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John Thompson | African American Inventors and their Inventions

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John Thompson

John Henry Thompson’s most famous invention is not something you can hold in your hand, and it’s not something the vast majority of people will ever see. But millions have used the things it has helped create.

Thompson is the inventor of the Lingo programming language, part of the Director authoring tool. Developed by Macromedia, Director is a software tool that has been widely used in games, kiosks, multimedia-based e-learning, demos, and more. With it, creators can combine a variety of formats – video, text, photos, graphics, animation – with programming logic and create interactive multimedia. It has been used frequently in kiosks, CD-ROMs, and, through a version called Shockwave, on the Web.

Thompson’s inventive instincts were propelled by his interests in both creative expression and computer programming. “I was always drawing and painting in my spare time,” he told one interviewer.

 

 

“So, midway through college, I just took some time off and went back to New York and studied drawing and painting for a year and a half,” he said. “And I learned a lot about those skills, and also saw that I could combine my interest in computer languages, computers in general, and visual expression.” He taught himself such computer languages as Fortran, Cobol and JCL.

In 1983, Thompson earned a degree in Computer Science and Visual Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he created a pre-press design system for the Visible Language Workshop (now part of the M.I.T. Media Lab).

From 1987 to 2001, he served as Chief Scientist at Macromedia, a company that also released the ubiquitous Web animation and video technology, Flash. He sees his work with Lingo as a continuation of his work in creative expression.

“Lingo has a lot of expressive power,” Thompson has said. He added that “it’s inspiring” when he goes into a bookstore and sees books that tell how to use Lingo in ways that help people “express themselves and use the computer creatively.” In fact, he authored one of those books, Macromedia Director Lingo Workshop.

But Lingo was not his only contribution to the growing world of interactive multimedia. MediaMaker, Action, VideoWorks II, and the Videoworks Accelerator were also created with his contributions, although it is Director – which became part of the Adobe corporate family after it merged with Macromedia – that’s the star.

Currently, Thompson lives in Philadelphia with his family, where, among other things, he has been creating interactive video art and working with a multimedia charter school.

 
 
 
 

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