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Authoring and Design for the WWW


The uses of hypertext

Some guidelines for hypertexts

Some rules of thumb can be extracted for Web publishers:

Do not link everything that can be linked.

Use links moderately. Consider that all links in the Web look the same: the user has no way of knowing which links are important, which incidental.

Web links do not have types

Web links do not easily allow different kinds of relationship between the current text and the linked text to be represented on screen. Web publishers could devise their own ways of, for example, differentiating links to primary sources from those to secondary sources, but users would have to learn this local convention, and the publisher would have to apply it with perfect consistency.

Linking documents means building structures

The structures which are made through hypertext linking will often be assimilated by the user through exploration, rather than explicitly presented. These structures may not be comprehensible to anyone but the author. The author and designer must put themselves in the user's shoes, if necessary by testing prototypes on real users (see User-centred Design p69). It may be useful to provide graphical maps of the structure, and it will probably also help if these maps are themselves a means of accessing the nodes represented there (see Case Studies p86).

Users forget where they are

The archetypal view in a Web browser, a single window full of text containing links which on being activated cause the current text to disappear and be wholly replaced by new text, is inimical to users' confidence and understanding. Frames, despite their non-standard nature, offer one way out of this problem by allowing new information to be brought to the screen (in one frame) while the original material remains (in another).

Mixed media

Text is economical to store on computers, swift to process, and easy to deliver to the user's terminal (even if this terminal is of the crudest kind). Graphics, sound, animation and filmic imagery (in that order) are correspondingly more greedy in their storage requirements, slower to process, and more difficult to deliver to the user.

Text is a powerful medium which can communicate many different kinds of information, evoke almost any emotion, represent many different kinds of structures, concepts and qualities. In addition, within the confines of our HEI's interests and activities, we probably want to actively encourage our students to use text (whether as writers or readers) in sophisticated, thoughtful ways. We should therefore be wary of succumbing needlessly to the temptation to use other media gratuitously (and expensively) where text would be perfectly adequate.

New forms should be explored

While we have urged caution, there is also scope for experiment. Hypertext readers, through the medium of the Web, are daily becoming more confident and sophisticated. New structures and ways of writing should be developed, so that the Web can find its own voice, or more probably voices.
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