July 27, 2000
Today Jeffrey Zeldman lamented that “books have no links.” I don’t believe this to be entirely accurate. If a book has a table of contents or an index, you have basic navigational links to other places within the document. This intra-document surfing requires some manual effort in order for it to work properly, but it does constitute linking. Any given page can also have annotations and footnotes which might point to additional information elsewhere on the page or in the document, similar to the way an anchor tag is embedded into an web page. Footnotes more often than not refer to other publications or media. Fortunately, a book can’t spawn intrusive pop-up pages containing this secondary information. On second thought, that might actually be quite cool. A bibliography contains links encoded in the form of publishing companies, authors, and occasionally ISBN numbers — all of which point elsewhere, enticing you to gather and absorb more related data. One book comes to mind when talking about linking in hard copy format. The Pinball Effect by James Burke of Connections fame, uses what he terms “gateways” to guide the reader through the interwoven time lines throughout the book.
“…you can read the book the way your teacher once told you not to. You can do this at many points through out the book, when the time line of a particular journey reaches a gateway on the web, where it crosses with the time line of another, different journey. At such a gateway, you’ll see coordinates for the location of that other place.”
Note that when he mentions “the web” he is referring to the overlapping time lines connecting events in his book, not the internet-based web. I never needed instructions to operate a book before, but for the linking to work (and it is quite a romp to read a book this way) it’s well worth the effort. Even if an author doesn’t go to the lengths that Mr. Burke did to include deliberate links within the text, they still exist one way or another in nearly every book ever written.
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