Expanded Articles

A leap toward taking text into a new media environment is demonstrated by Verbum Interactive, a multimedia magazine published in CD-ROM format (Brown, 1992; Estrada, 1991). Building on the concept of a print magazine (also the product of the parent company, Verbum, Inc.), this digitized magazine uses a consistent background for each "article"; various window overlays and buttons appear on top of the background. Other than several buttons that are always present (and always perform the same function, like going back or printing), the screen design is flexible. In several of the articles, an inset window displays small chunks of text (which can be paged rather than scrolled within the window), while other windows, present at the same time, offer other options, sometimes including video.

One particularly versatile design shows, beside the text window, a frame with index tabs sticking up; each tab has a topic name printed on it. The tab for the current content of the frame is highlighted, indicating exactly where the user is. Within the frame there can be multiple additional windows. In one case illustrated in Brown, on the left side is a long list of information items that can be scrolled or searched, while on the right is a video clip that can be viewed in full motion or paused as a still image. The material contained in the frame can be larger than the frame itself; that is, the material inside can be moved back and forth to bring different parts into view.

The format allows phenomenal expansion on the idea of a magazine: for a panel discussion on multimedia, a Verbum Interactive editor contacted six experts; interviewed them separately, on camera, for about two hours each, asking each the same questions; edited each interview down to thirty minutes; then integrated that three hours of video with graphics and some print information (which appear in their own window) to present an interactive roundtable (Estrada, 1991). Users have access to three hours of discussion but can choose to hear answers only to the questions that interest them, or to hear answers only from the experts they trust.

It can be argued that this kind of format is more trouble than it's worth -- for both the producers and the readers, or users, of the product. Pure text content may convey more information more efficiently than a mix of graphics, sound and video. However, when these non-text elements actually do add value, they are best integrated with the text matter in ways such as those used by Verbum.


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Hypertext Breakdown, by Mindy McAdams
Copyright © 1993, 1995 by Mindy McAdams. All Rights Reserved.
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