Our ChoicePosted: 05/09/2011
Al Gore is pretty media savvy by former elected official standards. He created the sophisticated slideshow that became the subject of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. He is the co-founder of Current TV. He was given a Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for his role in the creation of the internet. And now he has teamed up with a couple of ex-Apple engineers (the ones behind Push Pop Press) to recreate the book for the iPad age.
Our Choice is a digital recreation of Gore’s book of the same name about, surprise surprise, solutions to the climate crisis. The choice in the title refers to whether or not we choose to take the necessary steps to solve that crisis. The iPad version uses the same text and pictures as the dead-tree one with a number of multimedia additions.
How It Works
Our Choice looks a lot like a traditional text book. There are pages of text that the user flips through, one after another. There are pictures and pull quotes throughout the text. The 18 chapters include “The Nuclear Option,” ” Forests,” and “Political Obstacles” (which pointedly begins with a picture of George W. Bush speaking to Saudi King Abdullah).
What makes Our Choice more than just another ebook are the multimedia extras. Related videos are embedded in the text and expand to full screen when tapped. These are either animations narrated by the wooden sounding Gore, archival news clips, or interviews with experts. Some pictures “fold out” to reveal more of the image while expanding to full screen when tapped. Some pictures include sound clips with the same wooden narration from Gore. All pictures include a link to a Google map that locates both where the picture was taken and where the user currently is. Interactive infographics allow the user to uncover more information by swiping the screen with their finger.
Navigating between these elements from page to page and between chapters involves the tapping, swiping, and scrunching that will be familiar to iPad users.
What Works, What Doesn’t
The backbone of Our Choice is the text with the multimedia playing backup. This isn’t full integration. The users still read it like they would a book. The text, taken from the book version, is complete in itself. The videos, infographics and map are just extras, not integral to the understanding of the whole.
The text is pretty much what you would expect from a text book written by Al Gore. The opening paragraph to the chapter on solar power reads “Electricity can be produced from sunlight in two main ways – by producing heat that powers an electricity generator or by converting sunlight directly to electricity using solar cells.” It just goes on like that for pages – lots of information, not a lot of colour. Text is probably the best form of media for such content.
The videos fare better. Even if the content isn’t that much more lively, at least the user gets to see related b-roll. And in some cases the videos go beyond what text alone could do – a clip of the dense smog in London in the 1950s for example, or a report on the new megacity of Chongqing in China that shows a packed skyline obscured by a haze of pollution.
The interactive graphics standout here as taking particular advantage of the iPad’s touch screen. The user can slide through timelines or adjust variables to see new outputs.
Some of the multimedia extras, however, are less successful. Tagging a picture on a Google map doesn’t really add that much context (as was the case with Lifted) and many of the pictures that Gore adds narration to probably could have been left to stand on their own.