For Want Of Water

The Las Vegas Sun multimedia interactive For Want Of Water begins with a depressing thought for the people of that city: “With expected changes in climate and no change in future water usage, Lake Mead could run dry by 2021.” And if that statement wasn’t enough to get the user’s attention, there’s a counter next to it, counting down exactly how much time Lake Mead has left to the millisecond (3589 days, 2 hours, 45 minutes, 51 seconds at the time of writing). How did Las Vegas get in such a jam and what can the city do about it? Those are the questions For Want Of Water looks into.

How It Works

For Want Of Water is essentially a video series plus. The story is primarily told by five short videos a few minutes in length each. There is a shorter introductory video, one about the over-watering of lawns, one about a proposed pipeline to feed the growth of the city, one about pumping water out of the desert, and one about balancing growth and sustainability. The content of each video is pretty much what you would expect from a current events doc – a mix of talking heads, footage from water treatment plants, dessert pipelines, and other important locations, b-roll, and narration.

Accompanying the videos is a Bing map that marks the exact location of whatever place the video is talking about. There is also an info box that gives extra information such as what exactly the Colorado River Compact is and how fast Clark County’s population is growing. Occasionally there is an extra video to watch in the info box that will pause the main video when played, or link to another website. The user can also read pop-up text bios of onscreen interviewees as they talk (but only when they’re talking). These three extras are triggered as the main video’s timeline progresses.

The user can navigate between videos using a menu on the right side of the screen.

There are also links to related articles from the newspaper.

What Works, What Doesn’t

With so much going on at once, it can be difficult to take in everything. While the main video is playing, all of the extra information can easily go unnoticed. The user can manually control the info box if they missed something, but the embedded links to outside pages and the extra videos disrupt the flow of the main narrative. The problem is the choice of media. Video demands the user’s full attention. Looking away to read a related info box can break that focus.

That being said, the video content is interesting. Interviews with experts are broken up with suitable b-roll. When the video discusses the over-watering, the camera follows a Las Vegas Water Authority investigator as he patrols the city looking for water waste. There are nice closeups of the water flowing off a lawn down the street.

The Bing map, however, only adds useful information when larger geography is mentioned.

Perhaps For Want Of Water would work better as a television news piece. But then, it was produced by a newspaper.


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