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Is Hypertext Literature Dead? 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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Is Hypertext Literature Dead?

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  • Pet Food (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater.gmail@com> on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:29PM (#39158631) Homepage

    There was buzz about delivery pet food too.

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

    • Re:Pet Food (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:33PM (#39158663) Homepage

      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 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:02PM (#39158889) Journal

        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.

      • by Garridan ( 597129 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:07PM (#39158931)
        Give it time... e-readers have this capability, and somebody may yet make the interface not suck.
      • by savi ( 142689 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:14PM (#39158993)

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

    • by radarradar ( 2565457 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @03:27PM (#39159733)

      What is the literary problem that hypertext is solving? In most cases there's no need for it. Infinite Jest might work better with hyperlinks -- if you can stand reading something like that on a screen.

      There's tons of literature on the web now. If you write poetry or fiction and you're name isn't Stephen King or something, that's where you're publishing. In fact there is a good deal of literature in html format, but most of it doesn't use hyperlinks because the work doesn't call for it.

      I write fiction and poetry and publish on the web. I'll use hyperlinks when i feel a need to. I haven't so far. Maybe when i set something in the mid-nineties...

      • The only example of a literary work that I think might be improved by hypertext is the Bible. Possibly there are other works of the same kind. Maybe "Grimms Fairy Tales". Basicly collections of well known stories that already HAVE external links in the outside world. E.g., "Snow White" is linked to "Snow White and Rose Red", etc.

        Or possibly some of Zelazny's works could have links to others of his works in the same universe. The links are already present, but they are currently implicit rather than explicit. OTOH, building them in would require holding off selling each work independently until after they were all written. Not feasible.

        Possibly they would be a good idea when collections of an author's works all set in the same universe are republished, but putting them in ahead of time is just not reasonable. It's not that it's not narratively appropriate, it's that the whole piece isn't created at the same time.

        • by retchdog ( 1319261 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @05:24PM (#39160325) Journal

          the definitive "hyperlinks" for the bible were published in 1890 and known as Strong's Concordance (which is, btw, possibly the most badass-sounding book title in the history of english), or more accurately Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. there's a modern hyperlinked version here [biblestudytools.com] based on it, called the Interlinear Bible, which is remarkably similar and effective.

          the problem with hyperlinks in literature is, i think, that they have to be both thorough and noticeable in order to be any better than mere footnotes. however, this means that they are going to be distracting, and most readers will end up skimming through the entire book wikipedia-style instead of reading it. i remember reading some awful literature on a cd-rom on my middle school computers, that tried to exploit this, but it didn't work very well. i guess a custom reader could be made to restrict hyperlinks somehow, but this is aesthetically hard to design; will probably have compatibility problems; and may even be intrinsically frustrating to the reader.

          it's notable that much of the function of Strong's Concordance is to help the dedicated reader work through translation issues. it's a "metatextual" scholarly tool.

          some kindle books have a feature where you can read other peoples' annotations. i think it's kind of sleazy to put a social network in a book, but it's maybe the only literary hypertext that is actually at all functional right now. note, again, this is metatextual.

        • by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @05:36PM (#39160379)

          The only example of a literary work that I think might be improved by hypertext is the Bible. Possibly there are other works of the same kind. Maybe "Grimms Fairy Tales".

          I could see Niven's Known Space series working well with hypertext, not that the stories would change much, perhaps abridged to reduce local retelling. Referencing concepts detailed in other works could make an interesting reread.

          Problem is: who would tie into a multi-novel 8x the size of Lord of The Rings? And, what would the publisher try to charge for it? The result of these two factors leads to an audience approaching zero, unless the links were "pay as you click..."

    • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @09:47PM (#39161535) Journal

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

      Now that "Don't Be Evil" is dead, I think your statement above should be Google's new mantra! Only with a capital B.

  • by spyked ( 1878060 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:34PM (#39158667) Homepage

    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.

    • by narcc ( 412956 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @05:04PM (#39160223) Journal

      Blogs are not hypertext literature any more than an webpage or a heavily annotated eBook would be considered hypertext literature.

      Hypertext literature is an entirely different beast. Aaraseth's Cybertext: perspectives on ergodic literature discusses it at length. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) he's one of the few who took the medium seriously.

      Janet Murray also writes briefly about it Hamlet on the holodeck and Nick Montfort (the average slashdotter should know who he is) mentions it briefly near the beginning of Twisty little passages.

      For actual works of hypertext literature, you should check out Jackson's "Patchwork girl" and Joyce's "Afternoon". Of course, after you stumbled through those two, you'll see why hypertext literature never really took off

  • by gshegosh ( 1587463 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:35PM (#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.
    • by jet_silver ( 27654 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:04PM (#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.

    • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:28PM (#39159093) Journal
      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.
      • by colinrichardday ( 768814 ) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:44PM (#39159521)

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

        FTFY

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

      • by utkonos ( 2104836 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @03:33PM (#39159759)
        I'm not particularly defending hypertext literature as a genre, but I think that your characterization of it is still colored by your being used to the methods of linear storytelling that a book's author uses. You mention merging "paths," and this implies a line from point A to point D with stops at points in between the two; that the content of one of those stops has to be "the next thing" after the one you just came from across a hyperlink. Why can't the two stops be unrelated to each other in a chronological, stepwise way. A passage could describe the look of a character's face and mention a scar on the person's nose. The word scar could be a hyperlink to a passage that jumps back to that character's childhood to the day that she got that scar. Or the connection could be more obscure, requiring the reader to think harder about what the connection is between two passages.

        But on the other hand, perhaps the genre is dead because no good authors chose to use it as a medium, only crappy authors picked it up. Or as the article mentions, the genre's works of Shakespeare may be sitting on some person's hard drive waiting to be discovered in the future, they are simply hidden for the moment.
    • 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.

      • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@nOSpAm.earthlink.net> on Saturday February 25, 2012 @03:51PM (#39159855)

        Literature is not inherently one-dimensional. It's just almost always presented that way for many very good reasons. Economy of effort is one of those.

        Consider, I believe it was, Rashomon. The same event cycle was repeated as seen though the eyes of several different characters. Quite effective. Definitely literature. Extremely difficult to do.

        Whenever several narratives take place in the same "world", and interact, then each thread can be handled separately, yet it still makes sense to link them at the points of interactions. The link would involve seeing a single event through one character, switching over to seeing it through another character, and then continuing with the second character. This will usually be weaker unless the various narrative threads have previously been followed separately. So it would require more investment by the reader as well as by the author. Both of which are reasons why it is rarely done.

    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:39PM (#39159503) Homepage

      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 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lehk228 ( 705449 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:35PM (#39158681) Journal
    because it's a crap idea, just like choose your own adventure books stop being interesting once you hit puberty and discover girls
  • by fph il quozientatore ( 971015 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:37PM (#39158701)
    Well, one could argue it was never born in the first place.
    [Incidentally, does that make it an abortion?]
  • by DreadfulGrape ( 398188 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:38PM (#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.

  • by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:44PM (#39158751) Journal
    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.
  • by ricky-road-flats ( 770129 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:49PM (#39158787)

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

    http://www.apple.com/education/ibooks-textbooks/ [apple.com]
    http://www.pottermore.com/ [pottermore.com]

    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.

    • by ricky-road-flats ( 770129 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:54PM (#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 - youtube.com, 4chan.org and bbcnews.com 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. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DThorne ( 21879 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:13PM (#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.

  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:55PM (#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?"

    • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @10:35PM (#39161707) Homepage Journal
      Games and game like things may be what literature turns into, but let us not forgot that the tools to create hyperlink literature has only been available for a decade ot so, and while we would expect new forms or art to develop faster in a world where are communication is faster and art creation is potentially faster, there are still generational issues. In particular, a generation of artists must be born learn to use the tools, and in all likely hood, teach those prototype methods to a new generation of artists of refine and produce popular works. So we are still looking at decades

      As evidence that time is required, let us look at what we currently consider literature, the novel. The novel was well on it way by the late 17th century, but it was over 100 years later when "The Novel", what we now call literature was in full bloom. Take, for example, Sense and Sensibility, Madam Bovery to suggest classic english works. Sure we had literature prior to that, Shakespeare, The Canterbury Tales, The Iliad, Beowulf, but this is not considered modern literature. It was the literature of the time, and it evolved over time, until we are now at the Novel as Literature, and which certainly will evolve to something else, and maybe has with the like of Vonnegut.

      While some may want to kill an idea after only a few years, typical for people who are afraid of losing power due to a paradigm(and yes I heave read the book), such naysayers are never the authority on the future.

  • Because it sucks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @12:56PM (#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 (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Sique ( 173459 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:27PM (#39159083) Homepage

      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 [wikipedia.org] 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.

    • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @05:13PM (#39160257) Homepage
      Holding the original question open for a moment, we we might gain some insight into hypertext in general by looking at growth stats for a highly hyperlinked corpus such as Wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

      Some interesting effects are showing up. After an initial exponential burst, growth in terms of pages added is more or less linear, with some expectation that it will eventually level out. Interval between page edits is another interesting measure. After the initial burst it seems to be fairly constant, despite the increase in absolute number of pages over time.

      I don't know that we can necessarily take this behavior as a way of bounding other forms such as hypertext literature, but it may help to inform what to look for. If the entire body of hypertext literature is growing at anything close to a linear rate, that would put it in pretty much optimal company. We shouldn't be too surprised if its growth falls short of that measure.
  • by DavidinAla ( 639952 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:02PM (#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.
    • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:33PM (#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

      novel.

      • by DavidinAla ( 639952 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:39PM (#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.
    • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @03:10PM (#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".

    • gp. When I last read "hypertext fiction", it was actually called a MUSH. Multiple authors participated with each other in creating an interactive, reader driven story. The branching paths are simply too much work to depend on a single author for.

      The problem with MUSHing was that simply some people are better storytellers than others. That, and the griefers, of course.

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) * on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:02PM (#39158893) Homepage Journal

    Brad: The Game [bradthegame.com]

    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 [ted.com] I watched last night sort of approached the subject as well.

  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:05PM (#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.

  • by tobiah ( 308208 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:05PM (#39158913)

    There's links all over this page!

  • by MacGyver2210 ( 1053110 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:07PM (#39158923)

    Submitter, meet Wikipedia.

  • Not a surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:08PM (#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? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:10PM (#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 [hobolobo.net], a fable that's being written slowly but surely, and Bear 71, a 20 minute 'interactive documentary'.

  • 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 [www.slaw.ca]. 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.

    --dave

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:22PM (#39159045) Homepage

    The genre was killed off by a gag book in 2003, "Escape from Fire Island. [amazon.com] 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.

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:22PM (#39159055) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:38PM (#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).

  • by xigxag ( 167441 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:48PM (#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.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday February 26, 2012 @12:54AM (#39162159) Homepage Journal

      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.

      Actually, if something isn't pie-in-the-face obvious, 90% or readers will miss it anyway. Even *intelligent*, *attentive* readers. Extracting nuance from a story is a tricky and unreliable process. So you can either talk down to your readers, or you can try to make the story work on more than one level. The advantage of not talking down to your readers is that you're more likely to produce a story that readers can read over and over again.

      Sometimes authors put in details that only a one-in-a-million reader will notice. Tolkien did that in the scene where Bilbo gives Frodo the sword Sting. He doesn't just hand the sword over, he drives the sword into a wooden beam in Eldrond's house and Frodo takes it out. Decades later Tom Shippey pointed out that this is almost certainly a deliberate echoing of Odin in the Völsunga saga driving his sword into the tree Barnstokkr which grows in the hall of King Völsung so that only Sigmund is able to draw it out again. Once your attention is drawn to that detail, what had previously seemed like a throw-away scene starts to open up different layers of meaning.

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <mark.a.craig@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday February 25, 2012 @01:50PM (#39159257)

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

  • Maybe... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fubari ( 196373 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:10PM (#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 [wikipedia.org], and on hypertext for about 60 years (original memex article, 1945 [theatlantic.com] (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 [imdb.com]? 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 [wikipedia.org]. 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 [rickadams.org] for your fiction.
    Or possibly here: simulation games [slashdot.org]
    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 [wikipedia.org] and John Carmack [wikipedia.org] in much the same way that visionary creatives like Shakespeare [wikipedia.org] and Mary Shelly [wikipedia.org] are studied today.


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

    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

    • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @03:12PM (#39159665)

      Show me any medium where non-linear fiction is popular

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

    • by The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @04:58PM (#39160195)

      For a popular nonlinear work: Homestuck.

      The entire (albeit vaguely defined) genre it belongs to is almost exclusively nonlinear as well.

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:46PM (#39159535)
    I read to find out what happens next, not to control it.
  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @02:57PM (#39159605) Homepage Journal

    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 idji ( 984038 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @04:06PM (#39159929)
    Because you cannot read a hypertext from beginning to end.
  • by timothyf ( 615594 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @04:53PM (#39160173) Homepage

    A lot of people pointed out various problems with hypertext fiction, but I think one of the bigger ones is the fact that an author wants a story read from beginning to end so that they don't waste effort on stuff the reader won't read. A lot of people have also mentioned that most examples of hypertext fiction have instead been called games, and I think a successful one would probably need to be approached more like developing a game than writing a story, with multiple writers branching off of a main trunk and working collaboratively. It could be an opportunity to explore different characters, ideas or settings that the trunk hints at but doesn't develop fully. So, in a sense, one could consider all of those "universe" novels (e.g. Star Wars universe, Star Trek universe) to be hypertext fiction of a sort, since that's essentially what they do.

  • by jvkjvk ( 102057 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @06:10PM (#39160555)

    I'm thinking actual novel, not a pick your own adventure.

    Why not do it through an intricate set of links on character's names? Every name when mentioned the first time in interaction, would be linked to the current story from their point of view. It would be interesting as a collab.

    Everyone writing one POV, but must interact per scenes.

    I would go with an arc and definite plotline, and leave ALL subplots to the interaction as it developed.

    • by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @07:42PM (#39160955) Journal
      Or a large series of novels. Two contemporaries that come to mind are George Martin's Ice and Fire series and Weber's Honor Harrington universe. Both have enough characters and story lines that diverge and then converge that linkages might actually be useful. Where did this character come from? Let me backtrack and follow just them, without all of the other subplots that are going on....

      Interesting that one of the Torch novels set in Weber's universe and one of the Harrington novels have an identical (word-for-word) chapter that appears in both where those two major branches came together for a bit.
  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @06:20PM (#39160589)
    Hypertext is good when you're discussing a high level topic, and you need to define the building blocks you're standing upon.

    Debunking the Epicurean Fallacy [fatherspiritson.com]
  • In fact it's still probably http://www.journeyman.cc/~simon/bookshelf/hyper/mgi/ [slashdot.org]"> the largest hyperfiction ever written. It's not very good and I'm not very proud of it. The reason people aren't writing things called 'hyperfictions' any more is because they're now writing things called 'role playing games' - but they're still immersive non-linear narratives.

  • by supercrisp ( 936036 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @07:28PM (#39160873)
    That's funny. A half hour ago, I walked out of a literature conference keynote at which the speaker showed a proliferation of digital literature. It's not the sort of stuff that was pushed by companies like StorySpace; it was much weirder. But there's a ton of it out there. Again, not fiction, mostly various sorts of work conceived of as some sort of poetry. One notable source was the two-volume Electronic Literature Collection; you can also google "new media" or "digital media" perhaps combining those things with "literature." I think one reason that "hypertext" isn't going anywhere is that the people calling for it or imagining it aren't or weren't so good at imagining what people would want to do with the hypertextual and other possibilities of digital texts. It seems to be that the people really into it are those who also like Joyce and Stein. I will say, though, that there's a boom in hyperlinked literature, stuff with media links and such in it, as we can see with the iStuff that Apple is iPushing right now. I'll throw one more brick before I go read the other comments here: most readers of "absorbtive" or engrossing fiction want the author to carry them into another world, want to get lost in the author's creation. Fewer people are interested in the iterative or resistant text (like the French New Novel) or the (snarkily-labeled) choose-your-own-adventure type fiction.
  • by drolli ( 522659 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @07:32PM (#39160883) Journal

    I guess the main reason is that it is very difficult to really use the possibilities in the right way. What replaces the storyline? I think what comes closes to "Hypertext literature" are games. And even there the balance between the hardcore gamers, who want to explore the level for 80h and the casual gamers who want to finish the game in an evening usually goes wrong.

  • by grahamd0 ( 1129971 ) on Saturday February 25, 2012 @10:09PM (#39161613)
    There's a great, ongoing hypertext literature site here: http://www.scp-wiki.net/ [scp-wiki.net]

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