Historically, the Hypertext research community is an intertwingling (a Ted Nelson-logism) of three distinct strands — structural computing, interaction, and HT literature, which could be mapped, roughly, onto the engineers, the HCI folk, and the humanists. While engineering and HCI aspects were somewhat necessary for HT literature, the focus, by definition, has been on exploring the boundaries of electronic literature. In the end, I think, it’s good writing that makes hypertext literature interesting much more so than clever interaction. In fact, the electronic component is often not necessary at all: see If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, for example.
But there is room for beauty in interaction as well. Thanks to Mark Bernstein of Eastgate, I came across a beautiful set of visualizations of narrative structure of CYOA, a series of hypertext books for children. Through a variety of charts and graphs like the one shown here, the author of these diagrams conveys the many alternate paths through a each story in the collection, and uses these visuals to compare, to analyze, and to appreciate the books. And don’t forget the animations, accessible through a link near the top of the page.
My retelling won’t do it justice; take a look for yourself, and think about these designs next time you’re building a slide deck.
Finally, since these stories are now available as Kindle editions, in principle, it would be possible to collect actual reading paths that readers take through the works, and subject them to the same analyses. What sorts of hypotheses about reading, personality, and interaction could we answer with such data?