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Is What You Link

MATT: We’ve already said that the fundamental metaphor of spaces within spaces is nothing more than an outliner, and that Storyspace’s three "views" are merely graphic manifestations of that fundamental metaphor. The fun that makes Storyspace more than just an outliner starts when you begin adding links to your document. A link is a metaphorical arrow from one writing space, or from specific text within it, to another writing space. To follow a link is called "navigating," and if you navigate a link from a space whose text is open, the text closes and the text space at the other end of the link opens. This happens very fast: it isn’t like clicking a button or grouped text in HyperCard, where you have to wait around for the results. In essence this is the whole purpose of Storyspace: to cause whatever is at the other end of the link to appear instantly.

Now if you think about it carefully you will see that a link or collection of links is just a hierarchy by another name: item B may be subordinate to item A in the outline, but if a link leads from B to A, then, in terms of that link, A is subordinate to B. (I didn’t notice this until Michael Joyce pointed it out to me over the phone one day.) The ability to add links, therefore, is effectively the ability to superimpose a gigantic number of simultaneous hierarchies (rearrangements) upon a collection of bits of information; navigation is a way to peruse a particular hierarchy by visiting its members in turn, or to change which hierarchy you are following.

ADAM: I’m primarily used to working in the most fluid and powerful of the views, the storyspace view. I think this is because the storyspace view most closely simulates the non-linear environment that I was trying to achieve for my senior honors thesis. I say "non-linear" because the links allow one to transcend the purely linear nature of an outliner or charting tool in which b comes after a and II always follows I. Without true three dimensional displays that can render depth as well as height and width, Storyspace must rely on the Finder metaphor of windows within windows, all connected by these virtual paths to achieve the illusion of non-linearity. It’s a hard concept to visualize, but one that proves surprisingly easy to use.

MATT: I disagree with Adam here; I think he really just likes storyspace view because of the way windows open and close with such hypnotic speed (which I must admit is really neat). I almost never use the storyspace view, because I think it does the least to solve the problem of the two-dimensional screen that Adam just mentioned. In storyspace view, all you can see is one writing space (which acts as the program’s main window) and the writing spaces just inside it (which are shown as a bunch of boxes in the main window). The only ways you can see to move are down and up the hierarchy: you can click a space and open it to zoom in, causing it to become the new main window, or you can click the go-away box and zoom out, allowing you to see the window you were just in, arrayed next to its siblings. Furthermore, you still can’t have space titles long enough to be very helpful. I mostly use chart view, because, like storyspace view, when a text space appears it is a real Mac window, but, like outline view, you can see a lot of the document at a number of levels at once. However, in chart view you get even fewer characters of each space title – only about 9 characters! So I don’t really like any of the views very much! This is another one of those user interface problems that bug me so much.

But back to navigation of links.

The way you cause yourself to navigate a link is to press the Navigate tool in the toolbar, which looks like a double-headed arrow. There are two main rules built into Storyspace to dictate what will happen when you do this; it is these rules that make navigation into a simple and powerful reflection of your intended organization.

  • Rule 1: If there is more than one link from a text space, then, if these links emanate from discrete parts of the text space (particular words or pictures), navigation will automatically be along the link that starts where the text selection point was last placed. In reading, this rule means that you will follow the link that starts with the word or graphic that you select. So if you see two words that function as doors out of a text space [ADAM: I always made these explicitly different so the reader never had to guess, but other authors have left it to the reader to discover which words lead to which paths.], clicking on one should take you along its link; clicking on the other will take you along the second link, presumably to a different place.
  • Rule 2: It is possible, though not compulsory, to name a link. If you enter a text space by navigating along a link which has a name, and if there is a link leading out of that space which has the same name, then, unless Rule 1 intervenes (the insertion point is in text from which a link emanates), navigation will automatically be along the link whose name matches the one you came in on. These two links, together with all other links sharing the same name, are called a "path." In reading this means that you can just let Storyspace show you "what’s next" by repeatedly hitting the Navigate tool.

ADAM: This rule is one that I didn’t particularly take advantage of when I was writing my thesis, if only because I wanted the reader to continually be making involved choices. (It also helped that I didn’t understand how to do this until it was too late.) However, this feature is terribly useful to authors who wish to create primary paths through the document, paths from which the readers can take alternate side trips whenever they desire (and are allowed by the author).

MATT: Exactly so. An example might be the difference between a beginner and an expert version of one document. You could set up the document so that under one set of conditions, hitting the Navigate button repeatedly would take the user through one set of "simple" texts, and under another set of conditions, it would show a larger set of "complex" texts – which could, however, include the simple texts, because if you come into a "simple" text along the "complex" path, you’ll go out again along the "complex" path. Also, Adam, even though you didn’t use the second method much, it’s easy to imagine how one could combine the branching to a new path in Rule 1 with the following along the current path in Rule 2, to make quite an interesting document.

Actually there is a third navigation rule, but we’ll discuss that later, when we talk about stand-alone documents created with Storyspace, since that is the only place where it applies.

ADAM: Three tools in the toolbar make creating links very easy. The simplest is the Note tool, which you use by selecting a word or two in a text space and then clicking on the Note icon, which looks like an asterisk. Storyspace promptly creates a new writing space called Notes (if one doesn’t exist already), and in that a writing space using your words as the title. It then brings up the text space for you to type in and creates an untitled link from the original selected text into the new space, and another back to the original. The new writing space is a normal writing space and can be dragged out and arranged or left in the Notes writing space. This tool is good if all you want to do is provide a footnote (as the icon suggests) to a piece of text.

If you want to link already existing spaces, you will want to use the Link tool, which looks like an arrow. It is almost as easy. Select either a writing space or some text within a text space, click the Link tool (a path starts following your cursor at this point) and then click on the destination space. A box will pop up in the middle of the path for you to name the path, but you can just hit return if you don’t wish to name that path.

The Link tool’s main limitation is that you can’t use it to link two spaces you don’t see simultaneously. Storyspace is good about letting you open multiple views of a document, but you still may find that it just isn’t easy for you to make both the start and the intended destination of a link appear on the screen at once. For that reason, Storyspace includes a Tunnel tool, which works a little differently from the standard tools. To use it, you select a space or some text, click the Link tool to get a path started, and then click on the Tunnel tool icon. The icon changes to indicate that Storyspace knows that a path can come out of the Tunnel. You can then navigate to anywhere in your document and pull the path out of the Tunnel by clicking on the Tunnel icon and then on the destination. The Tunnel tool doesn’t forget about the source space, so if you wish to create multiple paths from that space, just keep pulling them out of the Tunnel tool, much as a magician pulls rabbits from a hat.

MATT: A powerful tool for building paths also permits you, within a dialog box, to select writing spaces meeting some criterion (or just manually, by name) and then do such things as generate a series of links through them all, or link each of them to another space or spaces. Since you can also assign keywords to a writing space, it would be a simple matter to use this feature to make paths that would permit you to visit all spaces marked by a given keyword (for example, in maintaining bibliographical notes or index cards).

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