Key Concepts

  • Metamedium – “was coined in 1977 by researchers at computer Americans Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg to refer to the ability of computers to influence other media (the media, the singular medium) and to simulate the features, or to transform into other media in function of the software executed by the computer itself (obviously in the presence of appropriate hardware and peripherals)” (Google translated from an Italian page on “metamedia” on Wikipedia).

–> Manovich explains that, “while separate programs to create works in different media were already in existence, Kay’s group for the first time implemented them all together within a single machine. In other words, Kay’s paradigm was not to simply create a new type of computer-based media that would co-exist with other physical media. Rather, the goal was to establish a computer as an umbrella, a platform for all existing expressive artistic media” (Kindle Locations 1260-1263).

Where can you find a video player, music player, radio, photo albums, and video game system? Your computer, of course. Image hosted on the site About Technology.

Where can you find a video player, music player, radio, photo albums, and video game system? Your computer, of course. Image hosted on the site About Technology.


  • Cultural Software – It is “cultural in a sense that it is directly used by hundreds of millions of people and that it carries ‘atoms’ of culture —is only the visible part of a much larger software universe” (Manovich, Kindle Locations 231-232). When Manovich uses the phrase cultural software, he is talking about the software that underlie “actions we normally associate with ‘culture,'” such as YouTube, Facebook, cell phone apps, and Adobe Photoshop.

Bit of satire, but it’s a reaction against cultural software’s implications.

  •  Software Studies – “has to investigate the role of software in contemporary culture, and the cultural and social forces that are shaping the development of software itself” (Manovich, Kindle Locations 287-288).

Manovich develops this further by discussing topics software studies underlie: “I think of software as a layer that permeates all areas of contemporary societies. Therefore, if we want to understand contemporary techniques of control, communication, representation, simulation, analysis, decision-making, memory, vision, writing, and interaction, our analysis cannot be complete until we consider this software layer. Which means that all disciplines which deal with contemporary society and culture— architecture, design, art criticism, sociology, political science, art history, media studies, science and technology studies, and all others— need to account for the role of software and its effects in whatever subjects they investigate” (Kindle Locations 369-373).

  • Media Hybridization – Manovich defines the late 1970s as the period in which “the evolution of the computer metamedium”: “Once computers became a comfortable home for a large number of simulated and new media, it is only logical to expect that they would start creating hybrids…Both the simulated and new media types— text, hypertext, still photographs, digital video, 2D animation, 3D animation, navigable 3D spaces , maps, location information and social software tools—came to function as building blocks for many new media combinations” (Kindle Locations 2949-2952).
    Google Earth is a good example of a Media Hybrid. Image hosted on the site File Hippo.

    Google Earth is a good example of a Media Hybrid. Image hosted on the site File Hippo.


  • Media Software – “programs that are used to create and interact with media objects and environments” and “a subset of the larger category of ‘application software’— the term which is itself in the process of changing its meaning as desktop applications (applications which run on a computer) are supplemented by mobile apps (applications running on mobile devices) and web applications (applications which consist of a web client and the software running on a server)”  (Kindle Location 517 and 517-520) –> This kind of software “enables creation, publishing, accessing, sharing, and remixing different types of media (such as image sequences, 3D shapes, characters, and spaces, text, maps, interactive elements), as well as various projects and services which use these elements” (Kindle Location 520-522)


  • Software Techniques – “can work with digital data in general (i.e. they are not media-specific). The examples are ‘view control,’ hyperlinking, sort, search, network protocols such as HTTP, and various data analysis techniques from the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Leaning, Knowledge Discovery, and other sub-fields of computer science. (In fact, large parts of computer science, information science and computer engineering science are about these techniques— since they focus on designing algorithms for processing information in general.) These techniques are general ways of manipulating data regardless of what this data encodes (i.e. pixel values, text characters, sounds, etc.)” (Kindle Locations 2082-2086).


  • Media Correspondences – “responsible for the content and style of the works to be generated— i.e. what is going to be created in the first place” (Kindle Locations 2222-2223), as compared to software techniques that “can work digital data in general” –> Googling this term is a reminder as to why some terms need a different name (as I found more websites about foreign journalists than I did with new media concepts)


  • Media-Specific Techniques – “media creation, manipulation, and access techniques that are specific to particular types of data. In other words, these techniques can be used only on a particular data type (or a particular kind of ‘media content’)” (Kindle Locations 2069-2070). –> Manovich lists two kinds of media-specific techniques: 1) “Some of these data manipulation techniques appear to have no historical precedents in physical media— the technique of geometric constraint satisfaction is a case in point. Another example of such new technique is evolutionary algorithms commonly used to generate still images, animations, and 3D forms,” and 2) “Other media-specific techniques do refer to prior physical tools or machines— for instance, brushes in image editing applications, a zoom command in graphics software, or a trim command in video editing software” (Kindle Locations 2076-2080)

Here’s an example with Photoshop:


  • Media-Independent Techniques – “general concepts translated into algorithms , which can operate on particular data types,” such as “copy and paste” and “search function” (Kindle Locations 2122-2123) –> My favorite example by Manovich is the copy and paste function, mostly because of how often I use that function when doing my homework, as it allows users to not only move text, but also images and URLs. Think of how neat it is that we can actually right-click (if you own a PC, though I think it’s something different for Macs) on a picture and have the option of copying or saving the image itself, or copying the image’s URL directly, which can be a very different experience. Let’s think about this further. If you can’t tell, I have a deep love for gifs, but they don’t always work across different software. On Facebook, a gif works in the message box, but only if I copy the image’s URL and paste it in, but that trick won’t work for posts and responses to posts. As well, copying a gif and pasting it into a Word document renders the gif into a still picture, but if I save the gif and import it into a PowerPoint, it functions as a gif where I can copy and paste it to different slides if I so choose. It’s still the same copy and paste function, but I have different limitations and affordances based on which software I am using.


  • View Control – “the abilities to switch between many different views and kinds of views of the same information is now implemented in multiple ways not only in OS, word processors and email clients, but also in all ‘media processors'” (Kindle Locations 1368-1370)
View control happens on our computers as well as our smart phones and tablets/iPads. Image hosted on the site 7Tutorials.

View control happens on our computers as well as our smart phones and tablets/iPads. Image hosted on the site 7Tutorials.


  • Findability – “The appearance of consumer GPS-enabled media capture devices and the addition of geo-tagging, geo-search, and mapping services to media sharing sites such as Flickr and media management applications such as iPhoto gradually made media ‘location aware'” (Kindle Locations 2143-2145)


  • Searchability – “the concept of the search is the same: locating any elements of a single media object — or any media objects in a larger set — to match particular user-defined criteria” (Kindle Locations 2133-2134) –> Manovich gives the example of Google Reverse Image Search where you can either type in a picture’s specific URL or upload the image itself in order to backtrack where it came from (or a series of possible locations it may have come from)


  • Information Visualization –  also known as infovis – “a very general method that potentially can be applied to any data. The name implies that we can potentially take anything— numbers, text, network,sound, video, etc.— and map it into image to reveal patterns and relationships in the data” (Kindle Locations 2148-2150). Some examples would be Wordle, StoryMap, and Manovich’s most recent project titled Hyperallergic.
A Wordle from my blog's content.

A Wordle from my blog’s content.



Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Kindle Edition.

Making this post multimodal 

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