Making First Impressions: 1 Content and structure

The time has come to put some of the techniques learned in the small demonstrations into a decent-sized hypertext project.

For this, I have chosen the Vanished French Impressionists series of articles which I have posted here, with its index, and some more recent supplementary material on Giuseppe De Nittis. I want to use that to allow the reader to explore the First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874: its history, artists, and their works.

As I have already written most of the required text, and have assembled the illustrations, the first step is to export that content into a working folder from which I can build the hypertext using Storyspace 3.

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I write my blog using Red Sweater’s MarsEdit, which uses fairly basic HTML markup. Although it cannot directly export to marked up text, it can send articles to BBEdit, where they appear in a suitable format, using its contextual menu command Edit with BBEdit. So my first step is to export all the articles – ten, plus an index, plus the additional three De Nittis articles – into BBEdit, then save them into my working folder. In all, they come to around 26,000 words, although not all of that is actual content. However it should be sufficient to make quite a useful and informative hypertext document.

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Because the original articles were not uniformly structured, I felt that trying to mark them up and then explode them into separate writing spaces was unlikely to save any time or effort. I am going to have to work from these text files, copying and pasting their content individually into writing spaces. This gives me the flexibility which I will need.

An important part of each of the text files are the captions to each of the illustrations. Sometimes getting complete information for these takes an hour or more, and they will be needed to support each of the images.

Illustrations are currently kept in a separate folder for each of the published articles, with files whose names start with the artist’s name. I therefore decided to pool those, which have already been scaled down so that the typical shorter dimension is around 1000 pixels. They should be ideal for ‘full size’ copies of paintings, and scale down again for miniatures.

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To my surprise, there are 133 images totalling 30 MB, and that is without portraits of each of the artists. That has made one design decision for me already: rather than trying to embed each of the images in a writing space, I will keep them in a separate folder, then when the reader wants to see a larger version of the image, I will open it from their folder using Preview. This will keep the size of the Storyspace document to a minimum, although I will still need small images within that document.

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To generate the smaller thumbnail images, I use a tweaked version of my drag-and-drop AppleScript app, imageprocessor. I have adjusted the dimensions to 256 and 200 pixels, so that these images will fit within the Storyspace document more comfortably. To create the thumbnails, I duplicated the folder containing the original images, then dragged and dropped them all onto the imageprocessor app. The folder of thumbnails is only 10 MB in size, and these thumbnails will be much more manageable in writing spaces.

My working folder now has all the ingredients ready for Storyspace: fourteen HTML/text files containing the text content and captions, a folder named img containing the full-sized images, and another named thumb containing the thumbnails.

It is time to start work in Storyspace.

At the top level, I want a clear, linear structure which will take the reader through an introduction, into the main area in which there will be radial links to each of the participants and their works. Once the reader has explored those writing spaces, they will exit through another couple of writing spaces, detailing the outcome of the exhibition, and the subsequent exhibitions.

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Although carefully researched, this hypertext is aimed at a broad readership, not necessarily an academic one. I have a relatively small number of references and items for further reading, and rather than linking these in as endnotes or cited references, I prefer to provide a separate writing space with the pooled references and further reading. I might decide to revise that as my writing progresses, so have quickly gathered these in a single writing space to get them out of the way.

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Next I pasted some content to flesh out the Introduction and Outcome writing spaces, so that I could get a feel for how this top level will work. Looking at the content which I have, I think that the Outcome space is going to be subdivided into several sections, which I will tackle later.

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I then dragged and dropped a couple of images to use as adornments to the Map view: an old photo of Nadar’s studio, where the exhibition was held, and the cover of the exhibition catalogue. With those resized and anchored in place, it was time to see how different colour schemes might work, using the Document Settings… command in the Edit menu. In the end I settled on the default scheme, which is clear and does not impose any significant colour cast for images of paintings.

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My next step is to structure the writing spaces which will hold the bulk of the content, which is going to involve custom attributes, prototypes, and containers – a good place to stop for the moment.