0. Technical Note

In spite of the many advantages of hypermedia, there are significant disadvantages (for example, see Holtorf 1999 for a summary of potentials and problems). Although hypermedia documents allow movement between the different elements, they may still be better read from beginning to end in the traditional manner (how else will we know if we've missed something important?). Indeed, the theoretical advantages of hypermedia are generally not borne out in practice as physical pathways have to be defined by the author and hence the reader is not as free to roam as is often claimed. Furthermore, these physical pathways - the links - in the document disconcertingly tend to land readers in other sections of the document which can be very disorienting, especially as clicking on 'forward' or 'backward' navigation links in the text do not take the reader on or back to the next element in their route, but resumes the author's route from that point (although of course, the browser 'back' button is often used to circumvent this). What seems to be missing is a more dynamic approach to the presentation of hypermedia documents, one in which the document reform ulates itself according to the route being followed by the reader. At the same time, the traditional importance of linearity in the development of an argument has also to be recognised.

This experimental presentation attempts to combine a traditional linear paper cast in a hypertext framework, with a more dynamic document that responds to the reader's chosen pathway through it. As is often the case with papers and publications, this paper lent itself to at least two primary routes or readerships through the text, one a subsidiary of the other but at the same time both potentially independent of each other. Both have elements in common, so, from an author's perspective, the re-use of material would be advantageous but would need to avoid the update problems of having multiple versions of the same text and figures.

This paper - or more correctly, these two papers - have been developed using a number of simple JavaScript functions which recast the document according to the pathway chosen by the reader. Section headings, figure numbering, and navigation buttons are all dynamically generated according to context by detecting the route being followed by the reader. This allows text and figures to be re-used, often in a different order, but enables the traditional orienting cues of structured consecutive numbering and associated references in the text to be retained and manages the logic of the navigation buttons to maintain the flow of the text. All these elements remain important in Internet Archaeology regardless of the medium, as evidenced in the housestyle guidelines. The effect can be demonstrated by clicking on the following buttons (by definition, this demonstration requires JavaScript to be enabled!):

Context 1 and Context 2 represent two different routes by which the example page has been accessed. The same example page is used each time, with the same text and images, but as the context changes, so page elements are updated dynamically. If JavaScript is turned off or otherwise unavailable, the document reverts to a more traditional form at, with all the dynamic elements disabled and no page cues (rather than display false ones).

There can be side-effects, however. For example, one effect of dynamically changing documents is to increase the difficulty in referencing elements within them - a figure will change its number and location according to its context, for instance. This example has a relatively simple structure and so such problems are inevitably relatively minor, but the principles are more than capable of being applied to more complex documents with multiple interleaving pathways. The success or otherwise of this approach to hypermedia presentation will remain to be seen.


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Last updated: Thu Jun 15 2000