25 years of HyperCard—the missing link to the Web | Ars Technica

June 20, 2012 at 8:07 am 4 comments

An interesting argument: That Web browsers were designed based on HyperCard, and that HyperCard’s major flaw was a lack of hypertext links across computers.

How did creator Bill Atkinson define HyperCard? “Simply put, HyperCard is a software erector set that lets non-programmers put together interactive information,” he told the Computer Chronicles in 1987.

When Tim Berners-Lee’s innovation finally became popular in the mid-1990s, HyperCard had already prepared a generation of developers who knew what Netscape was for. That’s why the most apt historical analogy for HyperCard is best adapted not from some failed and forgotten innovation, but from a famous observation about Elvis Presley. Before anyone on the World Wide Web did anything, HyperCard did everything.

via 25 years of HyperCard—the missing link to the Web | Ars Technica.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  June 20, 2012 at 9:33 am

    (How to avoid being completely pejorative about the article …. ?)

    Oh well … they just completely miss (as did the Mosaic/Netscape folks) what Hypercard was really about.

    This doesn’t explain why they were so blind, but it shows that blindness was not limited to those who made the browsers … it could be rather generally distributed to most of the programmers of the day (and today).

    Did they really look at it at all? Tim Berners-Lee certainly didn’t when I asked him. Nor did the Netscape folks when this was brought to their attention early on.

    If they did see it, they could only see it as a way to get from one card to another, not as a general authoring medium for the wide public.

    Basically, they were not thinking about symmetries between consumption and production, which was one of the central principles of the preceding ARPA/PARC and early Mac community.

    To mention just two critical properties not even yet in today’s browsers: Hypercard was WYSIWYG — with a desktop publishing model — and had an end user scripting language that was learned and used by more than 4 million people. Consumption and authoring were more in balance than perhaps at any other time in history.

    There is so much more that could be said about this tragedy, but why bother?

    Best wishes,


    • 2. bobtherriault  |  June 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Alan,

      I guess it comes down to the balance between consumption and production and that producers often make decisions that benefit producers over consumers. Producer’s best interests usually favour increasing the consumption of their product, so tools like HyperCard would be deprecated for workflows that included tools such as Photoshop, which provided a monetary and user interface obstacle to production that HyperCard lacked, thus favouring more sophisticated production environments.

      I think HyperCard came very close to the tipping point of social coding on a grand scale, but in the end the overwhelming social pressure is towards a consumer society.

      Cheers, bob

      • 3. Mark Miller  |  July 10, 2012 at 6:16 pm

        Despite the “rightness” of your claim of a consumer society, in the deterministic sense, I think there’s a question that places like a university need to ask, which is, “Is a consumer society sustainable?” I’d argue it isn’t, whether we’re talking about computing, or a society in general. The current producers aren’t going to live forever. If all that’s encouraged is consumption, where do the new producers come from? The balance between production and consumption is something worth thinking about. In the economy we have price signals to tell us that something about the balance is out of whack (though that gets messed with rather often, leading to further imbalance), but I think in something like computing we don’t have a good indicator that this balance is out of whack, except for some noticing that some things don’t work as well as they used to.

  • 4. Barry Brown  |  June 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Ah, HyperCard memories… (hey, look! My iPad even automatically capitalized it correctly. Apple must still have a soft spot for it.)

    Although BASIC and Pascal were my first programming languages, HyperCard coincided with the availability of the Internet. I learned HyperTalk primarily by downloading stacks that other people wrote, opening them up, and seeing what they did.

    At the time, I felt that HyperTalk was what a beginner’s object-oriented language should be like: direct manipulation of tangible objects and writing methods that were visibly associated with them. Kind of what Alice is like now. Except message passing was so much easier in HyperTalk.

    HyperCard didn’t set me up for the web so much as it got me ready for “real” OO languages.


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