Hypertext writers went beyond the book metaphor by introducing chunk-style or puzzle-like stories. Aarseth (1994) explains that “the main feature of hypertext is discontinuity—the sudden displacement of the user’s position in the text,” (p. 60). This discontinuity is clearly seen in website functionality.

Wardrip-Fruin (2004) also postulates that the definition of hypertext has become synonymous with “chunk-style media” because most authors of hypertext fiction and poetry used link-based formats. He proposes that, “rather than think[ing] of the Web as a hypertext system, we may do better to think of it as a monumental public publishing space—one that attained critical mass by employing a subset of hypertext concepts, primarily those of the chunk style,” (Wardrip-Fruin, 2004, p. 126). Therefore, when looking beyond the book metaphor, another familiar space is the web and so its hyperlink system, which has been remediated in hypertext fiction.

A study by Bromme and Stahl (2004) looked at how a group of students were able to construct a hypertext document based on the definitions of a hypertext. One definition mirrored the book metaphor the other a ‘space’ metaphor, and their results showed that using these metaphors does not result in optimized hypertexts. Bromme and Stalh (2004) explain that a book metaphor may be disadvantageous when trying to communicate the potential complexity of multilinear hypertexts and it caused students to focus on linear sequencing and thus reduced the complexity of the contents produced. The space metaphor, on the other hand, encouraged students to create interconnected information networks in their hypertexts. Bromme and Stahl (2004) concluded that neither the book metaphor nor the space metaphor work particularly well when thinking about the design of hypertext books.

Thus, there is a need to distinguish the hypertext not only from the book metaphor, but also from the conventions of the World Wide Web. Ted Nelson, the pioneer of the idea of hypertext stresses the importance of thinking outside these two boxes and creating a new hypertext medium. He envisions the unrealized operating system called the Xanadu Space.

Video: Ted Nelson demonstrates Xanadu Space
He also discusses his vision of the hypertext.

One of Nelson’s (2008) key points lands on the issue of remediation of the book metaphor:

“Because paper enforces single sequence […] it imposes a particular order. When I saw the computer, I said at last we can escape the prison of paper and that was what my whole hypertext idea was about in 1960 and since. Contrarily, […] the people imitated paper.”

He explains that, “we want to have deep links and see the origins of content. So to me, the computer was an opportunity to radically redefine the nature of writing.” Nelson’s vision of ‘real hypertext’ is a parallel structure, a two-way system that includes multimedia structures in their original context and one that embraces a new way of writing, essentially alluding to Crestani et al.’s (2005) definition of the cyberbook.

So the next question is: how can we overcome the limitations of remediating the book metaphor and hyperlinking?


Navigation menu (Index)

Where is all the Hypertext Fiction in this Digital Age?

1.0 Phenomenology of reading print vs. digital books

2.0 Remediating the book metaphor – what makes a book, a book?


3.0 Navigating the non-linear hypertext – where to click now?

3.1 Examples of hypertext fiction – how to write hypertext narratives?

4.0 New hypertext narrative forms – what’s beyond the hyperlink?

5.0 The future of hypertext fiction – Cyberbooks?


This hypertext essay was written in partial completion of the Master of Arts in Communications and Technology degree at the University of Alberta, Canada.
© 2013 Nicole Basaraba

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