Excursions through the Memi

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POSTED: February 4, 2007

I have written a piece about navigating through the memi, in which I look at the differences between taxonomies and folksonomies; and between visual and literary navigation.

However there is also an additional navigational need. This concerns the question of how a set of linked pages can be seen to form a larger piece. I realised that this was a problem when I looked at the opening page of my thesis. It looks like any other page. There is nothing to show that it is intended to be the opening page of a set of connected pages. More importantly there is no obvious way to find it.

It is not an essay, which I have taken to mean a lengthy piece of writing that lives in a single (long) page. It is an excursion through the memi. According to Dictionary.com an excursion is:

a short trip or outing to some place, usually for a special purpose and with the intention of a prompt return: a pleasure excursion; a scientific excursion.

which is a more or less accurate way of describing a set of linked pages that can be traversed for a special purpose, and in a specific order, in order to follow an argument.

I shall add some kind of visual pointers to make it clear where an excursion starts, and I may need to add a menu item to list all the excursions.

Writing styles

If we conceive of an excursion as a multimedia object consisting of an indeterminate number of pages, linked together in a specific order then we need to consider how this will be organised, and how this organisation will be presented to the user. These are separate but related issues.

The pages will need to be organised in such a way that they can be read either separately or as part of the overall argument. The only alternative would be to make the subsequent pages “secret”, which is to say to make them in such a way that they cannot be found through the menus, the tags, the search function or any other usual method of traversing the site. This would seem to me to be unsatisfactory at many levels, as well as technically difficult.

I can see two possible approaches to creating an excursion.

It could, in effect, be a meta-argument pointing out the nature of the journey and the reasons for the particular route. This would mean that the excursion was a single page that read like an executive summary of the arguments, and linked to all the other pages were the details, the elaborations and the proofs were written up. In this approach the excursion would be a set of assertions with each assertion linked to an entry that treated it like a issue in its own right, and proceeded from question or hypothesis, through argument and evidence, to a conclusion.

The second approach would be to avoid the use of a summary page to which users returned time and time again, and instead make a set of pages that were read sequentially as a set of linked essays that, read in the right order, possessed a synergy. The problem with this approach is that it would be easy to get lost, as each individual essay would almost certainly have its own internal and external links. This would necessitate an additional map-based navigational panel, so that the user could retrace their steps.

I have no final opinion on this matter at the moment. I am just noting that there are consequences below the surface of either choice. I am also noting, in passing, that in the first approach the executive summary need not be a written essay. It could be a concept map, with each box on the map linking to an entry that expands upon the topic it raises.

A third option

I thought about this at some length, and it dawned on me that there is a possible approach that uses visual enhancement to build upon the first option. This would work by quoting paragraphs directly from linked posts, making the entire quoted paragraph into a link, and then indicating this by rendering the background in very light blue. This would provide an intuitive method for building an essay out of an explanatory text while embedding Lego-blocks of linked paragraphs that can lead the viewer directly to a related entry.

The paragraph above is a working example of this. It links to a related post about navigating through a memi.

As with the first option above, the main page would provide an overview, but the use of embedded paragraphs would make the hyper-linking altogether more graceful. It should be noted that this will either involve planting summary paragraphs at the end of pages to which excursions will be made, or it will require several extra levels of attention during the process of writing and editing. Without summary paragraphs there will be paragraphs that exist in two separate entries (the original entry and the excursion where they are later embedded), and they will need to read fluently in both contexts.

Holy, moly, Batman!