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ZeitEYE emerged out of some 15 years of intermittent research on the phenomenon of computer-mediated information and communications (or digital, interactive media), that began in the late 1980s after a decade or so of experimentation and practice with the fledgling ‘new media’ of that period. By the late 1980s I had authored computer-mediated laserdisc programmes, instructive CDROMs, and what we then called a ‘hypermagazine’ made in Apple’s revolutionary Hypercard and distributed on CDROM. This was interesting, because Hypercard was effectively a database, with individual ‘cards’ acting as data-records, but able to store a range of media as well as text, scripted interactive programs (and later video and colour graphics).

High Bandwidth Panning – a hypermagazine designed by Bob Cotton, working with Richard Oliver and Asif Choudhary at the Computerr Graphics Workshop at Newham College, East Ham 2007-2008.

Hypercard was the first popular and widely available hypermedia authoring and distribution system, preceding Tim Berners Lee’s WWW proposals by a couple of years (1987) – it introduced many of us to the potential of interactive media, hyperlinks, and the use of multiple media, as well as scripting in the elegant Hypertalk – a high-level coding language. It had reasonable tools for graphics, drawing, text and typography, and animation. But then of course it was one-bit – black and white, geared to the screen-size of the early Macs – 7×5 inches (roughly 500×360 pixels). The hypermagazine we designed was called High Bandwidth Panning, and linked several ‘stacks’ of electronic cards together, covering subjects like key books on the emerging ideas of hypermedia, interactive diagrams, animated virtual rooms browsers, scripted generative computer graphics, and ideas about what kind of impact the digital media would eventually have.

Sample Filemaker-Pro records from the media-history database, that has evolved from the cyberspace-lexicon database begun in the early 1990s.

But the formalised collection and collation of digital media technologies, theories and content-design began around 1990 with the preparation of a book published by Phaidon Press in 1994: The Cyberspace Lexicon. This was an A to Z of all the jargon of the emerging new media, and the previously quite separate sectors that it included: media, telecoms and computing. So I designed a database in Filemaker Pro, and I’m still adding stuff to this, it currently includes roughly 1300 items.

Taking this broad McLuhanist approach to media (‘Media as extensions of Man’ – McLuhan Understanding Media 1963), and following Nicholas Negroponte’s idea of the gradual convergence of media, telecoms and computing in the digital domain (in Stewart Brand: The Media Lab – Inventing the Future at MIT 1987), as early as 1990 I wanted to map this new palette of opportunities. My first two books on the new media: Understanding Hypermedia (1993), and The Cyberspace Lexicon (1994) attempted this by providing overviews, with timelines and lexical treatments. And since then, specifically at my research fellowship at LCC, I’ve been trying to illustrate the multimedia, multi-disciplinary, and dynamic nature of this opportunity-space. I wanted to illustrate this opportunity-space for students and young designers, whose idea of digital media often went no further than website-design, Photoshop and digital video.

sample of the media-innovation timeline, first shown at LCC Research Centre 2006

Media Innovation Timeline – the first attempt to draw all the database material together and give it an ordered form was made at LCC in 2005. This was a printed timeline exploiting the new digital printers that had emerged in this period – allowing prints a metre wide and practically any length. This version was designed and edited in Adobe Illustrator andthe  output measured 36 metres x 500mm.

Over the last two years, I spent some time on the creation of book derived from the database – the idea was to present material in the now familiar form of one artefact per page, but after about six months of writing and editing, this proved unsatisfactory for three main reasons: the ‘print-on-demand’ technology was expensive; the clearances a major and time-consuming task; and finally and most important – the book was still a collection of individual artefacts and did not have the dynamic impact – the iconic impact that I wanted.

The first attempt to make this a dynamic, collaborative pool of inspirational media artefacts was in a wiki-based Flash timeline, directly linked to a SQL version of my media database. I called this the Inspiration Timeline, and it went online in 2006 at
http://www.soidesignlimited.com/test/timeline

I experimented with a hybrid concept-map and timeline:

The film treatment – ZeitEYE – came about because graphic and interactive timelines didn’t seem to illustrate the scope and dynamism of the new media-space.

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