iBooks, HyperCard, and creating beautiful things

Back in January I wrote about using iBooks Author to create a companion “textbook” for a course I teach regularly. The term textbook is in quotes because I don’t really think of this as a true textbook, but something new – smaller, more focused, less encyclopedic, targeted to my class. I somehow managed to (mostly) keep up with writing a summary of each topic we discussed as the semester progressed, publishing them on the web for students to use as study aids. At the end of the term they told me these overviews were very helpful, which I found satisfying. My plan was to compile these into a single stand-alone iBook for next year’s class, and probably also produce an ePub and/or PDF.

Then something awful happened. I downloaded an iBook called Paperless by David Sparks, of MacSparky fame, and it made me realize I’m doing it wrong.

Paperless is so beautiful. Sparks has paid so much attention to every single detail that he has succeeded in setting the bar incredibly high for self-publishing in this new form. This would be easy to dismiss as the work of a full-time freelance writer/publisher, but Sparks has a full-time job – he’s done all this in his spare time. You would never know this, though, given the exquisite care he’s taken to create something that communicates his points powerfully and effectively.

Last week I came across this article about HyperCard that reminded me of my time as a HyperCard enthusiast when I was a kid, experimenting with creating adventure stories and encyclopedia-like reference works, complete with hyperlinked text. The obvious descendent of HyperCard of course is the web itself, and it far exceeds the possibilities of the original HyperCard concept in many ways: it’s distributed, cross-platform, and world-wide, to name a few. But I can also see iBooks as a kind of spiritual descendant of HyperCard in that the combination of the iPad + iBooks app acts as a viewer for a package that includes rich media, images, interactive elements, and text. This fulfills the promise of HyperCard in a way even the web doesn’t because everything is bundled into a single, portable, stand-alone package. It has no external dependencies on web servers or even network access, which is, unfortunately, still questionable in many schools.

Thinking about iBooks as the descendant of HyperCard is a powerful motivator for me personally. At the same time, seeing an example like the Paperless book opened my eyes to the possibility of using iBooks Author to make a beautiful thing. There is a real payoff to investing in the capabilities of the platform instead of just treating it like a digital replica of a previous form.

2 thoughts on “iBooks, HyperCard, and creating beautiful things

  1. I had the same realization a moment ago when I found my old notes for a project I called “WebBook” at the time. The same ArsTechnica article reminded me of that project about a week ago. Looking at my old notes now, they reminded me of iBooks, and so I too made the connection.

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