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February 26, 2007

Pipes and HyperCard: Interactive vs Connected Media

I recently asked the question "is Pipes the new HyperCard" on the CETIS educational content list; David Davies issued me with a well-articulated challenge, so this is my response.

David said:

I'd like to challenge Scott on his Pipers/HyperCard comparison. At best Pipes might do the metaphorical equivalent of linking different stacks or possibly cards of content but not much more. HyperCard was revolutionary because it allowed non-programers to develop interactive multimedia content. When content moved off the desktop onto the web, HTML took over and for a while it was easy-ish for anyone to create content but then increasingly complex tools such as Flash became the interactive multimedia development platform of choice and a new generation of content developers were born leaving a gap in the market for easy non-technical content generation. Then along came content publishing systems (in the context of teaching & learning) such as VLEs, blogs and wikis and content was easy to make again, but the nature of the interaction has shifted from humans interacting with content to humans interacting with other humans. It would be nice to see another accessible tool, the 21st Century equivalent of HyperCard perhaps, for the development of interactive web-based content. But it's not Pipes.

My counter-argument isn't about whether things like Pipes and HyperCard directly compare in terms of function, for the reasons David points out. However I think there can be a comparison in terms of role and purpose, because the nature of content itself is changing. HyperCard, Flash, and the like are indeed tools of interactive media. However, interactive multimedia is no longer in fashion (who needs a "next page" button in a piece of content when we have ubiquitous hypertext? Why embed the movie in Flash when I can just link to YouTube?)

Instead we have entered an era of connected media. Connected media does not contain interaction; instead content items are nodes in a network of connections that are the focus of interaction. The content is inside-out. The hot content today is not interactive - Flickr/Photobucket, YouTube, iTunes, RSS feeds all feature non-interactive content, yet the content is highly connected via layers of interlinked metadata (, technorati, recommendations, hyperlinks, comments...)

This is perhaps an example of a 'hot' media being disrupted by a 'cool' media, similar to McLuhan's example of the disruption of cinema by television. Applying McLuhan's tetrad, we should start seeing ironic retro-chic interactive content soon.

So, my thesis is that Pipes-like tools (I don't think Pipes is it, but one will come...) are to wrangling with connected media what HyperCard was to developing interactive media - an easy to use tool that lowers the barriers for all kinds of users.

(NB, my use of the terms interaction and connection here are inspired by Derrick de Kerckhove's book 'Connected Intelligence'.)

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