Why Stretchtext?

When making a few arguments about editing stretchfilm based on some small prototype experiments, it seemed fitting to write the essay in stretchtext.

I wasn't sure either, whether I should submit this as a "short paper" or a "full paper," so in good hypertext spirit, I decided to delegate this authorial choice to you, dear reader.

As stretchtext always was supposed to be simple, I took this opportunity to try to make an easy, fuss-free hypertext. I am a deep admirer of complex, learned hypertexts, the kind where the link structure is part of the argument, and where revisiting nodes lets you see them in another light. Trouble is, such advanced argumentative works are usually hard to read. As a university professor, I always have lots and lots of reading I should have done, and I am not always able to muster the time and effort required of a grand hypertext work. This little piece is an attempt of a different scholarly genre. I thought of it as a normal research paper, that just has hypertext links to indicate the parts readers may skip when they're in a hurry.

To make it even more useful, I tried as much as possible to adapt this genre experiment to the web, using web standards and established conventions for web design as wherever it seemed feasible.

Why Like This?

This stretchtext is based on a model sketched by Ted Nelson in a 1967 manuscript titled "A Hypertext Structure for Self-Teaching" (ms, Gunnar Liestøl's collection, Oslo). In just two pages, Nelson sketches out a structure of three parts:

  1. a main "Narrative" that can be stretched and shrunk, and with "Jump" links up and down in the text;
  2. a "lookup" with definitions, explanations of concepts, and biographies, all linked from the Narrative; and
  3. "Articles," relevant background texts that are linked from the Narrative

I haven't found explicit mention of this model in Nelson's published work, but it seems that it is this structure that is illustrated in the drawing of a hypertext in "No More Teacher's Dirty Looks " (314). Interestingly, this structure was more or less replicated two decades later in the Guide system , which had three kinds of links; "replacement-buttons," "glossary buttons" and "reference buttons."

For other research purposes, I have been interested in hypertext history, and it seemed to me that Nelson's idea might work just as well as later implementations of stretchtext. Anyway, I wanted to try it out. Inspired by Nelson, then, this hypertext has four kinds of links.

  1. The expand/contract links are marked with "more," "collapse," or "read this chapter."
  2. Reference links, marked with brown link anchors, are inspired by Nelson's Lookup, and take the reader not only to a reference to a cited work, but also to a lengthy quote that may provide some context to the citation.
  3. "Elsewhere" links, inspired by Nelson's Articles, are marked with green link anchors and take the user to full-text articles and sites on the web.
  4. Jump links between nodes in the essay are marked with the browser's default link colors

Why Pages?

It is not clear from his writing what Nelson imagined would happen when the text could not fit into one screen, but "scrolling" was not invented at the time. Today, it would be just as easy to make the whole text one long, scrolling page as to separate it into several pages as I have done.

I chose to separate the text into several pages for three reasons:

  1. to avoid a too large document that would be slow to load,
  2. to enable users to bookmark a section or link to it with ease, and
  3. it seemed likely to me that a long scroll would make it difficult for a reader to orient himself or herself when going from a very stretched out "long paper" to a very short "abstract," as the sentence he or she was reading would suddenly disappear (compare the section about reader position and stretching).

The sections in the essay are called chapters and pages, although I know that such an explicit remediation of dead trees publishing will make many hypertext scholars wince. I found that chapters and pages made my test readers grasp the structure much faster (and the only reason I need such terms is to explain how the links work) than words like section, area, or node.

I made the references as popup windows (if your browser allows it), both to make clear that the lengthy citations are outside of my argument, and to be able to refer to the same work several times whithout losing the reader's current position in the main essay. Links to outside sites are also likely to open a new window, that solution is more of a hack: I am not proficient enough in JavaScript to make the document remember how many paragraphs that are expanded, so if links would open in the same window, all expanded sections would be collapsed when the reader returned to the essay.


The hypertext was written in Tinderbox, and exported to XHTML. The export templates for Tinderbox, the CSS stylesheet and the JavaScripts were written in BBEdit. The JavaScripts are adapted from example scripts by Peter-Paul Koch, published at Quirksmode.

You need a fairly new browser to see the hypertext as it is intended.

If you haven't read it yet (but want to), here's a link to the first page.