Will iPad revive long-form multimedia?

I got into interactive media by way of long-form multimedia CD-ROMs. Early in 1994, Bob Stein, CEO of The Voyager Company, demoed Who Built America?, which took a history textbook and augmented it with archival sources, recorded audio and video, and other multimedia elements that enriched the primary text. It was an epiphanic moment, where I realized exactly the work I wanted to be doing. That summer, after much pestering, I was hired as a production associate by Voyager, where I ended up working for two years, on titles including First Person: Donald Norman, This is Spinal Tap, For All Mankind, and Laurie Anderson’s Puppet Motel.

I left in 1996, and not long after that, Voyager was sold, sold again, and essentially evaporated along with the entire multimedia CD-ROM market. In its place emerged the Web, whose ascendancy still continues unabated.

With the demise of CD-ROM, longform, thoughtful multimedia essentially died. Works that intelligently combine detailed text, video, audio, animations, and interactivity are nowhere to be found on the Web. For 15 years, this has upset me, because as someone who loves thoughtful explorations of subject matter (books, documentaries, This American Life, whathaveyou), and who experienced the thrill of well-crafted multimedia, it felt shameful that this form had died.

And this is perhaps what most excites me about iPad. “iBooks” are fine and all, but simply old wine in a new bottle. The magazine experiments put forth by Wired and Bonnier begin to demonstrate this exciting new direction, but such publications, with their monthly intervals, still can’t really go deep. Seeing The Elements gives me more hope.