Eastgate Systems      Serious Hypertext


Mark Bernstein
chief scientist, Eastgate Systems, Inc.

Printable Version

Reprinted from Proceedings of Hypertext '98, Frank Shipman, Elli Mylonas, and Kaj Groenback, eds, ACM, New York.

Patterns Of Hypertext

The complexity and unruliness of the complex webs of links we create has frequently led to calls for "structured" or otherwise disciplined hypertext [33][20][75]. While calls for clearer structure have tried to avoid, consolidate, or minimize links, it is now clear that hypertext cannot easily turn its back on complex link structures. Where it was once feared that the cognitive burdens of large, irregular link networks would overwhelm readers, we find in practice that myriad casual readers flock to the docuverse. The growth of literary and scholarly hypertext, the evolution of the Web, and the economics of link exchange all assure the long-term importance of links.

Since large linked constructs cannot be wished away, it is time to develop a vocabulary of concepts and structures that will let us understand the way today's hypertexts and Web sites work. Progress in the craft of writing depends, in part, on analysis and discussion of the best existing work. An appropriate vocabulary will allow us both to discern and to discuss patterns in hypertexts that may otherwise seem an impenetrable tangle or arbitrary morass. The reader's experience of many complex hypertexts is not one of chaotic disorder, even though we cannot yet describe that structure concisely; the problem is not that the hypertexts lack structure but rather that we lack words to describe it.

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