Wednesday, March 25, 1998 at 2:40:32 AM Pacific

A New Paradigm for Tools

By Marc Canter, marc@venuemedia.com.

The metaphor for authoring tools today is that you buy a software package, you read the manual, you then double-click on the icon of the application and start to use the tool. But how many CD ROM's or Web sites are created with just one person?

This old paradigm of tools is quickly becoming obsolete and will soon be replaced with a new paradigm - one of multi-user, networked Scalable Content Tools. These new tools will not compete or try to replace Photoshop, Director or Painter. And they also won't try and compete with MPEG, TCP/IP, Windows or Pentium processors either!

The new paradigm of software today is to complement, not compete with the 'big boys.' These new type of tools will sit on top of existing authoring tools, and integrate them into a network-based development environment. They will be made up of a content management system, backend databases, dynamic page generation, profiling, recommendation and data analysis server technology.

These new tools will complement existing server technology, and serve as glue to create a comprehensive development environment that you could call 'multimedia groupware'. This sort of middleware 'glue' can be thought of as a layer on top of existing tools, bridging the gap between different platforms, resolutions and environments.

This is diametrically opposed to the 'hardwired' attitude of today's tools - which are tightly coupled and associated with a particular platform or capability (video editing, game generation, presentation tool, etc.)

These new type of groupware tools go way beyond just simple file sharing or even version control. They not only allow groups of people to work together, but also to create network-based applications for groups of people to interact, communicate and play together.

More often then not, the interface to these tools will be wizards, templates and web pages - which step developers through a myriad set of choices, possibilities and presets. The job of the 'tool provider' will be to develop those choices, script those templates and design those web pages.

This gets to another aspect of this new paradigm of tools - that the real essence behind using a tool is making the aesthetic choices of a designer while at he same time having the skill of a craftsman. This hybrid combination of technology and creativity, or commerce and art is really how tools companies in the future will differentiate themselves from the competition.

Great authoring environments of the future will have a certain feel to them, just like a Pixar animated film or ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) special effect. Technologists will finally be able to express themselves creatively, and artists, writers, musicians and animators will have all the technical and customization capabilities required to build an environment exactly suited to their needs. Scriptors and programmers will also be part of the tool team, molding and architecting the right sort of glue code - to both take advantage of networked versions of Photoshop and Director, while also cleanly fitting into a scalable content model - and supporting all industry standards.

Most tools companies today are looking to fill in some particular niche (like vector animation, behavioral based interaction or 3D effects) and tie users into their proprietary run-time playback engine. But is no longer necessary to have a playback engine tied to an authoring tool. Microsoft's Dynamic HTML and Javascript provide much of the capabilities that a multimedia designer needs. It is no longer necessary to require users to download plug-ins to run multimedia applications.

The authoring stage is now decoupled from the run-time stage. This new paradigm of tools no longer requires developers to rely upon run-time engines or 'players' to bring multimedia into their applications.

This new paradigm of tools also incorporates into the process - a new and final stage - where data is collected from the application, sorted, filtered and indexed at which point the data is then used to drive multimedia activities - such as animated agents, advertising, or messaging.

This three stage process of creating and deploying multimedia - authoring, run-time and data analysis is the foundation of the new paradigm of tools.

Add to these three stages the notion of Scalable Content and you have a rich new realm in which system integrators and content developers can create customized advertising and experiences - focused like laser beams on the tastes and preferences of each customer - rather than the shotgun approach currently used my today's marketeers.

The combination of On-line Commerce and Scalable Content with rich multimedia capabilities of broadband systems will finally get us the long promised 'Interactive TV' Info Hiway of the future.

This page was last built on 3/25/98; 2:45:05 AM by Dave Winer. dave@scripting.com