RhetNetFebruary 1995

Maps for the Lost (in Space)

Bob Jansen

Lost-in-space, apart from being a very boring TV show, has been under some study within the hypertext community. Basically, there are two main points of view:

  1. It is a real problem when a reader is attempting to 'read' your corpus
  2. It is a challenge for the reader and as such not a problem.

The only thing that everybody agrees on is that it is, under current technology, inevitable. The question is is it a good thing or not. The answer seems to be that it is not a problem IF the corpus is basically very small and the reader, after some time cursing and swearing (assuming they have not given up) comes to reach a congitive map of yout corpus. For any non-trivial domain, lost-in-space is such a problem for readers that they basically give up on your product and go back to paper. Obviously, for some contexts, lost-in-space can be part of the techniques used in the rhetorical structure of the document, ie., a book writen expressly around getting lost, but for most documents, this is not the case, anmd the reader has real problems in getting to grips with the thing.

As to the solution, there is none. The debate will continue, however, research shows that readers have very intelligent strategems for dealing with your document, and unless you are willing to support those strategems, they will throw your document away. In the electronic form, where the learning curve hits most people later in life (remember we are all taught how to handle paper documents in school) and includes now learning how to use computers in most cases, this is not a trifle to be discarded.

We have studied the process of acquiring knowledge from documents, and it occurs at maximum value when the reader knows where they are, where they are going, and how far they can go. These are all unavailable in lost-in-space conditions.

The contribution I responded to indicated to me an approach of free linkage making in and between electronic documents. An uncontrolled session of linkage-making will quickly lead to chaos as it becomes impossible to discern who or why links have been created, or who or what is linked to whom. This, as I stated, is a problem of context. Consider a map. Symbols on the map indicate reasons why the location has been put on the map, relationships, ie. placement on the map, indicates other information, and so by understanding the meta-model of the earth, we can walk from A to B via the scenic trail, the fastest route, the slowest route, the hardest climb, etc. This comes about because the linkages between objects represented on the map are in context and we are able to sort out the various contexts and thus make appropriate choices. People get lost when they lose the ability of making this choice, ie. they can not reach understanding of the contexts, and have to be rescued (usually by someone else putting their own life at risk).

Date:         Mon, 6 Feb 1995 16:36:43 +1000
Sender: CyberJournal for Rhetoric and Writing 
From: "Dr. Bob Jansen" 
Subject:      Re: all: editing?

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