HyperCard > Impact
What were some things people were able to accomplish as a result of HyperCard?
HyperCard made programming accessible to non-professionals:
Back then, you needed to learn a low-level programming language (C/C++/Pascal) if you wanted to create something for your Mac. You needed to be a “professional” programmer. HyperCard finally provided entry-level and hobbyist programmers with an option.
Even in an early presentation of HyperCard, Bill Atkinson already had many examples of stacks created by users. He introduced them saying:
I’m going to show you some examples of stacks that people have put together. And a lot of this has been people that haven’t been programmers, people that haven’t had the power of controlling or manipulating their Macintosh, and are suddenly waking up to some of their creative ideas that they’ve had and now can express.
After demonstrating a stack to help a sales representative configure a hardware sale:
Here’s an example of a stack that is heavily user-interface-driven. It’s really a matter of a user interface, rather than any heavy-duty computation here; the heavy-duty computation is adding up a column of numbers. But this was something that a sales person could put together without having to be a programmer to do it, and could express what they knew about the way things happened in their typical sales situation, and therefore help other people who are doing similar things…There’s a lot of things where an individual person’s been doing a job for a while, they know how they do it, they know what they do, and if they could express what they do in an interactive dialog like this, they could make their knowledge more available to other people…
After showing a stack that visually demonstrated features of the VersiCAD program:
[VersiCAD] is a rather full-featured CAD program for Macintosh; it has a lot of features to be taught. And so they use a stack that teaches…just by moving over different things it’s calling up different card-specific fields. The script for these is just saying ‘show or hide card field so-and-so’; very simple to do, and yet you can have in this an expression of all the different tools and features in this program in a way that people can kind of get at them, and pull out those parts that they want at once. They also find this same stack to be a good advertisement for their program, because they can give away this stack, and you can explore the features of this program before you buy it, instead of afterwards.
Thinking back on HyperCard’s legacy, Bill summarized:
Some of the stacks that I was most interested in were stacks that were really kind of ugly, but they did exactly what this person needed, and there’s no way in hell a programmer ever would have been interested–there wasn’t a market to write that for. But this guy had to do something with his astronomy thing, he had to do something to help him point his telescope, and he knew what he needed, he wasn’t a programmer, but he could make it. And some of the stacks did not have a lot of aesthetic polish. I used to say that some of these stacks only a mother could love. But those mothers loved ‘em…I’m a populist. I want everybody to be empowered. I think the more people that are empowered, and particularly those that have passion about something, and they want to share it with other people–I think now we’ve got much better tools than HyperCard ever was. That was a lot of the intention, is that people could express themselves and share…their passion.
At that same event, a former teacher described:
My favorite stack that someone designed was a credentialed student, and he wanted to make a stack that would help new teachers understand how to do classroom management. He didn’t make a tutorial, what he made was a simulation, which said “you’re at the front of the class, a student in the back starts throwing his pencil, what do you do?” And then gave a tree. So it was kind of an adventure game for classroom management. And it was the best way I think to understand good and bad decisions in classroom management that I’ve ever seen. And the format, the platform of being able to make a decision and see–obviously, that’s simulations, make a decision and see the outcome.
A second-level impact of how easy it was to create software in HyperCard is the sharing economy that resulted:
Many of the stacks in HyperCard are being shared. People are being very generous with their work. Part of that is because it’s a lot easier. You know, when you do something in an afternoon, you don’t really have to make the rent money back out of it, so you do share it. But a lot of people are sharing their HyperCard stacks, and that’s making a cumulative effort, that we’re all building together and every stack you see is sort of a library to build on top of