Love Letters To The FuturePosted: 05/25/2011
How do you make user-generated content into a compelling overall experience? First, you don’t ask for that much from users. Second, you build a fool-proof template. Love Letters To The Future does both of these things. The site is a collection of letters created by users to the people of 2109 about the threat of climate change.
How It Works
The letters are either short texts (140 characters or less), YouTube videos, or uploaded images with captions. Users can address one of three topics: “To my Great-grandchildren”, “On Arctic Ice”, or “World Underwater”.
All of the previously submitted letters are available for browsing by date or popularity and users can share or vote for their favourites. The top 100 letters, according to that vote, were sealed in a time capsule, to be opened 100 years from now.
Along with the user-generated letters, Love Letters To The Future also includes a number of featured “first-hand accounts” of climate change from individuals living around the world. Some of these are videos and some are images with captions. There are also videos of celebrities (including, of course, David Suzuki) introducing the topics.
To add a more cinematic element, there are also a number of planted letters ostensibly sent from the future by a women named Maya. Those letters show a planet in decay after nothing was done to stop climate change. Each letter comes with a puzzle for the user to solve in order to find Maya’s next message, giving Love Letters To The Future a game element.
What Works, What Doesn’t
When you rely on users for content, what you get is always going to be a mixed bag. Some of the letters here are truly heartfelt – a message to a still unborn child coupled with an sonogram image for example. Many are dull platitudes – letters that read “Let’s do it!” or “Stop using oil.” Some are just gibberish.
Fortunately, the template does help keep things manageable. Because the amount of content that could be uploaded was limited, the user can easily browse through the letters to find the good ones. And allowing the user to browse by the number of votes a letter has received weeds out most of the less interesting messages.
The advantage of all the user-generated content is the sheer variety of their origin. There are letters here from all around the world, written in different languages (there’s a handy built-in Google translator). There are pictures of people on top of mountains, relaxing on a beach, and tobogganing down a snowy hill. Yes, the sentiment being expressed is pretty much the same in every letter, but the fact that so many people from so many different places all share that same sentiment is at least half the point.