I was recently interviewed for an article on The Future of Visual Storytelling for InsidetheStory.org. You can check out the article here and my answers to Adam Westbrook’s questions are below.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about Scrollkit – what does it do and how does it help people publishing on the web?
A simple way to think of us is that we are like InDesign for the web. We’re a visual editor that gives designers a massive amount of control over a single page. Because we allow you to edit pixels, not print fiber, you get to lay out pretty much any kind of media that you can think of. Video, photos, interactive effects, you can make pages that would satisfy Harry Potter.
You say that you’re on a mission to make the web more cinematic – what does a cinematic web look like?
We want more people to cry infront of their computer screens. Preferably from awe or joy. The web is the richest, most advanced publishing system we’ve ever had, but most stories posted on the web look like every other story posted on the web. We believe more people can tell stories online that are arresting and powerful, that they themselves are only capable of coming up with, but they need a tool that is more human.
So the answer to your question is, in some sense, I don’t know what it will look like and that’s exactly what makes it exciting.
Can web design achieve the same narrative, emotional or aesthetic results as a film, book or podcast?
You can experience so many of our most mature mediums on an iPad or a laptop. You can read books, short stories, articles, watch films, tv, play classic arcarde games, and all of that is nice but they are all distinctly their own thing. The same is true on the web, what’s most exciting is not that you’ll be able to create a web page that achieves the emotional effect of a film or book, it’s that you’ll be able to come up with something that feels like it belongs in its own category. You mention, podcasts in your question but it’s funny because podcasts are they’re own thing and have only been able to be their own thing because of recent technology. They’re technically just audio files, so like radio in that respect but the way they’re distributed helped push them to be a unique format.
This is what attracted me to the nytimes “Snow Fall” story. It used videos, photos, text, but the piece didn’t feel like ‘multimedia,’ it felt like media, a single story told well. That’s what we need more of.
What’s wrong with the way we’re using the web visually at the moment?
Less is wrong about how we are visually consuming the web and a lot more is wrong with how we are making it. And the problem with how we are making it is that we aren’t making it in a visual way. The overwhelming majority of people fly blind when they make content on the web. They fill out two forms, a header and a footer, then preview it in wordpress when they’re finished. Imagine being a painter and not being able to see what happens as you wet your brush and slide it across your canvas. This is the kind of fundamental problem we have now.
I’m a huge fan of Bret Victor and his speech, Inventing on Principle ( http://vimeo.com/36579366 ). When creators see the changes they make as they make them, they make better stuff.
The web is very different from the traditional ‘broadcast’ media, but how does that change the way we tell stories with it? Presumably it goes beyond simply making things interactive and social?
Making things interactive and social is really awesome, if you can do that you are on your way. What’s not exciting is that, for most, that means putting a tweet button on their article.
The phrase ‘social media’ has always hurt my brain. All media is social by definition.
How does video fit into this? It’s described as the black hole on the web…is there a way to make videos more web-native?
Video is the gorilla in the room. If you are compelling on video, you will rule pop culture. What is pop culture and what is web culture is getting more and more unclear. There are a zillion ways to make video more web native and people have been pushing that forward ever sense they had the bandwidth.
Finally, blue sky question: in your wildest dreams how do you see a perfect cinematic web looking ten years from now? What’s changed by then?
To me, cinema is the art of making multimedia feel like media. You take a handful of technologies that don’t necessarily get along, then you find a way for them to complete each other. It’s always a messy process to get there and we’ve seen that recently. We are focused on the screen, we think we can significantly increase the quality of the content that people touch everyday.
Imagining technologies outside of the screen is the next frontier. I’ve been excited recently by MYO. You can control a computer by flexing the muscles in your arm.
My hope for the next 10 years is that they are as exciting as the past 10 years.
So, this Saturday, I was binge watching episodes of The Daily Show and I saw an interview that I immediately wanted to watch again. Jon Stewart had Steven Brill on the show, he was there because he had just spent 7 months investigating the American health care system for TIME Magazine. Jon Stewart was ecstatic, he thought the piece was unbelievable and the interview split into three extended parts online. Bitter Pill is journalism in the highest sense, it took expert digging and editing, it is the kind of story that can reframe the discussion around an industry that owns a massive chunk of our economy.
I wondered why I had not heard about it up until this point so I took out my computer to look for it. I found this:
In the print version of the article that Jon Stewart holds in his hands, it’s clear that this is a historic story for TIME. It’s the frontpage story, it’s full of extraordinary eye-catching visuals, and it’s introduced by the managing editor like this: “For the first time in our history, we are devoting the entire feature section of TIME to a single story by one writer.” The web treatment is 24k words dumped into a wordpress post.
This is insane and it needs to stop. Getting people to say “Wow,” when they land on the page can mean the difference between a handful of facebook shares and a post that stops the internet for a day. It is an art to pull this off, every pixel counts, and if you are an editor charged with bringing Bitter Pill to the web your problem is that most of your job has been decided for you before you even begin. This is the part of the article your CMS allows you to edit:
The reason culture-denting stories are so often born in newspapers and magazines is because they are places where intense collaboration is common. Someone who is good at uncovering information works with someone who is good at visualizing it, who then works with someone who is great at inserting it into the world. The fact that is integral to this collaboration is that you own the page. When you know you can use every fiber of the page to tell a story you can create emphasis and go places that only you can imagine. If traditional publishers want to cultivate their authority on the web, they need to retake control of the pages they publish on.
When most people think about a redesign of big site like time.com, they start with the home page or a rethink of its central navigation. I think it’s more simple: start with the story page. Instead of trying to design a solid story template for all your content, give your editors the ability to break free of the template when necessary and shape the story themselves.
The Verge, Buzzfeed, and The New York Times are doing this and use a mixture of hand coding and in-house software to produce the articles they want to stand out. This kind of work is expensive and time consuming, we’ve been working on a tool that makes it significantly easier for others to produce these kinds of stories then integrate them into the site they already have.
This afternoon I found a print copy of TIME Magazine, scanned many of its pages, and made a new version of Bitter Pill for the web on scroll kit. It took me a few hours and I imagine the editors at TIME could do a better job but I think that, if this version went live in place of the other one, it would have had a bigger response on the web.
You can take a look at it here.
If TIME had our WordPress plugin installed, they would be able to drop it into their site in one click.
If you’re interested in producing stories like this, send me an email. We are looking for an initial set of publishers to work with this spring.
Nothing will replace newspaper companies or what they do. For the past few months an un-holy alliance has consumed the media nerds on Twitter as two traditional foes have attempted to etch the above idea into stone. For those who make (or used to make) a living in the newspaper industry, the idea is at the crux of nearly every editorial and is used as an argument to support micro payments, government funding, an illegal form of price fixing, and, you know, vice. For those outside the industry, the biggest rallying cry came from NYU professor Clay Shirky. He calls it the ˜great unbundling’ and asserts that there will never be another competitor to The New York Times; its pieces will be atomized and continue to spin into products like 538 and Craigslist
Shirky provides an extensive historical analysis to support his claim and while I agree with most of it, I think he ultimately misses the conclusion. Not only will the original mission of newspapers like the NYT sustain itself online, it will be revived in a way their founders could have never imagined. What’s lost in most discussions about the future of news is just what that original idea for a newspaper like the NYT really was and how the internet is in a unique position to execute it for the first time. [Read more →]
The past few weeks have come with two major reveals for the weirdos who follow online social networks. The first was big news. Twitter’s internal documents leaked and the identity-crisis of earth’s most popular start-up is now public. The second was more under the radar but just as important. In a memo that went out to staff, the CEO of MySpace admitted that their users are caught between three competing notions of what MySpace is or should be.
It has been a long time coming but the NYT’s and the uber popular silicon valley blog, Tech Crunch, finally smashed into one another. This weekend’s Sunday Times came with a trend piece in the Business section on how big tech blogs (like Gizmodo and TC) publish ‘groundless’ rumors for hits. Many considered it to be a kind of hatchet job directed at the site and for the past few days it triggeredasprawling controversy where everyone from Jeff Jarvis to Charles Author weighed in.