Story Utility and Links Tools

Preamble [January 2018]

The Story Utility was developed at Northeastern University over a period from 2010 to 2012 to enable web based slide shows with dynamic content. The educational goal was to provide massive amounts of reference information to students so they could rapidly access what they needed to master in order to learn and work effectively. At the same time, the goal was to minimize the effort needed by teachers to deploy this information.

The solution to this design problem was to base the slide show content of a typical story on a simple text file in which each line of the file would consist a pair with a url link followed by one or more words to provide a title for the link. We call such lines link/title pairs.

This design meant that a teacher simply needed to search for a set of high quality links, copy these links into the story file, and then give each link a title. The story file could then be connected to the Story Utility and the story would be presented automatically.

Towards the end of 2017, Northeastern University began the process of converting all http sites to https. This had significant impact on the Story Utility. The rules of https meant that the Story Utility may only be used with:

In other words, all of the vast content on the web that is still being served by http cannot be presented in the Story Utility.

Fortunately, as part of the Story Utility package, there was also a simple utility called the Links Utility. This utility presents the link/title pairs from a story as links on a single page. When a link title is clicked, its link opens in a new tab. This works perfectly fine with all links, http or https.

At this point in time, the Links Utility is preferred over the Story Utility. This is because the Links Utility may handle any web content without restriction.

This page will begin the documentation of the Story Utility, the Links Utility, and the more general Embed Links Tool. Further documentation will be on subsequent slides of this story. We start with the Story Utility since its ideas are the conceptual foundation for the other tools.

What the Story Utility Does [January 2012]

The Story Utility enables a web-based slide show in which each slide is a fully functional web page. This utility is similar to PowerPoint but is much more powerful because each slide may have its own dynamic behavior. In many ways, this utility is a web-descendent of the Apple Hypercard program.

Each web-based slide show is driven by a story file that provides a list of the links to each web page that forms a slide in the slide show. Each link should be provided with a title that allows the slide to be identified.

How to Use the Story Controls

next arrow Click the next arrow to go to the next slide.

back arrow Click the back arrow to go to the previous slide.

new tab Click the new tab icon to show the current slide in its own tab or window.

question mark Click the question mark to show this introduction to the Story Utility in its own tab or window.

Use the dropdown menu to select a slide by title.

To the right of the dropdown menu, the total number of slides is shown so the user may see how many slides there are to view.


Someone reading a story on the web is most likely to use the next arrow and back arrow arrows to step forwards in the slide show or go backwards.

The dropdown menu may be used to get an overview of the slide show and to go immediately to a particular slide. This is the primary way to jump to a particular slide and it works equally well on a computer and on a mobile device.

The new tab icon new tab permits the viewer to show a particular slide in its own tab or window. This is especially useful if the slide is highly interactive or if it is a nested story.

What the Links Utility Does [January 2018]

To make the Links Utility more useful, additional lines in the story file may be used to provide annotations on the web page constructed from the story. These annotations are:

To use an annotation, you must indent at least one blank or tab from the left margin of the story file. This makes it clear to the software that a line with an annotation is not a link/title pair.

The use of these annotations will be discussed in more detail in the Links Utility documentation. This is also at slide 8 in this slide show.

The Links Utility is a generalization of an earlier utility called the What is Next Utility. This utility was designed to create introductory pages to slides shows being presented in the Story Utility. Its page title is therefore hard wired to be What is Next?

Here is its documentation: What is Next Utility. This is also at slide 7 in this slide show.

The Embed Links Tool [January 2018]

The Links Utility retains the simplicity of the Story Utility in that a page of links may be generated with ease by creating a text file with link/title pairs. The ability to add simple annotations to the file means that the user can create a nice web page without writing HTML.

However, in thinking about the move from the Story Utility to the Links Utility prompted by the change from http to https, we began to think about extracting the Javascript code for the Links Utility into standalone code that might be employed on any web page. This led to development of the Embed Links Tool.

Here is its documentation: Embed Links Tool. This is also at slide 9 in this slide show.

The Embed Links Tool is now used to provide the Javascript code behind both the Links Utility and the What is Next Utility.

Download and Documentation

To Download the full story directory so you may install the Story Utility on your site, click the Download link. You will get the file with all of the necessary files and images. Note that the Links Tools are part of the Story Utility package.

If this page is not already being shown in a story, click Full Documentation to see the full Story Utility and Links Tools documentation.

Software and documentation version: January 2018