Voyager (1989-2000)

Wired Tablet App

Watching this video demo of Wired magazine’s prototype tablet app, I was struck by how ordinary it felt. Yes, it was nice to see multiple pages from the magazine, to move fluidly among them, and for those pages to have some embedded interactivity. But overall it felt like a traditional solution.

Are publishers ready to innovate? I certainly wouldn’t be the first to argue that publishers need to seriously re-think how they communicate. Are there parallels to some earlier era? Say… 20 years ago?

I was never a huge fan of the Voyager CD-ROMs. Primarially done in the late 80’s and early 90’s (around the same time as some of this work) they felt flat and static.

This was because most of their titles were built in HyperCard. From this history… “The choice was logical; HyperCard, modeled around the idea of a stack of cards, closely emulated the behavior of a book.” And the HyperCard framework definitely flavored the interactivity the titles offered: Click. Go to the next card. Repeat.

Colin Holgate, a programmer who worked for Voyager, described the company’s CD-ROM version of the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night as “a coffee table book with the movie attached.”

Despite all this, and the platform limitations of their day, Voyager titles did try to push content — and ways to restructure, and give a bit of interactivity, to it. They allowed users to create their own paths.

It’s interesting to watch these old demos. They give a glimpse into the early days of CD-ROM publishing. And are a reminder that, despite today’s snazzier platforms, we’re still struggling with many of the same design and communication issues.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Robert Winter’s CD-Companion to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was published in 1989. Arguably this was the first ever consumer CD-ROM. Keep in mind that this was designed for a black-and-white Macintosh screen at 640×400 pixels. (source. video)

Stravinsky: Rite of Spring CD-ROM

Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus — adapted for CD-ROM

For more on Voyager here’s a wired article from 1993 that gives some good, in the moment, commentary.