For content authors, systems like Storyspace and Intermedia provided sets of tools for creating context. These were tools built specifically to create and deliver complex, interlinked hypertext.
The web … not so much.
The early days of the web were a nightmare of text editors and hardcoded content. (I hate that this sentence reminded me of the existence of Dreamweaver.) Web 2.0 — first blogging tools and later social media — democratized the web, but did so by introducing authoring environments that mimic word processors or lightweight email clients. Tools for writing books or letters.
The make the web like print paradigm is so dominant that it’s tempting to think that writing and writing for books are extensionally equivalent.
The structuring of books is anything but ‘natural’ — indeed, it is thoroughly unnatural and took all of 4,000 years to bring about.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the social sciences, where IMRAD and its attendant passive voice verbs are regarded as the sine qua non of research outputs.
Consider something as “normal” as the alphabetized lists found in a book index or a dictionary. For a medieval Scholastic, such a list would have been unthinkable — their groupings were always thematic. McArthur goes so far as to suggest that to the Scholastics, alphabetization was an offense to their entire worldview.
It [Alphabetization] must have seemed a perverse, disjointed and ultimately meaningless way of ordering material to men who were interested in neat frames for containing knowledge.
Imagine what Scholastics would make of a world in which Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, David Lodge’s Nice Work, Thomas Carlyle's letters and John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism were found in radically different parts of a library.
Our conventions of reading and writing are shaped by the media in which we read and write. There's nothing natural about linear documents. They exist because physical media are limited to linear structures.
Not to go all McLuhan on you, but the medium really has dictated how we think about writing. (This shouldn't be all that surprising. Technology has always shaped how we approach rhetorical practice.)
Should it be any more surprising that conventions like linear arguments, sequential chapters, footnotes and alphabetized bibliographies are equally products of a particular means of transmission?
Originally an experiment in hypertext, the project encompassed around 1500 different hyperlinked texts, encoded into two then-competing, proprietary hypermedia systems — Intermedia and Storyspace.