Every once in a while a new computer program comes along that changes everything. SimpleCard, a color shareware multimedia program for the Macintosh, has the potential for turning things completely upside down.
Created in 1995 by Niklas Frykholm, a whiz college student from Sweden, SimpleCard allows any System 7 Mac user to inexpensively create presentations, "stacks," that mix graphics, text, and recorded sound. Loosely modeled on Apple's own HyperCard program, SimpleCard allows for the creation of buttons that can link from card to card, and from stack to stack.
On first appearance, SimpleCard's power may not jump out at you. But SimpleCard's lean menus conceal the program's true power. SimpleCard allows you to present whatever pictures, sounds, and words you wish to combine together. The pictures could be photos, maps, illustrations, diagrams, or whimsical doodles. The sounds could be recorded voice, music, or other sound effects. And the words can be any words that spring to mind.
In some ways SimpleCard reminds me of the wildly popular HyperStudio program, a commercial multimedia construction kit that is enthusiastically used in schools around the country. Unlike HyperStudio, SimpleCard provides no screen wipes, no Quicktime capability, and few of the other enhancements that make HyperStudio so popular. But SimpleCard's stark simplicity is also its great strength. Unlike other multimedia construction programs, SimpleCard forces you to concentrate on content since it offers few of the extra bells and whistles of other programs.
How do you create stacks with SimpleCard? Since the program contain no drawing tools (or text tools) of its own, you need to create the cards of your stacks in a separate program, and then copy-and-paste them into SimpleCard.
The program I find most useful for assembling cards for my SimpleCard stacks is ClarisWorks, specifically the draw program in ClarisWorks. ClarisWorks is a program that ships for free with every Performa computer sold. There are literally several million copies of ClarisWorks in use today. (Possibly upwards of 8 to 10 million copies of the program in use.)
The ClarisWorks draw program allows you to easily manipulate draw objects on your screen. The draw objects can be circles, squares, ovals, rectangles, and lines from the ClarisWorks program itself. The objects in a draw program can also be scanned photographs, maps, or any other graphics object.
Draw objects can also be large background colors, giving you the capability of defining the background color of the cards in your SimpleCard stacks. ClarisWorks also gives you the choice of choosing text colors, and the background colors for text objects, allowing for color text boxes to appear in your SimpleCard stacks.
Used together, ClarisWorks and SimpleCard are potent storytelling tools. For the grand sum of $5 (the requested shareware fee for SimpleCard), about 10 million Macintosh users can become stack producers, multimedia documentary producers, electronic storytellers.
Incidentally, ClarisWorks is not the only program from which you can copy-and-paste graphics from. You can copy-and-paste graphics and text from any Macintosh graphics program. Macromedia Freehand, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and any other program that manipulates Mac graphics can serve as building tools for SimpleCard stacks.
How do you link two cards in SimpleCard? The process is simplicity itself. While holding down the command key and dragging the mouse diagonally across the screen, you can indicate any size rectangular area as a button. When you release the mouse, SimpleCard prompts you to tell it the name (or number) of the card you want to link to.
Within four or five seconds you can link any two cards. Linking stacks (for larger multimedia presentations) can be accomplished with just a few extra steps.
The power of SimpleCard became clear to me last week when I had the chance to create a freeware multimedia documentary about the life and work of Margie Wilber, an inspiring Washington DC resident who has been a tireless youth advocate for over 30 years. Combining scanned photographs, scrapbook writings, and recorded voice into single stack gave me a renewed appreciation of the kinds of stories that can be told using SimpleCard.
After all, human beings are storytelling animals. And there are so many important stories in our world that remain to be told.
Grateful thanks are owed to Niklas Frykholm, who has also created a bunch of other excellent Mac shareware. (You can visit his home page on the web to learn about his latest creative programming work.) Thanks are owed to my good friend Ron Evry (pronounced "Eevry") who casually suggested last month, "Phil, you ought to take a look at SimpleCard sometime." Ron is one of the most creative people around, always coming up with imaginative ways of using software and the net.
This article would not be complete without a brief summary of the technical characteristics of SimpleCard. The SimpleCard program itself is about 50 kilobytes in size. Accompanying the program is an explanatory stack, SimpleGuide, which is 50 kilobytes in size, too. You can copy SimpleCard and SimpleGuide onto a high density floppy disk and still have over a megabyte of free space for your own stack(s). And for a reason I haven't quite figured out yet, some SimpleCard stacks can be compressed as if they were loose bundles of feathers. One 400 kilobyte stack I created was compressed to 20 kilobytes by Stuffit Lite.
I can't wait to see what other people will make with SimpleCard. This is a program that offers wide open possibilities.
The author works as a Life Long Learning Coach under the Mayor of DC's new literacy initiative. He previously worked as an Instructional Technology Coordinator in the Arlington Public Schools (Arlington, Virginia --- a close-in suburb of Washington DC.) and before that worked as the Washington DC Regional Coordinator for Community Technology Centers' Network, a network of more than 1200 community technology centers serving communities without sufficient access to technology and technology training.
Phil can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org