Word Circuits Connection Muse
Word Circuits Connection Muse is a set of software tools specifically for authors of Web-based hypertext poetry and fiction. Most hypertext tools available today for the Web are intended primarily for creating informational Web sites where readers will usually browse (in the original sense of rather haphazardly sampling some of the content) or seek out specific information. Literature, on the other hand, demands a system designed for whole-text reading--that is, one designed to accommodate readers who wish to consume an entire hypertext in a satisfying manner.
One of the requirements for a successful whole-text system is a sophisticated mechanism for handling the complex relationship between read and unread material, which lies at the heart of maintaining momentum during the reading and achieving closure at the end of it. Adaptive hypertext techniques can help bring this sophistication to hypertext literature, making it more responsive to the reader's needs. Connection Muse adds dynamic functionality to HTML texts through a system that tracks the reader's progress and responds on the fly to changing conditions. It also lets the author create components within the hypertext--paths and sets of nodes--and manipulate these as objects with extractable properties.
For detailed discussion of how Connection Muse can be used in hypertexts, see Toward an Organic Hypertext. This paper (presented at Hypertext 2000) also discusses the concepts of organic hypertext and object-oriented literature, which underlie the system.
"[Connection Muse gives] those already committed to the form some long-needed tools for delivering long-needed effects." ("Hypertext Writing Finds Potential in Connection System," by Jimmy Guterman, in The Chigago Tribune, March 9, 2000)
MuseDoc&Files1.zip (197K compressed file) contains the Connection Muse documentation, the system files, and the Toolkit for browsers.
ConnectionMuse1.mxp (20K) contains the Toolkit for Dreamweaver.
If you have been using a beta version, you can read about the changes in Version 1.0.
Extract the contents of MuseDoc&Files1.zip. This should create three separate folders: system contains the system files and templates; doc&tools contains the documentation, the Toolkit for Browsers, and the system demos; dw contains the Toolkit for Dreamweaver files. (The Toolkit for Dreamweaver files are included for the benefit of anyone who wishes to install these manually. See below to install the Toolkit for Dreamweaver automatically.) To read the downloaded documentation, open the file manual.htm (located in the doc&tools folder) in your browser.
To install the Toolkit for Dreamweaver:
To get an idea of what the system can do, take a look at our two demos. Our Simple Demo shows off some of the basic system functions. The Text Components Demo presents more advanced features in the form of an "organic hypertext." (For an explanation of this approach, see "Text Components and Organic Hypertext" in the User's Guide.)
The following online hypertexts are enhanced by Connection Muse. These works save the reader's place between sessions and allow her to resume exactly where she left off. They also incorporate the features listed below.
Robert Kendall's poem Penetration (Eastgate Reading Room, 2000)
Jackie Craven's In the Changing Room, Version 1.1 (Word Circuits, 2001)
Robert Kendall's Clues (Work-in-Progress)
Rob Swigart's About Time (Word Circuits, 2002)
Helen Whitehead's Shopping List (trAce, 2003)
Here is an outline of the most important features that are currently available in Connection Muse.
The system records a complete history of all nodes visited, which it stores in cookies. The author can use this history information to tell the reader how much text is left unread, to create conditional links or text based on the history, or to alter the behavior of the hypertext during later stages of the reading. The reader can return to a text during a later session and resume where he or she left off, with all history information intact.
Conditional Links and Text
Links or text can be displayed conditionally. Conditions are built from a large set of functions and operators, giving the author a high degree of control. Here are some of the conditions that can determine whether or not an element is displayed:
Path and Set Management
The author can define a path (a sequence of nodes) or an unordered set of nodes and create links directly to the path or set by specifying a property of it. Here are some examples:
The system can analyze the "wear" on a particular path--that is, determine how many nodes on a path have been visited. This information can help steer readers onto paths that will take them to new material.
Every link can be given a name or description, which will be displayed in the status bar or in pop-up text (similar to a Windows tool tip) when the reader places the mouse pointer on the link. These names can be altered on the fly in response to specified conditions.
We are considering the following features for future versions of Connection Muse.
Links with Multiple Destinations
Clicking on a multivalent link anchor will pop up a list of destinations from which the user can select.
Reader Progress Gauge
An optional graphical indicator can show the reader how much text remains to be read.
Returning to the "Path Not Taken"
The system will identify nodes in the history that contain links to unvisited nodes. This will allow the reader to jump back to earlier points in the reading to explore "the path not taken."
Connecting Sets or Paths
Just as authors can link nodes together, they will also be able to connect other objects within the system. Sets can be connected by combining them as subsets of a larger set. Individual paths can be concatenated to form longer paths. Any of these connections can be conditional, drawing upon the same set of functions and operators used to build conditional links. The reader can also be given the option of making or breaking these connections.
More complex types of connections between objects will also be supported. Between two sets or paths the author can define multiple "contact points," which are activated by connecting the sets or paths. A contact point is a conditional link that leads from any node in one set/path to a node in another set/path. The link will be active only if the source and target nodes belong to sets/paths that are connected.
For example, suppose the author has created sets called "Jason" and "Mary," each containing the nodes relating to that specific character. While the reader is exploring the Jason set, he or she may decide to connect it to the Mary set. This will introduce into the Jason nodes a number of new links that lead to material contained within the Mary set. Conversely, the Mary nodes will contain new links back to the Jason material. Connecting sets/paths will let the reader move back and forth between episodes of text to explore relationships between them. Changing which elements are connected will change the relationships that are explored.
The system will identify certain conditions that may occur during the reading and will be able to respond to them. For example, long periods of looping or backtracking could automatically call up a set of links to unvisited material.
Support for Author-Defined States
The author will be able to define global variables, which can be set at any time either manually by the reader or automatically when certain conditions apply. Different values for the variables can elicit different behaviors from links and other hypertext elements.
This will optionally be displayed for use by the reader in either a frame or a separate window. The author will be able to configure it to display any of the following components: