Annotation, JavaScript and Ruby

We currently have a house guest, Chris Gutteridge, who is a web programmer at Southampton University. He’s tken an interest in the Trigons annotation project and has provided us with an additional feature / device that provides further fuel for thought. This particular device displays a box of text once the mouse or pointer is hovered over an anchored link. This has the obvious advntage of not having to click back to the poem after you’ve looked at the note at the bottom of the page. I’ve run this on sections one and two and it seems to work reasonably well.

There are however a number of issues to consider. The first of these is the amount of text that these boxes should contain. The second is whether, in order to be consistently effective, all the links in the body of the poem should be anchored rather than a ‘mix’ of external and anchored links. The third is whether users re more or less likely to click through to other pages from the box or from the bottom of the page.

In order to get my v small brain around any of this I’ve gone back to my own reading of glossed, printed texts. It seems that these fall into three broad types-

  1. those with notes at the bottom of the relevant page;
  2. those with notes at the end of a particular poem;
  3. those with notes at the bottom of the page and definitions in parentheses at the end of the relevant line.

None of these are brilliant and the last is particularly annoying. They all provide a degree of disruption to the reading process. In my limited experience, very few glozers append any indication that there is a note for a particular line- David Jones being an honourable exception. It would seem that for most the reader is expected to read with one eye and monitor the notes at the bottom of the page with the other. When the notes are placed at the back of the book / poem then the reader must keep flicking backwards and forwards or read the poem in full and then read the notes hoping that you can remember what exactly they refer to.

What this device/feature/accessory provides is an opportunity to reduce the flicking backwards and forwards and (without the visual annoyance of superscript) indicate where a note occurs.

I need to point out that this isn’t stunningly original, Wikipedia uses it for numerical superscript links that also occur at the bottom of the page whereas ‘normal’ links are used to access other pages. At the moment, we’re using it for those anchored links that are indicated as ordinary links in the body of the poem. This is primarily because I made the page before I had access to the technology rather than any kind of incisive rationale.

I like to think that this is an improvement because the box is accessed and disappears with only the movement of the cursor, the poem remains in view. Of course, now that I have this additional feature, I’m beginning to see a more uniform approach to this linking rigmarole. In Section One of “Islands, Inlands”, for example, I can see that it may be more appropriate to have “caique” defined in a box and at the bottom of the page rather than by means of a link to the relevant Wikipedia entry. In the same way, It may be less clunky (technical term) to have the initial explanation of “Zero letter” in a box which contains a brief explanation but with a link to more detailed context.

Thinking about this and looking again at the page has led me to query whether there needs to be a brief note on the pornographer that would contain a link to our ‘main’ Henry Miller page and whether I should do the same with the Durrell quote. The only problems thus far are Chris’ choice of background colour (supposedly to match the post-it hue) and that at least one box (but probably two) in section two contain too many words. This is fixable but will require additional pages. Any views of other ways to use this innovation would be very welcome. Others are free to use the script provided Chris and the university are acknowledged.

We now move on to ruby which is defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as “short runs of text alongside the base text, typically used in East Asian documents to indicate pronunciation or to provide a short annotation”. The possibilities with this are intriguing in terms of placing a definition in smaller text above the word in the poem. Currently, however, some browsers require a plug-in to display ruby and the alternative (definition in parenthesis after the word) isn’t feasible here. In an attempt to demonstrate what I mean, here’s an example which identifies the pornographer succinctly but really messes about with consistent line height. There’s also the issue of browser compatibility. I’m given to understand that this example would be rendered reasonably consistently if we all used the latest browser version – but we don’t. I would be prepared to work out the various CSS and ‘pre’ tag variations to try and solve the line height problem if I thought the browser problem was about to be resolved but I don’t and so I won’t. This is an enormous pity because the ruby spec has been around since 2001 and it seems incredible that only the chrome browser has made an attempt to render it reasonably well whilst firefox doesn’t recognize it at all.

If anyone has any suggestions for other uses of the JavaScript device then we’d be very pleased to hear from them.

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