Back in 1998, I was particularly proud to demonstrate in my thesis three benefits of hypermedia documents: the expression of intertextuality, the possibility for a 'living text', and an opportunity for a truly multilinear way of writing. Possibilities such as these had previously been hailed by hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson (1993), hypermedia guru George Landow (1992; 1994a; Landow and Delany 1991), and many others after them (see e.g. Howard 1988; Denning 1998; Mosher 1999 — for some critical commentary see Landow 1994b; Boast 2002). During the mid and late 1990s I, too, was suitably excited about the seemingly unlimited benefits of hypermedia documents. This section contains a discussion of how I think I fared in my own project, written with the benefit of hindsight.
A first ambition I had was to make the most of the ability in hypermedia to express the 'intertextual' nature of any academic work. Intertextuality refers to the numerous implicit references in each text to other texts. No text is written in complete isolation from other texts and can stand entirely for itself. Hyperlinks in hypertexts and hypermedia documents generally emphasise such intertextuality in a particularly neat way that is impossible in printed texts: they can lead directly from the hyperlinked terms, phrases or images to other contexts in which the same terms, phrases or images are meaningful, whether inside or outside the given work (Landow and Delany 1991). This is an obvious, and I believe undisputed, advantage of the medium.
Ted Nelson's original vision that all academic research will one day be part of a gigantic interconnected network of shared documents still holds for me as a desirable vision. Nelson argued (1993, 1/19) that it is desirable for presentations of thoughts to represent all the interconnections within a text the author can think of, and this is precisely what hypertexts make possible. In addition, there are potentially very many interconnections between a work and a large number of other works. Nelson's electronic publication project Xanadu works in a somewhat similar manner to hyperlinks on the World Wide Web, allowing direct connections both within a work itself and to other works (Nelson 1993, chapter 2; Mosher 1999). An unresolved problem is how to represent those interconnections the author could not think of, but limitations of authors are of course a problem that all works share.
Since everything in the world is interconnected, sometimes in complex ways, the possibility arises to 'create new forms of writing which better reflect the structure of what we are writing about' (Nelson 1993, 0/3). This benefit certainly applies to my own work, which was partly about how people make, and made, sense of ancient monuments by making their own connections. I was effectively arguing through both form and content of my writing for the power of making connections as an interpretative tool.
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Last updated: Wed Jan 28 2004