By Robert Kendall
Hypertext aspires to the organic. Narrative paths and thematic threads stretch out through the text like roots through soil or tendrils through air. As they branch and cross--perhaps even entangle--each of them has its own unique impetus yet is governed by the DNA of the organism as a whole. The collective goal of these individual parts is a reading that grows and matures successfully, regardless of the reader-soil it's in and the nutrients it receives there.
It's the DNA that I am particularly interested in. The more sophisticated the instruction set encoded in the genes, the richer the life that emerges from it. How can we expand our resources for programming behaviors into the components of emergent text? How can links, paths, and image maps better serve the organic whole?
In A Life Set for Two (Eastgate Systems, 1996), I used conditional links, floating links, variable-text nodes, and other elements of dynamic hypertext in an effort to create work that was more organically responsive to its environment--that is, to the reader (see "Hypertextual Dynamics in A Life Set for Two," Proceedings of Hypertext '96). In my poem Dispossession (Eastgate Reading Room, 1999), I brought some of these techniques to the Web, where I expanded upon them. My poem-in-progress Penetration is a companion piece to Dispossession, sharing its technical approach, as well as thematic and visual elements.
At the conference I will also be moderating a discussion session on the question "What do we want from our software?" This will be largely a software features brainstorming session, during which we can trade ideas about capabilities we would like to see in hypertext delivery systems. I would like to learn about the specific problems that other people are wrestling with in their work and explore ideas for solving these problems as well as those that I have encountered. How can we parlay existing software resources into new solutions and what can we do to encourage the development of new resources? I also hope to get valuable feedback from this session for planning the future direction of the Connection System.
These are among the issues and questions I would like to introduce for discussion:
Paths and Sets
Spatial Representations of Structure
Backtracking and the Reading History
Temporal Development and Closure
The Authoring Interface