The Fluid Reader is a large monitor tipped on
to its side. Over the screen of the monitor is a touch screen. On the
monitor an entire story displayed, in this case one called Harry The
Ape. Next to some of the words in the story are small triangles. When
the visitor touches one of these triangles, the sentence breaks at that
point, bends down, and grows a new sentence ending while the old ending
disappears. Many of these new sentence endings have small triangles
themselves that in turn reveal additional extensions to the sentences.
What's it about? Harry The Ape is about an ape who lives high
in a tree in a jungle. In the fur of Harry live several other creatures,
including a small mouse. In the fur of the mouse lives a family of fleas,
and so on down to the amoebas in the fleas' stomachs. The alternative
sentence endings do not change the story (this is not hypertext where
the visitor determines how the story ends) but instead adds additional
information, further explanations, details, asides, jokes and lies.
It is closer to how a good storyteller changes how he or she tells a
story depending on who is listening and audience reactions.
What is the experiment? In Harry The Ape, RED is exploring
the new forms narrative can take when digital text becomes highly dynamic.
Just as importantly, RED is experimenting with constructing a deep resonance
between the content (animals that nest in size) and the medium (sentences
that nest inside of each other.)
How does it work? The Fluid Reader is based on a technology
invented at Xerox PARC that allows text to open up to reveal annotations
and comments. The program was written in the Java programming language.
The story itself was written in a special format that looks much like
a traditional outline but where the sub-headings are the alternative
sentence endings. The touch screen is built directly into the monitor
and tells the program which triangle the visitor touched.