Compared to other media, the Internet is in a fairly initial state of development. Technological changes and improvements happen continuously. In spite of an information overload, users are able to find the required material. As in traditional research environments, they ignore the elements which they do not need.356 The new medium does not replace books and libraries, but provides an additional source of reference. In the foreseeable future, the book and the Internet will exist side by side.357 However, the World Wide Web offers a myriad of opportunities for doing research and creates new forms of academic discourse. Despite the lack of a central catalogue of resources, the new medium has many advantages over books and other media. Text archives supply the user with a large corpus of electronic works which can be searched quickly and efficiently. Hypertext editions allow correction, modification, revision, updating, and variation, and are therefore more dynamic than printed texts.358 Internet documents provide accessibility and availability for many users and are easier to copy than traditional sources. The structure of hypertext, which can be read in a nonlinar way, permits better application of annotations, which are difficult to follow in conventional texts. One is not bound to a fixed order and can choose one's own ways of acquiring knowledge. Visual elements, sounds, and video clips which cannot be included in print media, may be integrated in websites to support the provided information. Electronic discussion and mailing lists offer new possibilities for ongoing, world-wide conversation and exchange of ideas.
Many sites and services which were examined in the previous chapters supply literary scholars with adequate material, especially outstanding systems such as Voice of the Shuttle, Literary Resources on the Net, BUBL, LION, Oxford Text Archive, Project Bartleby, and SHAKSPER, which constitute resources meeting academic needs. The metapages contain comprehensive collections of Internet sources. Literary Resources on the Net and BUBL include the most important websites, whereas Voice of the Shuttle tries to cover as much information as possible. This policy, however, requires big files which may take a long time to download completely. A considerable number of links may not be up to date either. Therefore, only relevant material should be added on pages dealing with English literature.
Text archives facilitate the location of passages in texts and provide documents which can be used for further research, for example in combination with word processing or text analysis software. LION, in particular, is the most advanced system because it offers sophisticated search engines and covers approximately 55 percent of Bloom's English canon. The Oxford Text Archive supplies the user with a separate download function which allows to save texts in the most accurate and user-friendly formats, for instance in SGML, for usage with text analysis software such as TACT or MicroOCP. These archives also include detailed bibliographic information in a TEI header, and pagination or line numbering so that they can be regarded as quotable and reliable resources, which are suitable for academic purposes. However, if one intends to read a novel, consultation of a book will be more convenient than reading the text on the screen.359
Mailing lists help to expand conventional academic discourse from annual conferences to ongoing, world-wide discussion. SHAKSPER is the most enhanced service because it offers the possibilities for formal and informal exchange of ideas, access to previously discussed topics in logbooks, and numerous articles and papers, which can be retrieved from a fileserver. The electronic journals that are available online also provide the means to obtain unpublished material from scholars dealing with various subjects concerning English literature. Many of these Internet resources are suitable for academic purposes and are already used in research and teaching, especially in the United States.
Nonetheless, Landow believes that the new medium "promises to make materials living within a hypertext environment much easier to obtain, [but] it simultaneously threatens to make any not present seem even more distant and more invisible than absent documents are in the world of print."360 Thus, Yeats's "falcon cannot hear the falconer"361 any longer. Landow's statement draws the attention to some inherent disadvantages and problems of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Most sites do not employ hypertext's full potential. The systems allow their users to follow individual paths to obtain information, but one cannot make alterations and contributions directly. Some theoretical ideas are not realised either, for instance the use of bidirectional links which has been suggested by Nielsen and Landow.362 Therefore, ideal hypertextuality is not yet achieved.
The examined text archives cover approximately 60 percent of Bloom's English canon, but many works are still missing, a fact which is partly due to the current copyright laws that do not permit publication of texts written after 1923, and partly to the collection policy of some archives, for instance Project Gutenberg, which intend to attract a broad audience of readers instead of scholars. These laws will have to be changed in order to enable the archives to cover the English canon completely. New English literatures, that is to say, texts written in English by non-English authors, are not adequately represented either. However, some websites provide material concerning colonial and postcolonial theory.
Changing URLs and moving pages pose a further problem for the academic researcher. Scholars require reliable and stable sources which can be quoted in articles and papers. Thus, many academics are reluctant and hesitate to use the new medium as a source of reference.
Owing to rapid technological changes, future developments of the Internet and the World Wide Web are almost impossible to predict. Nonetheless, advanced means of data transfer are required to facilitate the access to resources. At present, the Net is too slow because of the high number of users. Because of this, online research may take a long time, but then one could add that conventional ways of investigation may also be time-consuming. Despite these disadvantages, the new medium constitutes a potential and powerful new source of reference which cannot be neglected in academic work and in the field of English literature. Hypertext fiction, for example Michael Joyce's Afternoon, A Story,363 may play an essential role in the seminar room and form the basis of new kinds of readings and discussions, because every reader can follow a different narrative structure.
Therefore, scholars should drop their reluctance and scepticism concerning the Internet and take the chance to employ the existing material in research and teaching. They should also participate in improving the quality of the system. Some services already have outstanding value, but the new medium will be an even more powerful and reliable tool once the deficiencies, especially the current copyright laws, are removed.
356 Kaiser, cf. p. 11.
357 Landow, Hypertext, cf. p. 189.
358 Ibid., cf. p. 52.
359 Nielsen, cf. p. 102.
360 Landow, Hypertext, p. 188.
361 Yeats, p. 235.
362 Cf. pp. 11-20.
363 For biblographical data, cf. Michael Joyce, Publications including fictions. See also Landow, Hypertext, pp. 113-119.