July 17, 2016
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Hypertext 2016

Just back from Hypertext 2016 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve missed a couple of hypertext conferences lately – they’re costly, especially when in a remote place, and lately the center of gravity has swung toward empirical studies of Twitter and Facebook that strike me as irrelevant to – or actually destructive of – the hypertext of the Web.

This year, though, the conference had a really strong hypertext session and quite a few fascinating papers. The Engelbart Award was taken home by Millard and Hargood (again) for a nifty paper about Patterns of Sculptural Hypertext in their location-based narrative system Storyplaces. It’s fascinating work – hypertexts to be read while wandering through a city – and led to all sorts of fascinating discussions about literary experience, tourism, augmented reality, China Miéville’s City and The City, and much else. Almost makes up for missing Readercon, which was scheduled for the same dates.

Thomas Schedel and Claus Atzenbeck had a terrific paper on spatial parsers. This is an old core idea of spatial hypertext, in which the computer works to understand the layout of things like Tinderbox maps. Schedel’s just finished a doctorate on the topic, to which he brings some fascinating insight and a welcome sense of rigor. This is ambitious work that will have direct influence on systems you use, and you won’t need to wait very long to see the impact.

These two papers were the first I can remember in eons where I returned from hypertext with immediate implementation plans. My own paper on Storyspace 3 was in the same session and nicely received; it describes how the new Storyspace accommodates “exotic” affordances like sculptural hypertext and shark links – things originally termed exotic because they were not anything like Storyspace.

Stacey Mason chaired a creative track that was fascinating, too. A sidebar to the creative track reception was a performance by the 2B Theater Company of “REBECCA reads NORA reads MOLLY” – a staged reading of the entire final monologue of Ulysses. The work the referees selected for the creative exhibit were a fascinating mix:

I wrote some notes on Decline and Fall for the Narrative Workshop as well. We have a bunch of intriguing work here, not all of it ideal for reading at a cocktail reception, to be sure, but fascinating anyway and suggesting lots of directions for the future.