moby-Dick gets a lot of its interest from non-narrative digressions, leaving the reader to make his or her own decision about what the plot really means - is the White Whale supposed to represent evil, or is it just a whale doing what a whale does and the plot is about Ahab's disordered mind? Is it about the American tendency* to follow orders even if the person issuing them is crazy (The Caine Mutiny is definitely influenced by Moby-Dick despite its being based on events in WW2)?

And in the last century, Ulysses is a work of literature in which not very much happens and there is little plot, it is just the (frequently very entertaining) account of two very different people wandering around Dublin on 16th. June 1904, and the way in which their paths cross.

There is no reason why a hypertext should not be literature, and the objection only makes sense if you think literature is storytelling - which most of it is not.

* I know people from many other cultures have the tendency to obey orders even from crazy people, but Moby-Dick is above all an

  • American


Re:Very few linear narratives are literature (1)

DavidinAla (639952) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159175)

Whether there's a narrative story or not, the decisions that are made about getting from A to B to C to D and all the way through Z are the heart of what makes it literature. Whatever the form is, it's those decisions that make it art. Just creating the world and turning it over to the reader changes all that. It's no longer literature, regardless of the form -- narrative story, poetry, whatever.

Re:Making those decisions is the writer's job (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159657)

Otherwise, you're just creating a world and throwing a reader into it to do the work of building his own story. There's nothing wrong with it for the tiny minority who want to do it,

Not such a tiny minority, but gaming (both computer and pen-and-paper) is much better way to achieve this than "hypertext literature".

Never forget this classic: (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158893)

Brad: The Game []

Back when I had an overnight job I spent a whole night playing around on that twisted "chose your own adventure" game/hypertext story.

Really, I think the best "hypertext" books were the Broaderbund Dr. Seuss stories I got for my daughter. They really were pretty cool and brought the book to life. The Ted Talk [] I watched last night sort of approached the subject as well.

Exceptionally annoying (2)

Junta (36770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158907)

Though it wasn't hyperlink, I have read a few works of fiction that seemed to think it was neat to put gobs of stuff in footnotes. Now these weren't footnotes that explained obscure things the reader might not know to be skipped if you understood, it was explaining a completely fictional concept/historical event in the universe of the work in question.

This thoroughly breaks the flow no matter how you slice it. If you can't work some material more naturally into the narrative than hyperlinks/footnotes/jarring parentheticals, then something is very wrong. It severely detracts from the enjoyment of the story if I stop mid sentence to read it. If I chose to defer reading the material, then some things may make no sense until I get to the footnote and I have to figure out where the footnote ties back into the narrative in some cases where it isn't quite self-evident.

Re:Exceptionally annoying (2)

Richy_T (111409) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159111)

I do hope you're not talking about Terry Pratchett who tends to make footnotes just a part of the fun.

Re:Exceptionally annoying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159365)

Given a sufficiently interesting and non-Earth-as-we-know-it setting, you have three options:

  1. you can have hyperlinks/footnotes/parentheticals
  2. you can have frequent conversations where character A tells character B all about something they both know about and have no reason to be discussing
  3. you can have only the greatest masters of storytelling (who can actually work exposition in through believable conversation) ever write works in such settings -- no matter how interesting a world concept lesser authors may conceive

I'll take 1 any day over the equally intrusive and rather clumsier 2 or the enforced poverty of 3.

I'm reading it right now (1, Insightful)

tobiah (308208) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158913)

There's links all over this page!

Re:I'm reading it right now (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159159)

If I could 'mod up' this comment I would. This site is a work of fiction, and where that might sound derogatory, I think the collaborative nature of communications on the web is worth considering for its value in uncovering the fragmented nature of human understanding.

If 'Literature' is a reflection of culture, and the web has broadened the opportunity to engage in understanding the world around us, then perhaps the nature of literature on the web is a work in progress. Consuming broad conversations and commenting in near real time has changed the way the average person constructs his/her view of the world, culture and its various reflections in ways that my necessarily change the definition of the word, literature.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure I'm willing to hand over responsibility for the creation of literature, as a contemplative, reflexive and reflective record of culture to the 'web poloi.'

There's a whole lot of it. (1)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158923)

Submitter, meet Wikipedia.

Hypertext lousy for storytelling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158929)

We don't think in hypertext, when we tell stories, we do it in a linear fashion that isn't enhanced by hypertext. The internal voice in your head which is your conciousness also works in this mode, namely, a more or less linear stream of thought... hypertext is great for reference materal, and rather lousy for telling stories. It's a communication tool, and certainly can make some concepts more accessible, but a storytelling aid it is not.

Re:Hypertext lousy for storytelling (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159677)

You've never heard my wife tell stories, its completely non-linear with plenty of non-sequester tangents that revelel more than the main story arc does, before abruptly switching back to the main story, which now is really just a tangent to the previous tangent. You can participate in the piece, but emphasizing a word in the story with a facial remark or a brief "huh?" which will will start off another tangent related to that word, which may or may not become the main story.

Its pretty awesome to behold. I think I'm the only one who really loves her stories.

Not a surprise (3, Insightful)

gweihir (88907) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158941)

As so often, the proponents of this forget that technology can only ease the least significant step in writing, namely replication. Creation of the content is a creative act and "hyperlinked" literature is very hard to create. I might also point out that there were examples of this long before the web, with manual links ("go to page xyz, section a") and that never caught on either, for exactly the same reason.

People that are surprised here do not understand content creation at all and vastly overestimate the worth of technology in aiding creativity. It is almost nil. What the Internet can do well in this regard is content delivery/content replication, but that is it. Does not make writing the stuff any faster or easier.

Why? (4, Insightful)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 2 years ago | (#39158961)

There's a few issues that I can see:

First, like any other piece of literature, you need a narrative that's going to keep the reader's attention. A fancy interface only goes so far if the underlying message is boring.

Second, you need an interface that's going to complement the story. If you litter your text with hypertext links and call it a day, you're doing favors to nobody.

Third, both writing and coding something worthwhile take effort, and doing both at the same time, with the intent of making them work well together, takes even more effort than doing either separately. Frankly, it's just not worth it much of the time.

There are narratives that work well in a hypertext medium, though. Two that come to mind are Hobo Lobo of Hamelin [] , a fable that's being written slowly but surely, and Bear 71, a 20 minute 'interactive documentary'.

We have this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39158963)

Hypertext literature... you mean like a Wiki?

It's still there in scientific and legal books (1)

davecb (6526) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159025)

Of course, it always was (;-)) Hyperlinks were invented for footnotes and case citations.

For a quick look, see What's hot on CanLII This Week [] . I love the Leroy Smickle case described there (go to then end of the case link for the link array )

In literature, of course, they're pretty much a done fad.


Visual Novels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159035)

They are called visual novels in Japan.

Killed by a bad spoof (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159045)

The genre was killed off by a gag book in 2003, "Escape from Fire Island. [] It's a gay zombie hyperlink novel: "If you run toward the nearest ferry terminal, turn to page 44. If you flirt with the cute twink, turn to page 55. If you throw caution to the wind and join the nearest circuit party, turn to page 80." It was published as a paper book, and was badly timed -- the gay novel boom was over, and the zombie novel boom was years in the future.

writing (1)

Tom (822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159055)

Because hypertext doesn't lend itself well to fiction. There isn't really much that you can add to a story with hypertext, and while a branching storyline sounds interesting in theory, that's exactly what it is: An interesting idea. By now the idea has been explored and found to be lacking.

Hypertext is great for non-fiction text, and I hope that the "revolution in textbooks" that Apple is trying - and the momentum that this will create for competition, results in more utilization in that sphere. A history book would be excellent if it were heavily interlinked, because most historic events are heavily interdependent with other events, with persons, locations, etc. etc.

Err, excuse me... (0)

dargaud (518470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159129)

...but isn't it everywhere around us and called 'the Web' ?!?

Re:Err, excuse me... (2)

jgrahn (181062) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159357)

...but isn't it everywhere around us and called 'the Web' ?!?

It amazes me to see so many people claiming Wikipedia, the web or even bloody YouTube refutes the article's thesis. These are not literature in the sense TFA uses -- just as pre-web media like the daily paper, ads, movies, TV shows, encyclopedias ...

Re:Err, excuse me... (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159575)

Yeah, but what stops you from using HTML with plenty of crosslinks to write your own hypertext 'literature' ? It seems to me that it would just be a self-enclosed subset of the Web. I don't see what more there is to it.

The artform followed the wrong link... (1)

tomhath (637240) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159171)

Interesting that TFA has this quote near the bottom:

“With the rise of the Web, writing has met its photography. ..a technology so much better at doing what the art form had been trying to do..” — Kenneth Goldsmith

I completely disagree. Photography and painting are different art forms; and telling a story linearly is different from giving the reader the option of following different paths through a hypertext document.

Bottom line is that good writing is already hard to do, adding this extra dimension makes it beyond the ability of most writers (and readers).

There are at least a few (1)

Mr.Z of the LotFC (880939) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159233)

2 that come to mind are the SCP wiki & some groups of entries on Everything2

Because authors are not interested (4, Insightful)

xigxag (167441) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159249)

Authors are as a class people who are in love with words, specifically their own. When they write a novel, they want the reader to consume it from beginning to end, not missing a single word. So for them, there isn't much joy in pouring a significant amount of work into a target hypertext segment where 90% of the readers will miss it. And if it's going to be skipped over anyway, why waste time polishing their words? What's the point of them coming up with a secondary narrative flow that is in no way essential to the plot? On the other hand, if the hyperlinks are essential, meaning the reader is obliged to click on every link to get a full understanding of the plot, then at best it's no longer a novel, but a puzzle or gimmick. (Which are fine endeavors, no doubt, but the cross-section of high quality puzzle-creators and good novelists is rather small, and the people who care to do both at once, even smaller. (Think of parentheses as proto-hypertext, for instance. How many authors can successfully place parentheses within parentheses, without the whole exercise turning into a mess (and how many would even attempt such foolishness)?)) And at worst you have an exercise in tedium, both in terms of reading and in terms of creation.

Boundary issues (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159257)

Hypertext doesn't respect intellectual property boundaries. Linking is stealing! </sarcasm>

Mac programs to create such documents? (1)

kanweg (771128) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159261)

Does anyone know easy to use Mac programs to create hypertexted documents?


Maybe... (5, Interesting)

Fubari (196373) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159363)

1) Hypertext might not be ready yet.
Do you believe hypertext is done evolving? (hint: the creator of word hypertext, Ted Nelson, doesn't think so - see quote, below).
Hypertext is still very young compared to writing. Our species has been working on writing for over 5,000 years [] , and on hypertext for about 60 years (original memex article, 1945 [] (a fascinating read, btw - worth ten minutes of your time)

2) Who even likes non-linear stories?
Show me any medium where non-linear fiction is popular. Did you actually enjoy Memento [] ? There are precious few examples of popular non-linear fiction in any medium, including hypertext. (by "precious few" I mean that percentage-wise you can round the amount of non-linear works down to zero and still be reasonably close to the actual number).

3) Non-linear may just be too much work to read? (related to 2)
Humans love stories, but they have significant processing limitations [] . Fiction is supposed to be entertaining (or at least interesting). (Hypothesis: reading non-linear fiction requires too much work to be fun, so nobody likes it.)

4) What if you are looking in the wrong place for non-linear "fiction".
Try here with games like Adventure, A History [] for your fiction.
Or possibly here: simulation games []
In these cases, "fiction" has proven very popular indeed.
("But, But, that isn't serious fiction!"
*shrug* Maybe not.
But then again, maybe games and simulations are simply what non-linear fiction looks like.
Centuries from now, scholars may be studying the ground breaking work of great non-linear authors likeWilliam Crowther [] and John Carmack [] in much the same way that visionary creatives like Shakespeare [] and Mary Shelly [] are studied today.

So... about the evolution of HyperText:
Ted Nelson, the creator of the term hypertext, was unimpressed with HTML:(excerpt from here) []

Trying to fix HTML is like trying to graft arms and legs onto hamburger. There's got to be something better-- but XML is the same thing and worse. EMBEDDED MARKUP IS A CANCER. (See my article "Embedded Markup Considered Harmful", WWW Journal, 1997 or 1998.) The Web is a special effects race, FANFARES ON SPREADSHEETS! JUST WHAT WE NEED!. (Instead of dealing with the important structure issues-- structure, continuity, persistence of material, side-by-side intercomparison, showing what things are the same.) This is cosmetics instead of medicine. We are reliving the font madness of the eighties, a tangent which did nothing to help the structure that users need who are trying to manage content. The Xanadu® project did not "fail to invent HTML". HTML is precisely what we were trying to PREVENT-- ever-breaking links, links going outward only, quotes you can't follow to their origins, no version management, no rights management. The "Browser" is an extremely silly concept-- a window for looking sequentially at a large parallel structure. It does not show this structure in a useful way.

(emphasis added).
Ted raises some interesting points; it is hard for me to think that HTML is the be-all and end-all of information.
I don't know that his "zigzag" thing is ever going to get traction, but I'm going to give it a closer look: ZigZag [] (excerpt: "Thanks for showing me your most intriguing way of displaying interconnections on a computer screen. I certainly hope that it catches on." (Sir) Roger Penrose)

Infinite Jest (1)

radarradar (2565457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159427)

There you go: a popular work of not-necessarily linear fiction. All those footnotes break the flow of the narrative and yet people love the book. It's not the only example, nor is it the most out-there.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159665)

Show me any medium where non-linear fiction is popular

As I stated in another thread in this article: gaming.

You're reading it now ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159377)

Hey folks, wake up. You're reading hypertext now. You read it to get here, and you read it when you first turned your computer on this morning.

Format C, The Net, Hackers, etc (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159419)

For some reason it reminds me with Format C
Its weird how people did not get technology at that time. If someone attempted to write anything like that now people would just laugh at him.

MUDs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159441)

Has it not just described a single player mud?

Already exists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159465)

... called wikipedia.

The Orion's Arm Universe Project (1)

Atmanman (1651259) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159499)

Orion's arm is fantastic new hypertext literature - plus its open source. Check it out if you like good science fiction. From its homepage;

"Welcome to Orion's Arm, a scenario set thousands of years in the future where civilization spans the stars. Godlike ascended intelligences rule vast interstellar empires, and lesser factions seek to carve out their own dominions through intrigue and conquest. And out beyond the edge of civilized space and the human friendly worlds, adventure awaits those prepared to risk all.

Come join us in this ever-expanding collective worldbuilding effort. Within the vast universe that is Orion's Arm you will find:

        Hard Science
        Plausible Technology
        Realistic Cultural Development
        A vast Setting
        10,000+ years of historical development
        Realistic Exobiology" []

Because (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159535)

I read to find out what happens next, not to control it.

Of course it's dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159569)

I put a web page up over 20 years ago leaning HTML in the process
and a bit of java allowing the viewer to change the page color.

I want to put up another personal web page but times have changed as
has the code and crap needed for whatever purposes.

Just look at the source of the article, the article itself starts at:
--BEGIN .entry-content -- ending at -- END .entry-container --

(pasted into Notepad++) Only 15-20 out of 298 lines are required for the article itself
and be readable by any browser you throw at it.

Books about software development patterns (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159603)

These are essentially hypertext books. Every pattern has a name by which it is known. It is defined once and can be referred to throughout the rest of the book by setting a certain font style.

Evolutionary Road Kill (1)

retroworks (652802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39159605)

Dude. I know the concept, thought I invented it while pulling an herbally influenced all nighter in college. I stayed up endlessly trying to write James Joyce worthy digressions and offshooting paragraphs which violated the system (both because I was violating the rules on "digression", and because I had a term paper due I was procrastinating). The next morning, I found out it was crap, or at best would have taken an exponential number of days to edit. For now, traditional allusions and/or sequels are the way to go, time is better spent writing a linear story with foreshadowing and allusions to other works.

Someday, perhaps, a future, more highly evolved being may find hypertext lit enjoyable as an art form, but I doubt they would want to read MY hypertext lit, which would seem to them like a volume of encyclopedias written by second graders or cave men. That future being will find anything we write to be sophomoric, but will perhaps get high and try to invent calculus literature, to be pondered by a yet further evolved being...

by no means dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39159667)

literature is not just fiction. any thing made up of words, crafted by a human being, is literature (oral, written, fiction, poetry, essays, journalism, autobiography). Thus, The Internet is a giant work of hypertext, and Wikipedia, as one of the most visited sites on the net, is a hugely popular, single work of hypertext literature. Hyperlinking fiction is obviously a highly specialized, cutting edge/avant garde (yes, the phrases are nearly identical after translation) genre of hyperlinked text. I seriously doubt it could ever dominate the world of fiction, or any genre where the narrative, or argument (as in essays) are the key to experiencing the work. anyone who seriously thought that hypertext fiction would replace regular fiction was probably spending way too much time in the basement staring at their computer screen. Now, what i want is hyperlinked fiction which gives you the choice of viewing IMAGES related to the work. Ive always thought it was so lame that SF novels didnt have more illustrations of the devices and settings involved. Since some may prefer the written descriptions, having the option to look or not look seems nice to me.

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