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Literatronica: The next generation of hypertext authoring at WRT: Writer Response Theory



Hypertext literature is ready for a new tool and it’s name is Literatronica (aka Literatronic). (See also this interview with its creator Juan B. Gutierrez)

This bilingual system, developed by Colombian mathematician and author Juan B. Gutierrez, is here to change the way authors think about hypertext by providing an online application that answers several of the major problems with hypertext, namely, the problems of:

  1. readers not knowing how much of a text has been read
  2. readers encountering repeated lexias without artistic effect
  3. Readers getting lost and not finding their way through the text
  4. writers struggling to maintain large systems of static links

Of course, many of these bugs of other hypertext narrative story systems became features in the hands of skilled authors with modernist and post-modernist aesthetics, but there is another way.

What Literatronic is:

Literatronic is a dynamic hypertext authoring system which instead of relying solely on static hypertext links (for the system allows these as well), uses an AI engine to recommend the 3 best next lexias based on what you have already read.

How it works:

  1. Authors input their lexias into the web interface.
  2. Authors decide which lexias should be linked with each other
  3. Authors assign a numeric “distance” between connected lexias. A passage which follows easily, or without much interpretive work might be a 5 while a passage that is distantly related might be a 25.

What the system does:

Out of these “distances,” the system creates a map. To help the reader traverse the map, the system runs a “shortest distance” algorithm to suggest paths. Because the system is dynamic, it can change paths according to the lexias the reader has already encountered.

How the reader encounters it:

The reader is presented with an opening lexia. At the bottom of the screen are titles and short teasers for 3 possible subsequent lexias. Percentages beside the titles of these lexias indicate “narrative continuity,” as the higher percentages indicate greater linkage. When there is only one subsequent page, the system merely offers a “next” button.”

Readers can choose any of up to four links; however, once a page has been read it is removed from the?bullpen of choices. If readers want to go back, they can access the “map,” and reset pages to “unread.” This feature allows the system to show its true dynamic powers, as a system can rearrange sequence in a way that static links cannot.

Of course, the system can be used by each author in any number of ways. For example, an author can assign two lexias the same distance, leaving it up to the reader to choose. Or the author can rate as highly continuous two lexias that have nothing to do with each other, if they want their work to present a more difficult path.? Writers might also offer their links in the hopes that readers will take the path less chosen.

New addition: the relative distance (Attractors)
In any case, hypertext writing here has a new semiotic element, the relative distance. Rather than thinking in hypertext terms, which elements should be linked, the author considers levels of kinship, affinity, connection.

But the reader carves their own paths as well!
The system reports reader activity so that authors can get a sense of what paths people are taking.  In response, authors can change the distances.

Gradually the readers will cut through the grass, wear it down to just dirt, and authors can lay the concrete on top in response — assuming the author has an interest in what the reader’s like to do.
?

Juan Gutierrez’s hypertext optimization system Literatronica radically revises the 1990s notions of literary hypertext as Modernist collage to the “original” notions of Arpanet as document sharing, where speed of access was put before what Aarseth calls the aporia of links. In short, he asks, is nonlinearity and disruption inherent to the medium.

Of specific interest to Gutierrez, was the issue of “conditional links,” which he saw as limited in terms of difficulty of maintenance. His adaptive hypertext system, Literatronic, addresses the problem by having writers enter text into a database, and then assign “distances” between various lexias. Literatronic, while keeping track of which lexias you’ve read will present you with the 3 best or closest options. By letting you know what percentage of the lexias you have read, the system answers one of the criticism against literary hypertext, which is that helpless feeling of not knowing when a piece will end.

His project is thus an aesthetic reconsideration of hypertext and a practical application, soon to be available to users. Through his system, one can “optimize the narrative space.” Not all readers want it optimized, and I would expect the expert-readers of literary hypertext would be included.

Stemming from work Gutierrez originally undertook for the Colombian government, Literatronic offers the ability to present texts in parallel versions in English and in Spanish.

Some sample tales are currently available on the website. (Note: Some use the adaptive hypertext system, while others are “classic,” presented sequentially as if in print):

A Literatronic Bookshelf

Adaptive Hypertexts
Extreme Conditions:

Extreme Conditions is a hyperfiction that inaugurates
the genre in Spanish, drawing on a long tradition of grim futuristic science-fiction. The novel integrates text and image in a hypertext whose organizing principle is time and which has a marked social dimension, with themes such as technology and power, racism and pollution… Time travel is tricky, and so is the attempt to change the course of history. But Gutierrez is not a determinist. He offers a circular array of events that emphasize the often casual connections between moments?. Review in Latin American Literature and the Mass Media. Hispanic Issues, Volume 22. Castillo, Paz-Soldan eds. Garland Publishing, New York, 2001.

Classics
Pragmatic Science Fiction
This computer has a device that tracks the movement of your pupils. The artificial intelligence software moves sections of the image you are not focused on.

The First Flight of the Wright Brothers

This is the first hypertextual novel created by Juan B Gutierrez. Written Between 1996 and 1997 thanks to a grant by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia (COLCULTURA). With contributions by Carlos E. Herrera P.

Gonzalez: Files and Documents

The story of the mass manslaughter performed by the most ingenious assassin of all wars.

Don Quixote, Part I

Don Quixote was the first modern novel. This cornerstone is a quintessential masterpiece of world literature, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605. Even though there are many on-line editions of this classic, we believe this one stands by its own right. Functions such as the reading map, the search engine and the reading gauge grant the reader a better control over the reading process.

Don Quixote, Part II

Continuation of this masterpiece of world literature, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1615.



12 Responses to “Literatronica: The next generation of hypertext authoring”

  1. 1 Alexandre Rafalovitch

    Interesting idea. I wonder if it can be used to teach a foreign language. Start from easy texts/grammar lessons and progress into more and more complex areas. Allow the reader to choose which ‘topic’ to learn, but control the difficulty of the language.

  2. 2 Juan B. Gutierrez

    In reply to Alexandre, yes Literatronica can be used to teach a foreign language. In fact, there is a Spanish doctoral student who is exploring precisely this possibility using Extreme Conditions. If you are interested, send me an email at literatronica hotmail. I could bridge the contact between you two.

  3. 3 Alejandro Lara

    In response to Alexandre and Juan, I have just read your commentaries and I think I’m the doctoral student mentioned in the message. Alexandre, could you expand a little bit more on how you intend to use adaptive literary hypertexts to teach a foreign language? I am developing a project on digital fiction and how it can be used to teach a foreign language. If you could email me, that would be appreciated.
    I am Alejandro Lara García
    jandrolara@gmail.com

    Thanks in advance.
    Best,
    Alejandro

  4. 4 Edward

    It’s a quite interesting concept. I’m interested to see how things like hypertextual literature will influence education over the next fifty years.

  5. 5 max

    Great post! Thanks!
    Here is some more useful info
    http://www.digeus.com/products/systemoptimizer/index.html
    It might be interesitng for you

  1. 1 craigbellamy.net » WRT: Writer Response Theory The next generation of hypertext authoring
  2. 2 Grand Text Auto » You’re Either With Us, Or With the Gamers
  3. 3 Literatronica: an interview with creator Juan B. Gutierrez at WRT: Writer Response Theory
  4. 4 Hipertexto en Español at WRT: Writer Response Theory
  5. 5 Time Travel via electronic literature at WRT: Writer Response Theory
  6. 6 May 1: a show of hands at WRT: Writer Response Theory
  7. 7 Beyond English Elit: International Electronic Literature at WRT: Writer Response Theory

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