The original design, 1993
1. The hypertext is designed to be accessible to readers, especially women, who are not computer literate, and who have no professional or academic computing support. The design of the hypertext, and of the icons in particular, will therefore draw heavily on traditional book conventions to give the reader maximum confidence in using the hypertext. At the same time, it will aim to introduce readers to computing conventions, in order that they will be able to go on to use hypertexts designed for computer-literate users, such as those written in GUIDE. For example, the cancel/return to previous screen button (see below) will incorporate a bookmark into the icon design.
2. The design will also draw heavily on the designs and illustrations associated with the genre of girls' school stories. This will integrate the design with its subject, and will also add to the reader's perception of the hypertext as being fun to use. Where the computer needs time to access new data, simple animations and modelling will be used to add to the reader's enjoyment. These will range from a schoolgirl hitting a hockey ball while a hypertext link is being accessed, to the use of a model school when a lexia or sub-lexia is being accessed (a schoolgirl will lead the way down the school corridor to the relevant part of the school; eg the library when accessing a bibliography or the computer lab when accessing information about the hypertext design). In addition, I will try to include a "secret" programme which will appear to readers who have accessed every part of the hypertext, perhaps combining quiz and treasure hunt features with a prize for the first to complete it. This would be advertised over the Internet to increase initial interest in reading the hypertext.
3. To facilitate ease of use, the hypertext will be designed as if for use on a touch-sensitive screen. The reader will only be required to press virtual buttons using the mouse; no pull-down menus will be used. This will also introduce the reader to the concepts of buttons and of virtual controls in general. Where touch-sensitive screens are available, the reader will not even need to be able to use a mouse; this will be particularly appropriate for non-academic and older readers.
4. The hypertext will further be designed so that the reader does not need access to any programmes other than the system software of their chosen platform to use it. For this reason the programmes needed to run the hypertext will be part of the hypertext itself, so it will be self-launching (this brings it in line with other commercial packages such as Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia and Peter Gabriel's Explora 1). While this does pose commercial complications, the academic nature and purpose of the hypertext and the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of the software involved should allow these problems to be overcome. For example, computing magazines are frequently supplied with play-only and demonstration versions of software to encourage wider use.
5. The hypertext aims to introduce the concepts of hypermedia to readers, and will include a full discussion of the development and relevance of hypermedia, the development of writing and the changing positions of the writer and reader within a separate section. The subject of the hypertext, the twentieth century genre of girls' school stories, is particularly appropriate in this context, since my hyperthesis will include a full discussion of the use of writing and its effects on both its readers and wider society. Examples from the rest of the thesis - with hypertext links to these - should facilitate understanding of what can be difficult concepts for non-writers to grasp.
6. Ideally, the reader will be able to customise the hypertext to meet their own reading needs. Bob Cotton and Richard Oliver point out that major electronics and media-based companies who are developing hypermedia hardware and software have an:
implicit notion that the creation of hypermedia products is the business of media professionals. This view is reinforced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of examples are carried on compact discs . . . described as "read-only": the user cannot add anything after they have been pressed. This emphasis on hypermedia as a "read only" product is typical . . . If this were the only approach, the development of hypermedia would be much closer to that of film, television and radio than it actually is. Media professionals would have the responsibility for learning to "write" in the new medium, and all that would be required of the audience is that they learn to "read" it
. . . But hypermedia has the capacity to be more "democratic" and "personal" . . .
(Understanding Hypermedia, Phaidon Press Ltd, London, 1993, p35)
This is a view which I share. But in addition to issues of democracy and individualism, I believe that the ebook's potential cannot be realised unless the reader can also be a writer. Stephen R. Acker points out that hypertext research suggests that:
when [readers are] free to annotate their own comments as challenges, supplements and new linkages among existing information, [they] become co-authors of the text. It seems productive to conceive of hypermedia as inherently collaborative storytelling.
("The storyteller's toolkit", in Lea, Martin (ed.), Contexts of Computer-Mediated Communication, Harvester Wheatsheaf, London, 1992, pp212-4)
Acker warns, however, that when this takes place on the original hypertext:
the next user . . . is confronted with a new and expanded set of linkages and information. This dynamic nature of hypermedia models an evolving group process and poses serious challenges for maintaining order and coherence without sacrificing the serendipitous benefits of unanticipated user contributions to the system. As with the group process itself, the goal is to reach a satisfying resolution to the story/issue that incorporates contributions from all and avoids an outcome of helplessness, frustration or disjointed entropy.
It therefore seems sensible to split this process into two. First, to allow the reader to customise their own copy of the hypertext; and second, to control the development of the "original" hypertext (see below), allowing readers a method of contacting those responsible for maintaining and updating it, most obviously by email. Customising the hypertext would therefore take several forms:
a) The opportunity for the reader to highlight sections of the text in the way that a highlighter pen is used on printed text. This would approximate exactly in that the "highlighted" text would appear on a different-coloured background to the rest of the text.
b) The opportunity for the reader to create hypertext links between different parts of the hyperthesis, shown by the use of "hot words" - ie a word or phrase would change colour from the rest of the text if a link had been placed there.
c) The opportunity for the reader to create notes at different points in the text. These would appear in a virtual "notebook", but with links to the relevant parts of the text so that notes could be accessed directly from the text/ the reader could move directly from the note to the part of the hypertext it pertains to. The existence of these links would also be shown by "hot words", of a different colour to those indicating links between different parts of the hypertext.
d) The opportunity for the reader to add lexias. These would always appear in a different coloured text to the initial hypertext to indicate that they had been added by a different author. The reader could also submit these for inclusion in the "original" hypertext.
The most likely means by which the reader could perform these customisations is by using a separate programme on an accompanying floppy disc (the hypertext itself being produced on CD-Rom). Customisations could be written directly on to this disc, or the programme and customisations could be loaded on to the hard disk of the reader's computer (essential at the moment if large amounts of data are involved). The customisation programme would be designed for use in a similar way to the main hypertext; ie all controls would be operated by buttons - although some keyboarding would clearly be included where note-taking etc was involved - and the design would make use of virtual highlighter pens, notebooks etc to maximise the ease of use. Rather than using a manual, all instructions would be incorporated into the programme. The disc itself would read "use the mouse to doubleclick on me" when loaded into the drive. The programme would effectively work by recording exactly where on the CD-Rom each customisation belongs, and then recreating these links when loaded into the Ram.
7. The reader will also have the opportunity to print screens. It is likely that this opportunity will have to be withheld in some instances due to copyright problems.
8. The hypertext will also be available online, as part of the World Wide Web. This will be accompanied by a home page allowing readers to feedback their own experiences of and comments on the hypertext, and to pass on their own customisations for possible inclusion in the 'official' edition.
9. In the future, as other relevant texts come online, links will be made to these which will demonstrate the interconnectedness of books, the relationships with and between readers, and the future of the book in electronic form. Ultimately, the hyperthesis could be linked online to: the full texts of every work quoted or referred to in the hyperthesis; the texts of every school story; to other critical works on school stories; to other critical works on children's literature; to other works on hypermedia; to other works on fans and fandom; to other works on literary societies; to critical texts on popular culture (particularly feminist); to books about girls' schooling (including educational texts and histories of girls' schools); to critical works on reading and literacy; and to related still and moving images and sound files. These texts could have originated anywhere in the world, not just the UK. Links could be created by scholars, but also by the use of an "intelligent agent", a piece of software programmed to seek out and link up new texts automatically.
10. Maintainence and updating of the hypertext will necessarily be time-consuming. I believe that this will be best left to scholars whose main research interest is girls' school stories (my own interests are much wider). I therefore propose to hand over the future control of the hypertext to a group of scholars rather than controlling it myself.
The reading process
The reader will first see a screen approximating to the front cover of a book, including the title, my name and an appropriate design. It is probable that it will also be appropriate to give the release date and edition details here.
After a set number of seconds this screen will automatically be replaced with a short Quicktime movie of myself welcoming the reader and introducing them to the basic concepts of the hypertext (eg using the buttons to move around; the fact that I have created the hypertext and as such will be guiding them around it and the subject, if sometimes invisibly). I believe that it is important to the reader's understanding of the context of their reading to see this first, even during re-readings, and also that offering the reader the option to bypass a screen at this stage would confuse non-computer literate readers.
Following this, the screen will automatically be replaced by the first page of a written preface, with the option for the reader to move on without reading it first (by pressing a button).
The preface will naturally discuss the background and context to the subject of my hyperthesis, the study of girls' school stories. It will also help the reader to understand more about the hypertext and their reading process, and allow them to feel more confident about their position within the hypertext. For example, it will include a full explanation of how to use the "lexia index" (see below). It will also introduce them to the concepts of using buttons - to move through the text - and of hypertext links, without having to think at the same time about how to navigate through the hypertext. During subsequent readings the reader can move past the preface without reading it, but I believe that it is crucial to their future understanding and thus successful reading of the hypertext to be given this option automatically, and to stress the benefits of reading it at the beginning.
The next screen will approximate to the chapter index page of a book, listing the lexias available. The design will also draw heavily on book conventions, since it is my belief that literal "web" visualisations only serve to confuse the non-computer literate reader (and perhaps the computer-literate as well). The reader will be able to choose to enter a lexia by pushing a button. The reader will further be able to display the sub-lexias available within a lexia (see below) - although they will not be able to choose to enter them directly from this screen - by pressing a separate button. A further HELP button will explain how the index operates if this was not understood during the reading of the preface or if the preface was bypassed.
The next screen will act as a sub-index to the lexia chosen, since within each lexia some parts will function independently and therefore will be accessible to the reader as separate units. To explain this as clearly as possible to the reader, the screen will summarise the contents of the lexia as a whole, and offer the reader the choice of reading the lexia from the beginning or accessing directly those parts which function independently. The reader will then be able to choose to enter the lexia at the beginning - because each lexia will retain some linear structure, if only an introduction to the sub-lexias - or at the beginning of any sub-lexia (these will also retain a linear structure where appropriate).
(If the reader chooses to enter a sub-lexia, the next screen will offer them further choices - sub-sub-lexias which can also be read as individual units independently of the sub-lexia, described within the context of the overall sub-lexia.)
The next screen will include some standard features which will quickly become familiar to the reader. The screen will be divided into the "page" itself (though see below), taking up the centre and left of the screen, with a control panel on the right-hand side containing various buttons and visualisations. Controls will include:
Page up and and page down buttons. The reader will quickly discover that varying the length of time these are held down will determine how far and fast the text moves in either direction. (Rather than being divided into pages, though, paragraphs will be tagged unobtrusively with an identification system of numbers and letters which will also help in the creation of links.)
Help button. This will bring up a standard screen explaining how the buttons work, with a further button to allow the reader to return to their previous screen.
Sub-lexia index button. This will return the reader to the lexia's sub-index.
Sub-sub-lexia index button. This will show the sub-sub-lexias available within a sub-lexia, and allow the reader to proceed directly to one of their choosing.
Lexia index button. This will return the reader to the main index of all the lexias available to them. (I will not use the 'Home' visualisation commonly incorporated into hypertext designs, as it is my belief that users find it confusing.)
Cancel/return to previous screen button. This will allow the reader to retrace their actions step by step to the point where they first entered the hypertext. It will also allow them to return to the main screen from a linked "note" etc.
Show video/show pictures/play sound buttons. These will only appear onscreen when these options are available. For example, when the text displayed includes a discussion of Enid Blyton, the picture button will be onscreen indicating that related pictures are available. When the text displayed includes a discussion of interviews, the video or sound buttons will appear indicating that footage of the actual interviews is available. When one of these buttons is pressed, the reader will be offered a intermediary screen if more than one option is available - eg if there is more than picture to choose from, a list of options will appear. Further selection will also take place using buttons.
Print Button. This will only appear when the print option is available.
Asterisk buttons within the text. These will indicate hypertext links to other parts of the hypertext or to further information. Pressing one of these buttons will either bring up this further information - eg a note, quicktime movie, image or reference - or offer the reader the option of moving to another part of the hypertext.
If the reader is also using the customisation option, a button will appear indicating this. When pressed it will bring up a separate control panel screen showing the customisation options. Further screens and written instructions will appear when necessary, for example to create hypertext links or add notes. Where possible, keyboarding will be avoided.
For example, when a reader wishes to create a hypertext link, they will have the option of supplying the information about the parts being linked by pressing buttons to select numbers from 1-10 and letter combinations symbolising different lexias rather than inputting the information via the keyboard - this would be particularly useful to some disabled readers who can use a mouse or trackball but not a keyboard.
The screen will also show the heading of the lexia (and if appropriate the sub-heading) currently being read.
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