The Death of Intermedia and the Migration to Storyspace

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

[Not in print version. © the Johns Hopkins University Press 1995.]

The original version of Hypertext in Hypertext became the Intermedia web, Hypertext and Literary Theory Web, and my colleague Paul Kahn and I have since translated it into other hypertext environments as well. Unfortunately, after my students had used the Intermedia version of this book for several years, I suddenly found myself facing the demise of this system, which still remains the one that comes closest to fulfilling my hopes for this technology. In 1990 Apple Computers, Inc. effectively put an end to the Intermedia project, part of which they had funded, by so altering A/UX, their version of UNIX, that all development of the program ceased, and when Apple made new models of the Macintosh fundamentally incompatible with the earlier version of A/UX, it became clear that no one could use Intermedia even in a research situation. Nonetheless, the Intermedia ran at Brown essentially without maintenance for two years -- itself an astonishing tribute to software of such complexity -- while we sought another system. (I have since discovered that Charles Ess of Drury College has continued to use Intermedia at least until 1995.) Eventually, we chose Eastgate Systems's Storyspace, which one of its developers, J. David Bolter, accurately described to me as "the poor mans Intermedia," and in a fairly short time we translated all the Intermedia webs to this new environment.

Storyspace, which works on both Macintosh and Windows machines, does not have Intermedia's UNIX-based system of varying permissions (which permit an instructor to fix or freeze a document while permitting students to link to it), and it also does not have either Intermedia's structured graphics editor or its ability to permit individual documents to participate in multiple webs. On the other hand, it has a range of valuable qualities, not the least of which is that it will work on any Macintosh and vierually any Windows machine. Importing text and images, making links between words and phrases, full-text searching, and organizing documents are all very easy, and although this system does not have Intermedia's Web View, the Storyspace Roadmap, which one can call up by pressing a simple key combination, provides a partial analogue to this invaluable feature by furnishing a reading history and list of link destinations for each individual document.

Perhaps most important, the simple fact that Storyspace at first ran on any Macintosh -- and later on IBM and IBM clones -- created novel portability for all the webs originally created for Intermedia. Since students can copy any web from a server situated in the Computing and Information Technology building but accessible from various parts of the university, they can both read and write webs anywhere they have access to a Macintosh. (Since Storyspace permits one to copy linked sets of lexias easily, one can create comments at home and later paste them into the master or server version of any web to share with others.) The ease and convenience of working with this "poor man's Intermedia" led, particularly in my hypertext and literary theory courses, to students creating their own considerable hypertext webs, some of them quite massive.

Anyone wishing to survey the kinds of materials that students in both my courses and those taught in Creative Writing by Robert Coover and Robert Arellano should look at the Storyspace Cluster, a heavily cross-indexed guide to several hundred webs that Mark Zbryzynski, Brown '95, created in Storyspace and that I have since trabslated into html


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