What's 'Hypermedia'?

November 20, 2011 |

Most people refer to the sort of work you see on Mechanical Scribe as "interactive multimedia" or "interactive graphics." I've always liked the term "hypermedia" for these projects. The term was coined alongside "hypertext" in 1963 by a man named Ted Nelson, but only one would stick. "Hypertext"—literally "beyond text"—is etched in the 'H' and 'T' of HTML, but you don't often hear the second term. Nelson commented on this in his book Literary Machines:

"By now the word 'hypertext' has become generally accepted for branching and responding text, but the corresponding word 'hypermedia', meaning complexes of branching and responding graphics, movies and sound – as well as text – is much less used. Instead they use the strange term 'interactive multimedia': this is four syllables longer, and does not express the idea of extending hypertext."

Aside from syllable conservation, I like the term because it broadly encompasses the goal of Web-based graphics and interactives, which is to endow them with more information than is possible in print. Right now, this might mean a map that animate through time, changing color as datapoints change and allowing the user to mouse over counties to get an individual report for that locality. In the future, I look forward to "hypermovies" that let you mouse over or somehow point to an actor and get a list of what other movies you've seen him or her in.

In a way, it's is a lazy phrase that serves as a catchall for whatever people are producing online. But as a concept, "beyond media" sounds as appealing as Web development gets.