The Electronic Labyrinth


Storyspace is a hypertext system for the Macintosh which has been designed specifically for writers. It was created by Jay David Bolter, a classicist currently teaching at the Georgia Institute of Technology; John B. Smith, professor of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina; and Michael Joyce. A glance at our bibliography will reveal the depth of their commitment to research in this area. Though programmed for Riverrun Inc., Storyspace is currently being developed at Eastgate Systems, under the supervision of Mark Bernstein.

Storyspace follows Bolter's terminology in calling nodes writing spaces. These are displayed as scrollable windows on a desktop which includes the usual Mac pull-down menus and a toolbar. Writing spaces may contain text, graphics, sound, or video. They also act as containers for other writing spaces; in this way, clusters are supported. Text-editing features are unfortunately minimal. While font control is simple, paragraph and style formatting are not available.

Writing spaces may be viewed in one of three configurations. The Storyspace View displays nodes in a global map, the Outline View shows a vertical list of node names, and the Chart View displays them in a horizontal flow chart. A magnification tool allows one to zoom in on an area of particular interest. Navigation is as easy as point and click. Basic links may be made by drawing a line between two nodes and typing a label. Anchored links, indicated by a box around the text, are almost as effortless, requiring only that the anchor text is highlighted. These boxes may be made visible momentarily through a simple key combination. Though only reference links are available, a note tool automates annotation by combining the few steps that would otherwise be made manually.

A local map is provided through the Roadmap menu item. Paths may be named and saved, though there is no provision for playing them back as an automated tour. If there is more than one link from a node, priorities may be assigned to them by using "guard fields." The manual explains:

Guard fields act like sentries, allowing readers to follow a link only if they meet specified conditions. Guard fields are valuable when you want the Storyspace web to change as the reader proceeds through the text. (43)

It should be noted in passing that a Storyspace web is what we would call a network. The web feature of Intermedia is not supported.

Guard fields allow the author to embed an intelligence in their hyperbook without the necessity of a scripting language. Access to links may depend on whether a reader has previously visited a given writing space, or selected a specific anchor. Boolean connectives are provided.

Writing spaces may hold only 32,000 characters. This is sufficient for most purposes, but is a limitation when importing from existing works. Storyspace forces you to split files into separate nodes every 25,000 bytes. The user can make this number smaller, or choose to split after every paragraph, but neither of these choices permits a natural break between chapters or other units. However, a separate command does allow nodes to be split based on a given delimiter. It would be useful if this facility was available when importing. Storyspace uses XTND translaters to read and write external file formats. It comes packaged with one for MacWrite.

Many other useful features are provided. Extensive printing options are available. A user's environment preferences may be saved. Storyspace books may be converted to HyperCard stacks. Keywords may be assigned to writing spaces. Several visual window types are possible. A path builder allows the user to query writing spaces for certain conditions. In effect, this combines a tool for automatic linking with a QBE facility.

The documentation consists of a tutorial-style manual titled "Getting Started with Storyspace." From this, one would assume that a more extensive reference manual would also be included, but this is not the case. Some features, such as support for video and external devices, go completely unexplained. Eastgate has decided not to document those abilities few people will require. Most of these have apparently been added for specific users. Nonetheless, we believe that a short appendix (or "read me" file) could document these features without cluttering the manual. Thankfully, telephone support is excellent; Mark Bernstein himself answers the calls.

Storyspace has frugal hardware requirements, running on a Mac Plus or above with 1MB of disk space. It is priced at $215, or $600 for a ten-user license. Considering that it contains much of the feature set of Intermedia, this is an excellent price.

For more information, see Storyspace Readers and The Geometry of Authoring in Storyspace.

Eastgate Systems Inc.
134 Main St.
Watertown, MA

phone: 800-562-1638

© 1993-2000 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, Robin Parmar.
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