HyperCard 2010: Why Johnny Can't Code (and What We Can Do About It)

Accepted Session
Short Form
Scheduled: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 from 1:30 – 2:15pm in Fremont


Thomas Jefferson envisioned a nation of self-sufficient citizen farmers; programmers like Alan Kay and Bill Atkinson tried to help us code as easily as we might hang a poster on the wall. What happened to the HyperCard ideal? Have we settled for consumption over creation? I will explore the question through a case study, surveying the state of citizen programming in 2010 — from CouchApps to Shoes to plain-jane HTML5+JS to HyperCard 2.4 — and try to convince all comers that realizing the dream of the citizen coder is vital to continuing the ideals of open source.


My friend Alex is a lighting designer. He had an idea for a HyperCard stack he wanted to write, to help him coordinate lighting cues with a script; unfortunately, his PowerBook 140 is no more, so a written script he has to follow manually is the best he can do. To explore the state of citizen coding in 2010, I’ve implemented Alex’s simple idea as many ways as I could, and we’ve still got a long way to go.

So what happened to HyperCard? Photo editing, music production, page layout and publishing—all these dreams of 1980s computation have evolved and matured into world-class software, while HyperCard and its descendents have languished. We know that there are citizen coders, like Alex, who want to contribute. Why can’t they? Does creation not scale?

Computation becomes ever more mainstream, and today we sit at an inflection point: while social networks and devices encourage passive consumption over creativity, we have a unique challenge—and opportunity—to provide tools to help consciously perceive and manipulate our increasingly digital environment. HyperCard’s time has nearly come: we are called to widen the reach of code beyond our geek niche.

Citizen coding candidates touched on:
- HTML + JavaScript
- Shoes
- Processing
- Cocoa (1990s Apple kids programming environment)
- HyperCard 2.4
- Web HyperCard clones – various
- Sk8
- Quartz Composer
- PowerPoint/Keynote
- RealBasic
- CouchApps
- Squeak eToys
- MacRuby
- Novell Visual AppBuilder (1994)
- Self
- SuperCard?
- Prototyping tools – var.
- etc.

(I’m submitting as a short-form talk, because that’s as long as I can imagine my talk being, but this could be a fun long-form workshop as well—do a quick overview & discussion of the problem, split people up into groups, try and get everyone to bang out an idea in some framework they’ve never seen before, maybe even hash out some concrete ideas for HyperCard 2010.)

Speaking experience


  • Headshot

    Devin Chalmers



    Hobbyist programmer from a tender age, web developer since 1999, iOS freelancer and Reed graduate in math and philosophy since 2008 currently residing on Manhattan. Presented on citizen code at OSB 2010, active in the academic artificial life community, dabbler. Interested in making simple things well.