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new hypertext: a little show of hands at WRT: Writer Response Theory




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The latest version of Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures (Winter ‘07, 04) hit the webstands recently, and in it you’ll find “a little show of hands,” a short story adaptation excerpted from my adaptive hypertext novella “a show of hands.” The story continues focuses on a Mexican-American family in Los Angeles and the forces that pull them into the Immigration Reform march of 2006.

For this issue of Hyperrhiz, editor Helen Burgess has focused on electronic literature, including works from Thom Swiss, Braxton Soderman, Stephanie Strickland and Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo, Jaka Zeleznikar, Michael Peters, and Jeanne Hamming. Notably Strickland and Lawson Jamarillo’s “slippingglimpse” presents a 10-poem meditation, exploring ocean patterns through images, interaction, and text.

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“a little show of hands”

This short hypertext features some changes from the original version. It tells the story of Katrina de la Palma, a Mexican-American girl, struggling with her life and new child in Los Angeles. Readers can pursue hypertextual links to explore vignettes in her relationship with Chino, her lover, and with her mother.

Although this version presents merely a portion of the overall novella, readers should be able to get a sense of the adaptive hypertext system that runs “a show of hands” and how it functions to sustain coherence even with fairly radical reader movement through the text.

(More on “a show of hands” here)

Showing Differently

The first challenge to revising “a show of hands” has been to develop the interface. Originally, the piece was written and hosted on Literatronica (a.k.a Literatronic), Juan B. Gutierrez’s adaptive hypertext system that we have discussed on the blog.

Recently Juan and Laura Borras have won a 200,000 Euro grant to develop an adaptive, locative media piece in Spain. Since Literatronic is a core technology in this project, Juan has promised new developments in the system that will make it even more customizable as an authoring system.
Both the Spanish grant and the recent publication of “a little show of hands” offer continuing evidence of the hypertext renaissance or perhaps more importantly the activity in the textual developments in electronic literature.

Previously Literatronic had a set template for all texts, the look of all of the stories on it was fixed. Since then, Juan has moved to a new model, placing each story in their own domain in a separate hosting structure. Consequently, the interface can be adapted to suit each author’s tastes. This instantiation is a stepping stone to developing the stand alone versions of Literatronic that writers (and publishers) will be able to install on their own servers.

Both versions of “a show of hands” now look different from other Literatronic works. The color scheme now brings in more browns, and a new banner replaces the Literatronic banner.

The rationale behind the change is to give the reader more of the experience of being in a particular work. Reading specialists have argued about the importance of the look and feel of the book to our memory and engagement in the reading experience. As you can see from his site, Juan is a great advocate of textual literacy (in an online publishing environment that is often is consumed by images). Recognizing the importance of creating distinct texts with their own look and feel has moved him to add opportunities for customization or at least skinning.

Since “a show of hands” now lives in its own space, it also has its own reader forum, for leaving feedback and discussing issues in the story. Regardless of whether or not the reader wants to add their own feedback, registering for the site (or using “guest” access) is key to engaging the “adaptive” aspect of the system, as it keeps track of what you have read and suggests the subsequent pages.

A Showing of Percentages

In the new version, I have also turned off the percentages markers, which gave readers a numerical indication of the coherence of each subsequent link. While the numbers express the relative coherence of each passage (i.e. how clearly it follows the previous one), readers expressed difficulties choosing between 98% and 97%. While these percentages are now hidden, the system still presents the links in order starting with the most coherent. Readers can still use the subtitles, character names, and brief excerpts to facilitate their selection of a subsequent page.

While I have removed the coherence percentages, I have left the percentage indicator that shows readers how much of the text they have read, including a progress bar. Again, this depth marker is meant to combat on of the major complaints about the unsettling experience of not knowing how far you are into an electronic text (albeit an experience some of us enjoy quite a bit).
“a show of hands” will continue to evolve. I am also planning several dramatic adaptations for “a show of hands” for the Spring, including one at the University of Southern California and another at the &Now Festival of innovative literature and art 2008 (http://andnowfestival.com/).

Open Call: Hyperrhiz is currently seeking submissions for her summer issue. Please contact Helen Burgess for more information or email submission to submissions [at] hyperrhiz [dot] net. Contact Juan Gutierrez if you are interested in writing a story using the free Literatronic system.



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