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Reflections on my Project
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don't much care where—“ said Alice.
“Then it doesn't matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you're sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
At the beginning of my project I felt a lot like Alice in this encounter with the Cheshire Cat. I knew that I wanted to go “somewhere,” yet I was not exactly sure how to get there. But, knowing that I was sure to get “somewhere” if only I went far enough, I jumped feet first into this extremely ambitious project.
I didn’t think it would be quite so ambitious when I started. I knew it would be a lot of work, especially in the beginning months when I had to learn HTML. However, as I continued to work I faced several challenges that I had not anticipated, and which taught me a lot about the nature of the Internet as a medium for literature and the challenges that future scholarly web sites will face.
The Challenge of Alice
One challenge was Alice itself; there is just too much to say. One of my main reasons for picking Alice in Wonderland in the first place was that it has held a prominent position in world literature, has been active in popular culture, and has been adapted to many different media. These features of Alice allowed me to really showcase an electronic medium, since one of the things that websites are best at is pulling together many different types of media. However, it also meant a lot of work. There have been over 200 different printed editions of Alice, not to mention dozens of films, pieces of music, theatrical adaptations, and websites. I never thought I would be able to include every reference to Alice from the past 150 years, but still, sifting through all the Alices to explore just a few has been more work than I anticipated. In fact, I had to cut out an entire section (the hypertext version of chapter 7) because I simply ran out of time.
The other challenges I faced had to do with the medium of a website itself. Even though by the time I actually started publishing pages I was very comfortable with the coding aspects of web design, navigating the multi-linear nature of the medium was difficult. I began by simply copying what I had seen and liked on other web pages, without really considering why I had liked those features. For instance, I included the “Where am I?” line at the top of every page, which both provides a quick reference for the user to know his or her “position” in the site, and also is hyperlinked back to the broader category pages. However I also remembered that I dislike scrolling all the way down to the bottom of a web page and not having anywhere to go from there, and so having to scroll all the way back up. So I made an effort to have a link or several links on the bottom of every page to give users a way to continue to other relevant parts of the site. These and other features were included mainly to make the site as “user-friendly” and as navigable as possible, relying solely on my experience as a reader of websites.
The more I began to consider a web site as a medium academically, the more I thought about the challenges of creating something multi-linearly, the pieces of which would ideally be able to be viewed in any order. I tried to remember with every page that I created that it might be the first page a visitor saw. Thus it was important not to take it for granted that the reader of the page would have any knowledge of anything else on the site. However, on the other hand, I did not want the site to be so repetitive that it was boring or unpleasant to read. Thus one major challenge was navigating this balance between too much and too little information.
Another challenge was finding ways to keep the readers of my site engaged in it. Oftentimes people find it difficult to read long texts on a website. I myself have experienced distaste for reading long works on a screen. I found Christian Vandendorpe’s book From Papyrus to Hypertext: Toward the Universal Digital Library especially helpful as a resource to help me understand the problem.
“In a physical book, all the pages are present, but in the case of hypertext, they appear only at the request of the user. This creates a particular kind of reading situation, the main characteristic of which is that readers have to constantly make choices by clicking on one button or another to make various units of information appear. Each button, each hyperlink, is thus an invitation to move forward, a promise of content…Movement by means of mouse clicks gives readers a sense of control—insofar as the program allows them such control, of course—and a feeling of being able to give free reign to impulses….Similarly, navigation by means of a mouse tends to give rise to chaotic, extremely rapid movement that is not very favorable to reading. The reading of hypertext is thus marked by immediacy and urgency.” (133)
Keeping this in mind, I made a concerted effort to make reading text on my site as enjoyable as possible. Each reader is still forced to make many decisions on whether to click or ignore hyperlinks, but I kept the content of pages as simple and as easy to read as possible, while still approaching Alice academically. Additionally, I also made great use of images to break up long portions of text.
The Next Steps
Finally, I would like to discuss what the “next steps” of this website would be, if I had more time to work on it. Naturally, one thing I would like to do is expand the scope of the website so that it covers all of Alice in Wonderland. There are a lot of really fascinating characters and situations in the nine other chapters, which I think could also benefit from being presented on a scholarly website. Additionally, Carroll’s second Alice book Through the Looking Glass would be equally fascinating to study in more depth.
In addition there are several other aspects of Alice study that would be interesting to include. For instance, a good deal of attention has been paid to the different translations of the Alice books into other languages and whether or not nonsense can even be translated.
Apart from adding more Alice content there are a few other aspects of websites that I would include if I had the time or ability. The first would be the ability to search the site for specific content. Searching is one of the aspects of hypertext that is an enormous improvement over print. However, it turns out that creating a search engine is more difficult than you might imagine. My meager web skills prevented me from solving that problem and so I consider that a failed aspect of the site.
Additionally, I think it would have been better if the site contained a structure for posting feedback. Community and the sharing of opinions and information is another prominent feature of the Internet. Forums and posts can also affect our reading experience, reminding us that literature does not exist in a vacuum, but that every piece of literature has a community of readers that experiences and interprets it. And as a website that purports to investigate a reader response interpretation of Alice, I consider it somewhat of a failure that there is no structure for readers to actually post their responses, both to Alice and to the site itself. However, again, my skill set was not advanced enough for the project and so I had to go without.
Working on this website has been overwhelming at times, but extremely rewarding. I hope that by exploring this site, a visitor’s interest and excitement about new digital and electronic media will increase and that he or she will begin to see the potential of electronic text for new types of literature and new methods for its study.
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