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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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  • 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 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?"

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 [] 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.

  • 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 [], 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

Reactor error - core dumped!