Last autumn we gathered 19 participants into my office (one at a time, of course!) to study how they approach and process hyperlinks in a digital fiction story (Skains’s The Futographer, a bit abridged and anonymized). We wanted to know how they chose which links to follow, what expectations they had for the links’ destinations, and how they responded when those expectations were either met or denied. Isabelle sat patiently with them, pausing at various points to ask questions designed to dig into their cognitive processing and readerly navigation tactics, and recorded all responses.
It’s taken some time to transcribe and review that data, and we’re really only just getting started. Last night we invited all of the participants (and interested research students at Bangor University) for an evening of discussion about our initial impressions of the data, how we designed the study, and how hypertexts work for readers and writers alike.
Lyle began with an overview of the purpose of our research, discussed the current scholarly discourse on the use of hyperlinks in digital fiction, and then described our typology of hyperlinks. Isabelle gave more details on the protocol we designed for the study. We had a look at the interview questions and the demographics survey, discussing what information we hoped to get out of the various questions; an interesting discussion ensued about the different methodological approaches available for a study of this nature.
We showed them some selected quotes from the anonymized participant transcriptions, showing early indications of typical responses to the four different types of links we were looking at. Some interesting trends have already emerged from the transcriptions, including reader purpose, identification with character, and expectations based on narrative schemas. Participants also picked up on some of our initial thoughts about the use of particular narrative perspectives (The Futographer uses a second-person point of view), launching a discussion on point-of-view, character identification, likeable vs. unlikeable characters, and reader-identification with moral choices in the narrative.
Overall, we enjoyed a particularly lively discussion of the results, as well as questions about creation of the hypertext and its story. Despite being scheduled for an hour, we bounced ideas and questions around for nearly three times that long. For an evening with such a dry title (“dissemination” is so medical!), the keen interest from the participants turned it into an insightful and stimulating discussion.