Reading the Archives:
Types of Hypertext in Kairos
Having created a random walk and a ten-webtext slice, I had pretty much exhausted the strategies available for developing an overview for the work in Kairos. It was time to start looking at the individual texts themselves. My initial goal was to identify as many different types of hypertext () as I could in the Kairos archives. This process took several passes through the work as I repeatedly divided and combined categories. Virtually every form of hypertext that emerged came in several subtle variations. One of the hardest decisions to make was when a variation in form was significant enough to merit a separate category. In this sense, these efforts to categorize webtexts echo a major themes in the slice analysis: The online texts in Kairos contain an amazing amount of diversity and creativity. In the end, I settled on eight distinct types of hypertext. Here is a discussion of each along with examples and some of the more substantial variations within categories.
Linear Hypertexts A linear hypertext is a single linear page in HTML. Although these are one-page documents, linear hypertexts are much more sophisticated than simply saving as HTML out of Word. Linear hypertexts in Kairos often contain graphics, color, and images. They usually include external links and sometimes have anchor links along the top of the page. These documents are clearly hypermediated, even if they are fundamentally linear. Randy Brooks' webtext "Communications as the Foundation of Distance Education" (Kairos 7.2, 2001) is an example of a linear Kairos text.
Exploratory Hypertexts Unlike linear hypertexts, exploratory hypertexts are constructed out of a number of discrete nodes. Unlike the forms that follow, exploratory hypertexts deliberately conceal the way those nodes are organized, encouraging readers to instead explore the hypertext and construct their own model of its organization. This form owes much to pre-Web hypertext systems such as Storyspace and to classic Storyspace hypertexts such as Michael Joyce's (1989) afternoon. Exploratory hypertexts are the rarest form of webbed text in Kairos and the hardest to do well. Janice Walker's "Fanning the Flames: Tenure and Promotion and Other Role-Playing Games" (Kairos 2.1, 1997) is a classic example of an exploratory hypertext (). Anne Wysocki's "A Bookling MonumentA Bookling Monument" (Kairos 7.3, 2002) is another hypertext that is fundamentally organized in a manner that invites exploration (click on the fly and see what happens), even though the webtext is full of rich and compelling new media elements and individual subsections of the text use more conventional navigational structures.
Looping Hypertexts A looping hypertext starts with a page of links. To work through the text, the reader must constantly return (or loop back) to this starting page to select another link. After the first page, links may take you through several additional pages of an individual thread, but eventually you have to return (or loop back) to the beginning page to select another link and progress through the text. In the early days of Kairos, authors used two distinct forms of looping: starting pages and tables of contents. In a starting page hypertext, the links you loop back to are embedded in a page of text. In Cynthia Haynes and Jan Rune Holmevik's "Lingua Unlimited: Enhancing Pedagogical Reality with MOOs" (Kairos 1.2, 1997), the text in the initial page provides a safe haven that the reader returns to again and again when exploring the text. In a table-of-contents hypertext, the links are abstracted out of the text into a link list of some type, but again, readers can only use the table of contents to follow one thread at a time and must loop back to switch to a different topic. Stuart Blythe's "Why Owls? Value, Risk, and Evolution" (Kairos 1.1, 1996) is an example of a table-of-contents hypertext. He even includes a cute owl icon to remind you to click back to the beginning. Looping hypertexts were most popular in the early years of Kairos but have since largely disappeared. There are 16 starting-page webtexts and 13 table-of-contents webtexts in the Kairos archive, both forms appearing within the same time frame, which is why I decided to combine the two into a single category.
Sequential Hypertexts Sequential hypertexts are broken into a series of discrete nodes that are linked together in a sequential manner, usually with some form of next/previous navigation. While sequential linking is often used in parts of more complex pieces, I only placed webtexts in this category when the sequential linking was the primary method of organization, that is, clicking through the piece page by page was the primary means of reading. Sequential organizing strategies appear early and often in Kairos starting with Camille Langston's 1996 text, Resistance and Control: The Complex Process of Creating an OWL (Kairos 1.1, 1996). Purely sequential forms of linking, however, tend to be effective only for texts with a limited number of nodes, or when a sequence of nodes tells a single story or makes a single argument. In more complex hypertexts, smaller sequences of nodes are often combined into a single thread and these threads are linked together in a more nonlinear manner. One of the most striking examples of this form of organization is Elizabeth Losh's "Terrorism, Teaching, and Technology: Reading for Rhetoric in September 11th Documents on the Internet" (Kairos 7.2, 2002). The text has seven distinct threads"Ethos," "Pathos," "Logos," "Class," "Nation," "Gender," and "Race"which are always available from a menu on the left of the page. Should you click on one of these threads, you are taken to an introductory page with a strong graphic header along the top and next/previous links to take you through the topic. Each thread eventually leads to the works cited page.
Matrix Hypertexts Matrix hypertexts offer a series of links along the top and/or the bottom of the page. Because these links appear on every page, readers have the option of jumping around from section to section at any point. Matrix-type organizational strategies work best when a webtext has just a few major topics. Real estate at the top of a web page tends to be tight, and too many links will overwhelm readers' short-term memory. Barry Mauer's "Electronic Monumentality" (Kairos 1.3, 1996) tries to overcome these limits by organizing his matrix of links into a sentence: "Construct an abject electronic monument for understanding a personal/cultural loss," with each word linking to a different page, whereas Michael Salvo takes the idea of a matrix to an extreme, offering a map of his text, "Deafened to Their Demands: An Ethnographic Study of Accommodation" (Kairos 7.1, 2002), made up only of a grid of links.
Menu Hypertexts Menu hypertexts are a variation of the matrix organization in which links are placed along the left or right side of the page, once again creating nonlinear access to any of the major sections of the text. The first Kairos menued hypertext was Kristine Blair and Pamela Takayoshi's "Navigating the Image of Woman Online" (Kairos 2.2, 1997). Since then, menuing has been an extremely popular organizing strategy, and the menus have grown more and more sophisticated. Compare Blair and Takayoshi's menus to Madeleine Sorapure's "Five Principles of New Media: Or, Playing Lev Manovich" (Kairos 8.2, 2003). This text, constructed entirely in Flash, has a menu structure that gracefully appears and then disappears when one clicks the "menu" button. Matrix and Menu hypertexts make use of the organizing power of the rows and columns of a table. For this reason, I considered combining the two but did not because while matrix patterns predominated early, menued structures have largely replaced them in Kairos texts.
Multi-Windowed Hypertexts A multi-windowed hypertext displays content in two or more windows which can change independently of each other. Although multi-windowed hypertexts appear rarely in Kairos, they are not a new form. The first multi-windowed text, Jacqueline Goss's "Reading Subrin's Swallow" (Kairos 3.1, 1998), appeared in 1998, and the most recent, Joyce Walker's "Hyper.Activity," appeared in January of 2006 (). Early versions of this form juxtaposed linear versions of different threads (or separate essays) in their multiple windows, but in more recent versions, linked content flows independently through multiple windows. In addition, several recent texts, such as Bob Samuels' "Integrating Hypertextual Subjects: Combining Modern Academic Essay Writing with Postmodern Web Zines" and Rich Rice and Cheryl Ball's "Reading the Text: Remediating the Text" (both in Kairos 10.2, 2006), include complex multi-window elements even though the multiple windows are not the primary form of navigation.
Timeline Hypertexts The most recent form of hypertext to appear in Kairos is new media-based. These texts do not, however, simply incorporate new media elements such as video, sound or Flash in an otherwise traditionally-organized hypertext (as Ellertson did so skillfully in his webtext, "Information Appliances and Electronic Portfolios: Rearticulating the Institutional Author" Kairos 10.1, 2005 ). Instead, these webtexts are organized around a timeline and are designed to be watched and/or read linearly. An example of a timeline hypertext is Daniel Anderson's "Prosumer Approaches to New Media Composition: Consumption and Production in Continuum" (Kairos 8.1, 2003), the first text to appear in Kairos in video format (although not the first to use video). A fascinating aspect of this text is that while the QuickTime movie is playing in a left frame, comments, quotes, images, and links to example materials appear at apt moments in the right frame and the reader is encouraged to pause the QuickTime portion in order to explore these linked materials. It is very Blue Man-groupish.()
If you are curious to see how useful these categories are, use the random walk to examine some Kairos webbed texts.