Linked text is different

Reading (318/365)
cc licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Jack Amick
A few years back my friend Bud Hunt published an unusual post on his blog; it was titled Going South. In just a few short sentences he shared that he'd be spending a week visiting his grandfather's garden. "As best as I can determine, the first reference on the Internet to my grandfather, a man that I know far too little about, is this one." he wrote. There was one link in the entire post; the words "this one". You can tell from the comments, not every reader followed the link.

I was talking with a couple of English Language Arts teachers today. They're planning to have their classes do most of their writing online this semester. We were talking about how they might use a Mother Blog model to do that. They'll use Google Reader to monitor the community; subscribing to both the posts and  comments of their students' blogs.

I wanted the two teachers I was talking with understand how to help their students learn to read and write hyperlinked text effectively. I shared with them the story of Bud's "Going South" blog post. It's a poignant lesson in reading and writing linked text. (In the privacy of my own thoughts: This will also be a nice memorial to Bud's granddad. In a way, he'll teach and touch the lives of generations beyond his immediate family.)

A Better Metaphor for Life Long Learning
In his book, Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger talks about the difference between writing on paper and writing hyperlinked text. Paper has physical limitations that digital text doesn't. It starts and ends. It's only so wide and so long. A paper book can only contain so much content. Even if it's one of many volumes in a larger work.

Have you ever started reading an article online, say in Wikipedia, clicked a link, then another? And another. Only to find yourself two hours later having explored a web of ideas unique to your personal interests along the way. Eventually you stop. Not because you're "finished" but because life imposes other demands on your time.

Digital text is different. It's a much better metaphor for life long learning. And you can't write linked text if you aren't reading. Lots. (It's taken me years of reading to write this blog post.)

New Media, New Process
Not too long ago Dean published a post about writing hyperlinked text. He had collected a number of comments in a storify archive and reshared a video Will had made about his writing process. (Think that through as a writing process.) Watch:

This sort of process is another thing I shared with the teachers I was talking with:

  • Using a mind mapping tool, like mindmeister, that includes hyperlinks is different.
  • Clipping ideas contained in text, images and video using a tool like Evernote, which allows you to create web pages & hyperlinks is different.
  • Writing by stitching your ideas together from hyperlinked sources is different.
  • Reading that text is different too. It matters where you publish it, online or off. Different media (paper or digital) carry different messages. 

I'm fascinated to see the student writing that emerges from this semester.

I'm also curious; is there anything different about how you teach reading and writing digital text? Any advice for us?

UPDATE 20 Feb 2012
Check out Bud's thought provoking digital writing workshop (a network of Google Docs): 
Reading 1.0 - How Digital Changes Nothing. And Everything. Is All.