George Landow is one of the pioneers of hypertext theory, having constructed hypertexts with students at Brown University during the late eighties and early nineties and written what was probably the most important early work on hypertext theory and fiction. He’s recently written a new essay for Dichtung Digital on “Evaluating Quality in Hypermedia“, where he uses his definition of hypertext to draw out measures of what good hypertext would be. He discusses many concrete examples, mostly from hypertext fiction but also some non-fictional examples.

Last week at the Digital og sosial conference one of the workshops chose chose almost this exact topic: How to tell if electronic literature is good. The other participants in the workshop wanted more negative reviews of electronic literature. I objected: as a critic I would far rather spend time exploring good works than choosing bad ones. I’m also more interested in discussing the aspects of works that I find interesting, or productive, or new than establishing absolute criteria for determining whether something is “good” or “bad”. But obviously there are people who do want clear guidelines, and Landow’s article should be perfect for them.

I don’t completely agree with all his points. For instance, he argues that while fictional and poetic hypertext might use disorientation as a literary effect, non-fiction hypertext should never be disorienting. I don’t want to separate non-fiction from fiction like that. I’ve written two non-fiction hypertexts, both reviews of other works, actually (a review of L??ding’s book Jernvev (1998) and a review of Martin’s xxxoooxxx (2000)), and both definitely use literary techniques and total orientation is not the point.

But I agree with most of his basic points, and they’re made clearly and with good use of examples. Some points are so simple that they’re easily forgotten, like his point that a single node in a hypertext (as a single post in a blog) needs to satisfy the reader all by itself at the same time as it tempts the reader to read more.

the current lexia readers encounter has to have enough interest, like any text, to convince them to keep reading, and yet at the same time it must also leave enough questions unanswered that reader feels driven to follow links in order to continue reading.

That desire to read on, to explore, is what fascinates me right now. What techniques does the most recent blog post at Justin’s Links or a single sticker of Implementation use to not only let you know that there is more but to prompt you to go looking for it? I’m curious as to how this can be done even without explicit links.
And my students will be reading Landow’s essay next semester.

At the conference last week one of the workshops chose to discuss who to evaluate the quality of electronic literature. George Landow, pioneer of hypertext theory and practice, recently published an essay suggesting specific rules of thumb for working this out: Is This Hypertext Any Good? Evaluating quality in hypermedia. While I’m not convinced that the rules he proposes are universal, the essay has many useful examples, raises some good questions and there are clearly people who really want guidelines to help them sort good from bad.

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