Welcome To Pine Point

Part personal memoir, part cultural study, part profile, Welcome To Pine Point tells the story of a northern Canadian mining town that doesn’t exist anymore. When the mine closed down, the town did too. What happened to its people? What is a community? What are memories? These are some of the questions the story asks.

This multiple Webby-award winner has gotten a fair amount of well-deserved attention (see here, here and here).

How It Works

“This was supposed to be a book” the authors explain on the “about” page. They were developing a concept for a book about the death of the photo album but they ended up making Welcome to Pine Point instead.

The basics of the book are here. The story is divided into chapters. The user flips from page to page as they would in a book. There’s a linear narrative. But Welcome To Pine Point goes far beyond the traditional book form. While text drives the story, there is also every other type of media you can think of: photos, videos, audio clips, graphics, cartoons (both still and animated), and music. On almost every page, there is something to watch or listen to.

Welcome To Pine Point is designed to look like a scrapbook with text made to look like it was cut out from a different page and glued on top of the videos, animations, or photos. In one chapter, a series of photo collages are a mix of actual photos and looped videos.

There is basic interactivity throughout: text can be pushed aside to give the user a better look at the picture underneath, badges can be moved around the screen, cards can be turned over to reveal more information, and photo slideshows can be clicked through.

Much of the media starts automatically when the user flips the page. Video loops and short audio clips of subjects talking play without any play button being clicked.

Instrumental music by the Besnard Lakes continuously plays in the background, setting a contemplative if slightly sombre mood.

What Works, What Doesn’t

Welcome To Pine Point does a better job of integrating different forms of media together than any other project on this blog. Three things help with this. First, there is never too much media on any given page. At most, there’s a little bit of text (which appears line by line) combined with a short audio clip or two and a short video loop in the background in which nothing much happens. It doesn’t overwhelm the user.

Second, the scrapbook design lends itself to fitting different kinds of media together. When you’re going for the cut and paste look, it’s easier to combine a bit of text with a collage of pictures and video loops. But the creators have still taken care to make sure that all of the different elements still fit together. All of the animations, for example, are done in the same style.

Third, because so much of the media starts playing automatically, the media comes to the user instead of needing to be activated with a play button. Too much interactivity can make the divisions between different forms of media very stark. Sometimes it’s better to take the control out of the user’s hands and let them just experience something.

And those different forms are expertly used. The text is kept short, just enough to keep the narrative going. The audio clips of Pine Pointers talking add a personal connection. The videos and photos are generally of the town (as it was and as it is now) and fill out the sense of place. The animations are generally used to illustrate something video wouldn’t be able to capture, like a town created out of nothing or a satellite crashing to earth.

But perhaps the best thing Welcome To Pine Point does is tell a cohesive, compelling story. Because it’s a linear narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end, it has time to draw the user in. The user moves from one page to the next. This is something non-linear narratives like Out My Window, Waterlife, or Behind The Veil, which collect smaller stories connected by a common topic, have difficulty doing because they’re so fragmented.

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