How 'hypermedia' is evolving public media

Every public media broadcast entity in the U.S. is working together to build one API.

By: Meg Cater, Technical Content Manager, SmartBear Software

"Hypermedia is the matter of which the World Wide Web is made. Much like the physical world is built of interacting elementary particles (Bosons and Fermions), the web is essentially a universe of myriad interacting hypermedia documents." ~ Irakli Nadareishvili, Director of Engineering and Digital Media, NPR

For the first time, every public media broadcast entity in the United States is working together to build one API. Based on the concepts of hypermedia, this new "Public Media Platform" will allow thousands of public service outlets across the country to share a massive content platform that Irakli Nadareishvili called "revolutionary" in his speech at this year's API Strategy and Practice conference in San Francisco.

If you love your local public media station, NPR, PBS or any of the other cherished news and story outlets that pique our interests, broaden our reality, and keep us involved in the world at home and abroad…well, this is the story behind all those stories. Public Media Platform is the API that will allow communication between the United States’ vast network of public media computers and all the hypermedia documents they hold. What’s more, it has the potential to radically up-level content management platform technology as a whole.

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Kristin Calhoun, Executive Director of the Public Media Platform. As I said in the interview, I was quite inspired by PMP, and I wasn’t just giving Kristin lip service. I have two practical reasons, and another that’s a bit more esoteric.

First, simply knowing that public media is being taken care of by some very caring, very smart people is a relief. After the near-death experience of U.S. print media, I was afraid for our public media outlets. So it’s heartening to glimpse behind the scenes and see the healthy glow of innovation shining from within.

Then there’s my very nerdy interest in digital document or content management systems. If you share that interest, you really should read this transcript of Irakli Nadareishvili’s speech outlining how all content management systems are broken, why, and how PMP is an example of the answer. Seriously.

But what I really want to write about goes beyond the functions and advantages of the technology itself, and hits on why I really think Nadareishvili called PMP "revolutionary."

Projects like PMP inspire the heck out of me, mostly because they remind me of a much bigger picture on technology, and bring the whole trajectory of human history into the immediacy of our time. When we really let in what it means to be able to easily share our best stories and insights, in real-time and in a scalable way, the perspective gets huge fast.

One of the major driving forces behind the humanitarian revolutions of the past, from the abolition of slavery to women’s rights, was access to printed documents like newspapers for purposes of information sharing and organizing resistance. But it was also the proliferation of personal stories and articles through mass produced books and magazines. (The Atlantic, for example, was founded as an abolitionist’s magazine in 1857.) When educated individuals could finally read about what it was really like to be enslaved and become utterly engrossed in another person’s life experience so completely different from their own, no matter how briefly, their deepest sentiments changed and their humanity expanded.

Those moments of expanded identity and possibility, sprinkled among a populous, is the stuff of revolution. That’s why PMP is "revolutionary." It's not just the technological advancement of content management systems for people like me who struggle to archive, share, categorize and link mass amounts of content; it’s the implications of what that technology could allow for.

What does it mean for every human—young, old, rich, poor, from a developed nation or not—to one day have access to “a universe of myriad interacting hypermedia documents”? It means that the very nature of education and intelligence changes, for kids and adults.

Going to school used to mean gaining access to content, textbooks and videos. The best schools held the best content, and the best teachers and students were often the ones who could hold the most content in their heads. That model is being radically disrupted as smartphones and tablets begin to reach even the most remote villages around the globe. There is a long way to go for sure, but you see the implications of a leap in education the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the invention of the printing press. That’s for the kids.

As adults with access to the web, we no longer have to rely on our memory for content. It’s all in our devices. Some argue that this is making us less intelligent. But I’m convinced that it’s freeing us up for real intelligence and learning, for asking questions, finding solutions and unlocking creativity previously unknown due to a lack of access to other people’s ideas and research. After all, no one thinks in a vacuum. Even the most original among us is relying on language and knowledge previously thought of.

I recently read a book called Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson that persuaded me further on this point. It makes the bold assertion that the internet is making us smarter. It is written in an intellectual style that I have come to admire and even insist upon with this kind of radical claim. That is, barrage the reader with so much data, scientific research and counter arguments that, given she is a reasonable person, leaves her with no other choice but to submit to your premise. This kind of dependence on technology may be a bit scary to older generations, but not to younger ones whom literally have no fear of technology, as any parent these days can attest. Either way, it’s pretty darn inspiring to realize that the little device we carry around in our pocket all day is evolving our brains. And it’s only going to get smarter.

Content sharing is leaping into yet another era… people, animals, ecosystems, stars, planets, tragedy, natural disaster, sisters, brothers, child, parent, grandparents, religion, politics, disease, cures. So many stories are waiting to emerge on the stage of our global awareness and expand our sense of who we are.

The spark of innovation that will change the world can come from anywhere - from a small startup to a mass movement to organize a nation’s public content. But it’s the big picture perspective on what it could mean beyond the technological advances themselves that really gives meaning to the tools we tinker with.


Meg Cater is Technical Content Manager at SmartBear Software. Before entering the software world, Meg was a journalist specializing in STEM education and global environmental issues like clean water and sustainable chemistry. Her current passion centers around the investigation of how software is shaping our globalizing world and international security, communications, medicine, entertainment, art and culture.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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