The Medium

How a multimedia story comes together and is experienced by the user depends in large part on how the creator chooses to package it. While all of the multimedia stories listed on this blog are digital creations, they aren’t all built the same way.

The majority of the stories listed here were created using Flash. Without getting into the more technical aspects of the program, I want to point out some of the advantages Flash-based stories have.

One, they look a lot better than traditional websites. Consider the difference between Waterlife (or any of the NFB projects) and Project Jacmel. Aesthetically, it’s night and day (although to be fair to Project Jacmel, a beautiful presentation wasn’t really the point).

Two, they are easier to navigate. Utilitarian hyperlinks work well enough to connect different websites together, but there are better ways to move around a single story. In Out My Window, links to individual stories are embedded in a 360° collage of images from an apartment. When the user rolls over a hot spot with the cursor, the image transforms, alerting the user of the link. In How Much Is Left? links are embedded in an interactive timeline. In Beyond The Stoop, the user clicks on the image of an apartment building to listen to the story of the individual who lives there. In this way, the navigation is part of the design itself. Yes, stories created with Flash also have more traditional menu navigation. The above three examples all use menus in addition to the hotspot navigation. But they aren’t limited to it.

Even without using this kind of hotspot navigation, navigating through a Flash site can be smoother than just clicking on a hyperlink. Days With My Father uses a very simple form of page navigation. But just sliding between pages creates a more unified experience than jumping directly from one page to another.

Three, Flash sites are more immersive. A website can be a distracting thing, with links to a multitude of other content vying for the user’s attention. Using Flash can help focus the user’s attention on the story itself. Indeed, many stories created with Flash have a full-screen option to remove the browser altogether. The Big Issue doesn’t just immerse the user, it tries to make them a part of the story using a “choose-your-own-adventure” style of navigation. And while I’m not sure it is entirely successful in pulling this off, just attempting to do so would be impossible on a traditional website.

Four, Flash allows different forms of media to be integrated more seamlessly. In Welcome To Pine Point, a single page can contain video, photos, animation, and text (plus the music playing in the background). Every element is designed to fit together by carefully matching the look of each one. In Soul-Patron, an animated stuffed animal wanders through video footage and provides information to the user through speech bubbles.

Of course, traditional websites have their advantages. Those hyperlinks are good for some things. Commenting, linking, and sharing – some of the real benefits of the internet – are all easier to do in HTML. And adding piecemeal content would be difficult to do in Flash, although as Love Letters To The Future demonstrates, is not impossible.

But the days of Flash dominating multimedia storytelling may well be numbered. Apps created for tablets like the iPad offer all of the advantages listed above and then add a couple more.

First, the shape and size of the iPad makes it an ideal computer for content consumption. If Welcome To Pine Point was designed to be a “liquid book,” wouldn’t it be better to read it like a book? The immersive experience Flash allows for is somewhat belayed by the fact that that experience is being filtered through a laptop or desktop computer, machines that generally do not favour long-term reading.

Second, the touch screen of the tablet allows for direct interaction with content without the need for a cursor. This is especially useful for interactive multimedia content. Videos can be triggered with a tap. Images can be blown up to full screen with a flick. Pages can be turned with a swipe. The excellent interactive infographics in Our Choice benefit from this hands on approach.

And as more and more traditional publications create apps that include various forms of media to complement their print editions, tablet computers may very well become the medium of choice for multimedia storytelling.


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