m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

In Hypertext No One Can Hear You Click

I was googling around for a classic blog post about hyperfiction structure, and instead stumbled upon a six-year-old Wired story, Why No One Clicked On The Great Hypertext Story. It was appropriately pessimistic about the future of hyperfiction, but strangely wrong about the causes:

That future never happened. It turned out that nonlinear reading spaces had a problem: They were incredibly difficult to write.

Of course that’s not true; tools like Twine make hyperfiction easier to write today than it ever was in the paper-based heyday of gamebooks, and they were sprouting up everywhere at the time. The author goes into some technical detail about issues he experienced writing interactive non-fiction commercially, then makes up some random numbers about the amount of hyperfiction online—having apparently never heard of Twine:

At last count, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 trillion web pages, all connected through the axons and dendrites of hypertext. How many of those pages involve real nonlinear storytelling? Almost noneā€”the rounding error of a rounding error.

Everything on the internet is a rounding error, except possibly porn and kittens. If I had to make up an explanation for reading fads I didn’t understand particularly well, it would be precisely that it’s too easy to write hyperfiction now. People pick up Twine and immediately feel the need to add an inventory system and turn their story into a game—which then gets classified as a game rather than a non-linear story of the sort the author couldn’t find. You can’t tell from the outside what inventory systems lurk inside a game/book; most of the signals from paper days are gone, and there’s no good name for the genre itself—never mind for its fuzzy subcategories. The author’s problem is one of discovery: that you can’t find something easily doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; it means there’s no effective curation.

It reminds me of fanfiction. For reasons either legal or practical, most people don’t even attempt to monetize what they produce. There are few or no sales numbers, and people on the outside have no idea how much iceberg lies down there. But that doesn’t stop them from writing articles about how, e.g., fiction is dead.


The failure of StoryNexus is a good example of the writing is easy, discovery is hard problem.