Monday, February 7, 2011

Q&A with 'Pine Point' Tourguides, The Goggles

We told you about an innovative approach to interactive multimedia storytelling -- "Welcome to Pine Point," about the Canadian mining town that vanished in 1988, and what became of its residents.

Now here's an insightful interview with The Goggles, the creative team who developed and produced it, by Andrea Pitzer for Nieman Storyboard (a cousin of Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab). The Goggles are Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge (pictured).

Our observation is that, in lieu of traditional audio narration, the multimedia project made excellent use of still and video images, but still seemed text-heavy -- because of its origins as a potential book project, and The Goggles' previous foray in traditional book publishing. Here we're introduced to the concept of the "liquid book," and also the controversial notion of what happens when you tell a story that leads linearly from A to Z, in traditional fashion, without stopping at B through Y.


What if your hometown disappeared, literally vanished from the map? How would you hold onto it? Would the community of people who had lived there continue? “Welcome to Pine Point” is a website that explores the death of a town and the people whose memories and mementos tell its story today. The site lives online under the auspices of the National Film Board of Canada. It incorporates music to haunting effect but is especially innovative in its use of text and design.

Q: Did you call it a liquid book, or is that a term someone else coined?

Simons: Other people have tried to come up with a term for it. People are excited about it. They thought it might be a new form of storytelling, something they hadn’t seen before. So that was a name other people attached to it.

It was new to us, this kind of interactive documentary, but we didn’t find anything else that we could reference for this, except for, obviously, books and film. But nothing interactive – nothing with the written word, audio and visual. So I think that’s what’s been exciting people the most so far. What is this thing? What we’ve been told is that they’re not used to having this emotional response from a website.

Shoebridge: Because we were book guys, we kept a lot of the old handmade book-like things, in keeping with that medium-is-the-message concept. We tried to emphasize what each medium does well. Keeping the words as writing rather than voiceover narrative was something we wrestled with at the start, but I think we’re happy we kept it as words.

For us, it’s that kind of internal narrator. You can have a different conversation with yourself. And reading is a more active experience than listening. I think we’re happy we did that, but we haven’t seen multimedia projects where writing is the number one thing you’re seeing, and everything else informs that.

Q: Is there anything about the Pine Point project that people wouldn’t know from watching it that would be useful for them to know?

Shoebridge: The thing for us that we’re happiest with is that we stuck to what linear “narrative” has done for so long: that beginning, middle and end. Because we stuck with that, that’s the thing that worked the best for us. People want to be told stories, they want to be engaged.

When people think of digital interactive media, one of the first things they say is “It’s going to have multiple entry points, and you can go wherever you want to.” And sure, you can deliver certain kinds of information like that, but it’s not super-great for stories, at least in our experience. You can skip ahead, if you want to, you can go four chapters ahead, but you can also do that with a book.

We’re hoping that we’re keeping people engaged and keeping each section as interesting as possible. For us, I think that was the key. We had to break it into chunks, because that’s how it had to go. We wanted people to be engaged, so using media like writing meant that you have to read it to experience it. You could flip through it and kind of experience it, but if you don’t read it, you’re not really getting engaged.

And then breaking it into pieces like a magazine. If you flip to the middle of the magazine, it’s still intriguing, you still want to keep going through it. For us, I think we tried to pull as much old-media logic into a new media form as we could.

Simons: The challenges and limitations were things that we had never considered before, like the loading up of information. Part of the more bite-sized pieces of the story were dictated by how much information we’d be able to technically upload onto someone’s computer so it didn’t crash, while still keeping it seamless and moving. We were presented a lot with technical challenges that we didn’t know about or care about before we got into this world. So some of those things did inform how we had to deliver the story. I don’t think it changed the content, but certainly the experience was altered by limitations of the media.
Read the entire interview here.

Nieman Storyboard's motto: "Breaking down story in every medium." Find more examples here.

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