Patterns of Hypertext

This is a listing of Mark Bernstein’s patterns from his paper Patterns of Hypertext[1].  While they apply mostly to web and novels, the concepts apply to all hypertext. The person interacting with the hypertext is referred to as the reader, user, or player.

There has been calls to structure hypertext for clarity, but it is clear that this is not possible, and that it in fact has not largely affected users. Since complexity isn’t going away, creating appropriate vocabulary to describe such structures is important. Nodes within hypertext can be part of multiple overlapping patterns. It is not to say that these patterns are to be used by all writers, but instead that considering these patterns could improve the understanding and quality of works of hypertext.

Cycle

Cycle

Description

The player returns to a previously visited node, eventually departing along a new path. These cycles are often paths of nodes repeated.

Features

Creates recurrence and the presence of structure. Key points are emphasized and others relegated to the background. Authors may break the cycle with conditional links or hints to guide users along a new pathway.

Joyce’s Cycle

Description

The player rejoins a previously visited part of the hypertext, continuing along a previously traversed pathway before the cycle is broken.

Features

Revisiting previously visited scenes can provide a fresh experience as the context of the new viewing can change the understanding of the scene. This differs from the regular Cycle as the reader can loop back at a time after the cycle’s path has finished rather than instantly.

Contour

Description

Where cycles impinge on each other and the user can freely move between paths defined by each cycle. Infrequent links allow for more restricted movement from one contour to another.


Counterpoint

Description

Two voices alternate and weld together theme and response. For instance, alternating letters between characters establishing their differences and connections, or switching between tales of past and present, such as telling a granddaughter how things were and how things are now.

Features

Gives a clear sense of structure, and a deep sense of call and response. It frequently arises from character-centric narratives.


Mirror World

Description

Provides an alternate parallel or intertextual narrative adopting a differing or contrasting perspective. A central theme is echoed.

Features

Whereas Counterpoint uses differing voices of close to or equal weight about a single area, Mirror World creates a thread that parallels the main thread, amplifying or elaborating on it in ways impractical alone.


Tangle

Description

A variety of links are given to the user without giving sufficient clues as to where to guide the user’s choice. This can either be for amusement, or be more practically aimed, such as intentionally disorienting the user.

Features

Providing users with a Tangle can help to convey the breadth of the hypertext. They often appear where the author wishes to give the user a reason to explore many potential pathways.


Sieve

Description

Sorts players through one or more layers of choice to direct them to sections or episodes. Often is represented by trees or other kinds of hierarchical graphs.

Features

If the choices are informed, then the Sieve acts as a decision tree.


Montage

Description

Several distinct writing areas appear in parallel, reinforcing each other but still retaining their separate identities.


Neighborhood

Description

Establishes an association among nodes through either proximity, shared ornament, or other common features (such as location).

Features

In the context of the web, if each page was designed to its own purpose without any common feature to surrounding pages, the site as a whole would feel disconnected; the common ground between pages creates a Neighborhood.


Split/Join

Split/Join

Description

Joins two or more sequences together after departing from a shared origin. These can occur as a result of a previous decision within a Split/Join, too.

Features

This lets users be in control of the narrative for a limited timespan before returning to an authored narrative; choices made after the split but before the join are done so by the user’s choice, but once joined, the narrative continues regardless of decisions made.

Rashomon

Description

This embeds a Split/Join in a Cycle, where the Split/Join effectively breaks the cycle. Each iteration of the Cycle, the user may explore different splits, although the Cycle remains the primary frame.

Overview/Tour

Description

Where one side of the Split/Join is more detailed than the other, although their intent is related. This can be as a service to the user, but does not have to be.

Moulthrop’s Move

Description

The Split is offered, but the hypertext responds somewhat against the user’s intent instead of responding directly to their choice. The hypertext resists the user in this case and doesn’t serve their choices directly.


Missing Link

Description

A node that appears to be possible is in fact missing from the hypertext. Allusion, iteration, and ellipsis can all suggest a link that is not actually present but should be.

Features

Use of Missing Link introduces structural irregularity in places where regular structure has been established. It can also create a uniquely attractive path due to its inaccessibility.


Navigational Feint

Description

Establishes the existence of a navigational opportunity that is not meant to be immediately followed. This informs the reader of possibilities that may be pursued in the future.

Features

Feints need not be entirely accurate; HyperCard’s documentation overview, for instance, suggested to new readers that programming was a minor part of its systems, but in fact, over half of the actual documentation was dedicated to programming.

Alternatively, instead of deceit, Navigational Feints can act as things such as doorways, structures, or other pathways that intersect a reader’s route, signaling possible openings for new narratives that the player may choose to pursue at a later time.


Conclusion

Patterns may, and usually do, contain other patterns as components. Cycles may contain other sequences, other Cycles, or invidious nodes. Parallel cycles may form a Counterpoint, or converge to form a Tangle.  Using these patterns, we can develop a rich vocabulary of hypertext structure and criticize better.

Finally, tools are (were) not good at visualizing patterns. Node-link systems like Storyspace, MacWeb, and NoteCards represent Cycles well in isolated groups, but struggle to display patterns that span multiple containers (Mirror World, Missing Link, Feint, Montage). We need to create tools that allow for understanding and modification of these patterns.

References

[1] M. Bernstein, “Patterns of Hypertext,” in Proceedings of the Ninth ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia : Links, Objects, Time and Space—structure in Hypermedia Systems: Links, Objects, Time and Space—structure in Hypermedia Systems, New York, NY, USA, 1998, pp. 21–29.