The reader's experience

Readers moving from one component of a hypertext to another will experience agency — if the writer has linked well.

Murray (1997) defines agency as the power of readers to take meaningful action and see the results of their decisions and choices. She notes that computer users "expect" to feel agency when clicking on a file. When the file opens, that power satisfies the user.

Readers do not usually expect to find agency in a narrative environment (Murray, 1997). But with hypertext, the writer can allow readers to experience the agency they may "expect" when interacting with a computer screen. When the writer allows reader agency by writing good links, the hypertext enables readers to come to their own conclusions about a story.

Links create associations; the connections are deliberate, not random. This marks a crucial difference between clicking through Web pages and surfing through TV channels (Johnson, 1997). As always, the writer cannot guarantee which associations the reader will make.

The writer also cannot predict which links the reader will follow. This means every link counts. Some readers feel satisfied to click one link and read one component. Other readers feel some compulsion to make certain they have "read everything" and otherwise feel dissatisfied, perhaps cheated; they may resent the resulting increase in their information overload.

Our theory is that the reader should, at some point, feel satisfied — whether or not she has read everything. Feeling satisfied, a reader won't care if there are components she did not read. She got enough, whatever "enough" means for her.

The reader's experience always will be formed in relation to the writer's link decisions. Out of the resulting sense of satisfaction or frustration, trust in (or validation of) the hypertext rises or fails. Did the writer's link seem to make sense? Did the reader say "Huh? What?" Or did the reader say "Oh, nice!" or "What a crock!" (See descriptions of Four bad links.)

Readers have the final word. Their agency cannot be denied.