What's Different About Cybermedia?

The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it.
-- Vannevar Bush, 1945

The foundation for cybermedia is being laid today in the same way that Marconi laid the foundation for television when he transmitted the first wireless telegraph signals. Thirty years passed between that transmission and the first demonstration of television, in 1926, and it took a decade more for the first regularly scheduled telecasts to be made.

Although cybermedia should not take forty years to develop, it will be some time before it is available, especially in a mass-market, or public, form. Because it is nearly impossible to reshape a medium and the policies that control it once it has become established, discussion should begin now about what the new medium will be, how it will work, and how it will be used.

The online database
can be expected to lead to cybermedia
just as the manuscript led
to the printed book.
The difference between the old and the new
is a difference not only of form
but also of content, production, and use.

Online databases are specialized in subject area and are often designed to serve the needs of a single academic discipline or industry group. They are expensive to create and to maintain, and gaining access to their content is also expensive, discouraging frequent and heavy usage. They presuppose knowledge of complex commands and are structured so that after the desired information has been located, the person who receives it must treat that information almost exactly like printed media (Pfaffenberger, 1990).

Cybermedia will offer a vast collection of information, stored in electronic form, that will encompass a wide variety of subject areas with a range of difficulty levels in each, encouraging schoolchildren and specialists alike to use it.

Most important, cybermedia will break with the print tradition of finite packaged texts:

Many of these ideas were first expressed by Ted Nelson, who coined the word hypertext in 1965.

It is fitting to characterize cybermedia as a merger or hybrid of the library, the newspaper, and television, implemented on a small computer. The online database, by comparison, is a limited, specialized library with a very versatile automated card catalog. Like all specialized products, the online database assumes a certain expertise of its users that prevents it from becoming a mass medium.

Related ideas at other Web sites:

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Cybermedia, by Mindy McAdams
Copyright © 1993, 1995 by Mindy McAdams. All Rights Reserved.
To reproduce any part of this work in any way,
you must have the author's permission.