Not Just Text: Richer Stories on the Web
Seriously exciting stuff is happening to the way stories are being told on the web beyond a standard blog roll.
There are already some really good work on the web that showcase the ways a story can be brought alive through visual effects and interactive elements by combining bits HTML5, JS and CSS3 — you should just check out these web comics based on parallax: Never Mind the Bullets and Jess & Russ. I’d say both of these look like they are the fruits of many hours of hard work and are each rightfully a piece of art in themselves. There will only be more of these as time goes on.
A new face of online journalism?
But what projects like the New York Times’ publication Snow Fall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (‘Snow Fall’ from here on in)? For me, this magazine-article account of an American skier who’d escaped an avalanche is not so much a piece of art as a high profile experimental demonstration of one way we could pull online news and media publishing — and digital storytelling — kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It’s certainly got some healthy attention from the blogosphere so far.
The way the article’s presented reminds me of the way that museums today use interactive screens, projected lights and trigger videos and sounds to play if you trip a proximity sensor. In just the same way, scroll down the web page, and it presents you with the relevant rich media (perhaps a video, or a gallery) exactly where it’s relevant — in the context of its surrounding text — without even needing the user to click ‘Play’.
When the 3-D model of the landscape appeared, I thought to myself: “Wow. This is the future of online newspaper publishing” (some don’t share this view with me). Sadly, as mentioned already, the article is very much a piece of experimental project work. While it’s shed some light on what articles of the future may look like, it’d be inviable to produce many more articles without mature tools for authoring this kind of stuff. This will take a few years.
While heavy integration of text and media is certainly a step in the right direction, it isn’t the only way in which we can expect storytelling to be changing on the web. So I’ve been shown by Goldsmiths PhD student Ann Danylkiw, anyway.
I’ve had the fortune to see her presentation about her field in PhD research “something like interactive digital storytelling and interactive documentary, maybe something involving learning” (quote taken from her blog). Interactive documentaries are incredible. Just play with / watch One Millionth Tower to get the gist of what this means (I promise, you won’t regret it. Just takes a couple of minutes). It’s a collection of individual stories about the ways a community of people living in high-rise tower blocks in Toronto are making efforts to beautify their living environment. It uses WebGL to render a 3D environment in which some video interviews, photos and visualisations are placed. Visitors are beseeched to explore it, uncovering content as they go. Again, like a visualisation of what you might see in a museum, really, except it’s delivered over the web.
The great thing about this kind of narrative is that it’s been shown that non-linear forms of storytelling are simply more engaging than linear forms in terms of the amount of time people spend navigating around the content. And better still, if you want to create something similar yourself, (alas, not in 3D), you can do so with services like Zeega (alpha). There’s big selection of photo- and video-rich creations which do a far better job at conveying relevant visual detail, mood and emotions in an instant. Try this poetic historical walk through a neighbourhood, for instance. Another similar service to look out for is StoryPlanet (beta).
So all in all, I’m quite hopeful to see new, richer and more exciting form factors of stories appearing on the web. Just as WordPress’s launch back in 2003 has allowed your average Joe Bloggs to create and publish text-heavy content in the form of blog posts, I reckon that at some point, there’ll be tools just like Zeega that’ll make it just as easy for your even your average Joe Bloggs author of media-rich, interactive, linear and non-linear stories online.
I for one would like my web more visual. Connections are only getting faster as well. You gotta make use of that (relatively) fat 4G / fibre optic ‘bandwidth’ pipe on something, don’t you?