Online Storytelling

Memories in a Digital World

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Four months ago I went through a life changing experience: My first daughter was born, and I fell immediately in-love with the little adorable baby that became an important part of our (now mostly sleepless) life.

From the moment she was born, my wife and I photograph and videotape her, using our iPhones, and our DSLR camera.

At the same time my parents aren’t getting younger. My father turned 72 this year, and my mother 66. On his 70th birthday, I made a short film about him, as an excuse to both hear and document the story of his life. We went through old photographs that were lying in our living room drawers, and with each picture came a story, about love, war, family, and friendship. Most of these pictures were older than me –from the 50s and 60s — telling the story of his life as an immigrant, young tank commander, husband, and young father.

Not surprisingly, I love gadgets, applications, and great sites. That’s why I upload my daughter’s pictures to Flickr and Facebook, and save all of them in our centralized media hub, and I also back it up using Dropbox. I use Twitter, Foursquare and to tell the story of my life – places I’ve been at, songs I’ve heard, thoughts I’ve had at a specific point in time.

Up until now, I was certain this is enough. We have all those cameras with their amazing images, those fancy video cameras, these smartphones that are actually point and shot cameras that can also call people. But something is missing:
When you look at it from an historical perspective, all these sites and gadgets lose their sex appeal. The reason is simple – in 40 years perspective, suddenly Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, hard disks and iPhones seem like not the best way to store memories.

I don’t know what will happen with Apple, Yahoo!, Twitter and Facebook 40 years from now.
I don’t know if the images I am taking now will be compatible with the technology 20 years from now.
I don’t know if my media center’s hard disk will survive the next 5 years.
And maybe, just maybe, Dropbox will go out of business.

There is a missing link in our digital age. There is a crucial element that is not guaranteed in our advanced technological environment. It is a simple thing: the physical element of our memories. The real life scrap book. The image, printed on a paper.

Yes, I know, these physical representation of our memories can be lost or destroyed. In fact, history teaches us that the physical element of our memories could be easily destroyed (such was the case of the Library of Alexandria).

However, if there is one thing that is for certain, it is that we will be able to see the pictures of our lives in the future. It is not a matter of file formats, web applications, and smartphones. Our eyes will still be able to see pictures. Our fingers will still be able to feel the aging paper they are printed on.

Think about it, next time you look at your hard disk full of those priceless images of your life.

Extraordinary Storytelling – Apricot

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There are rare occasions, when I see a piece of creativity that tells a story in a condensed format, but manages to convey so many emotions.
This is one of them. Enjoy.

Additional information about the creators could be found here

Atavist and the New Content Ecosystem

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Couple of days ago I ran across Atavist, a simple and well designed iPad app. This application is simple. You download it for free, but every story you’d like to read costs ~$3. What you get for your hard earned cash is an  in depth article, 12,000 words length, with additional multimedia content. All storied are non fiction, and based on long and in depth research. The writers are well known journalists, writing for Wired and The New Yorker.
As an avid fan of crime films, I bought the story of a famous bank heist in Sweden. The long and detailed story included videos from the heist itself, photographs of the suspects, maps of the event, timeline and more.

I am intrigued by the business model of this publication. Selling individual articles was a model that was discussed in the past. I didn’t believe in it, but the fact that I bought the story, read it from beginning to end, and would gladly pay again for interesting articles, makes me wonder if this model is more viable than I’ve expected. Is this another glimpse on the future of publishing? I am not certain yet. But in the mean time, go, download the app and judge it yourself.

What Could Marketers Learn from Little Red Riding Hood

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As a digital agency (with at least one frustrated film maker on the team) we are big believers in stories.
Often we are asked by our customers why should they actually tell stories. If they have good product and strong brand who cares abut the rest. Well, I wish things were so simple. With Facebook, twitter, and consumers’ complete control on the content they consume, brands are facing a new challenge – getting the attention of their audience. This can be done by giving outrageously expensive perks in competitions and such. But that is a short term solution, that can be easily copied. Other brands can have the same, if not more money than you have and give bigger prizes. Furthermore, the value of such activities happens only when the competition is taking place. When it ends, people quickly forget the brand.
We believe that stories are the key for long term digital initiatives that capture the imagination and excitement of the people around us.
You see, good stories are infectious. Good stories are remembered for years. Stories were here before us and will stay after we are gone.
We have tons of data to support it. Simply put – look around you. How many of the people around you remember the story of red riding hood? And how many remember one of the most creative campaigns worldwide – the ARG around “Dark Knight” premiere?
So what’s your story?

Immersive Online Storytelling – The Next Frontier of Emotional Attachment?

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Did you ever read someone’s Facebook status messages and learned about his personal stories through it? Did you ever read personal blogs and vlogs and felt that you are witnessing a real life story?

Last semester I lectured in a course in IDC about online storytelling, together with Noa Morag and Roni Abolafia. I wrote about it here, here and here. However I was asked several times to provide a wider overview on the topic. So here it is – an overview of immersive storytelling:

What is immersive storytelling?

Immersive storytelling is the use of social web and online video to tell a linear fictional story, through the social activities of the characters.

In cinematic storytelling, viewers experience stories by looking through a non existent wall (usually referred to as the 4th wall). The camera is accepted as given, a kind of an agreement between viewer and the actors that says: yep, we both know there is a camera here, but we accept it and actually ignore it. The emotional attachment to the characters on screen is achieved by suspension of disbelief – viewers leave their sense of reality at the entrance to the movie theater, and accept that robots, time machines[8.3/10 rating][8.3/10 rating] and radioactive naked people actually exist. In some cases, directors choose to break this rule – and change the viewers’ perspective on on-screen activities.


Ian Richardson as F. Urqhuhart in House of Cards broke the 4th wall in several episodes

But what about the stories that happen to people around us? People in real life? Did you ever read someone’s Facebook status messages and learned about his personal stories through it? Did you ever read personal blogs and vlogs and felt that you are witnessing a real life story?


Video, Media Mix, and Emotions

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David Lynch speaking in Washington D.C.
Image via Wikipedia

Video is more efficient in creating emotional attachment than text – if done right. I saw this effect in a course in IDC Media School about online storytelling, which I (along with two amazingly talented lecturers, Noa Morag and Roni Abolafya) delivered last semester.

In the course, the students wrote dramatic stories, that were told via social media tools such as fictitious blogs, Facebook profiles, vlogs, and Twitter.

For example, one story portrayed a quest of an adopted son to find his biological mother. This emotional and strong story was told through his blog, vlog and Facebook profile.

Another story was more of a David Lynch style plot, about a guy who is being stalked, videotaped and harrassed by an unknown person, only to reveal that it was a girl he knows:

Though not intended as a main goal, the course provided an insight to effective emotion trigger in the online world.


Challenges of Online Storytelling – Character

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The 50 years of Television commemorative coin
Image via Wikipedia

Creating an online character is a complex task, especially when it is fictional. However, creating one is crucial for online storytelling, the art of telling stories over the internet. I am teaching at the Interdisciplinary Center a course about online storytelling and here are some of the challenges in this field:

Story Comes First

Though we are all hyped with Twitter and Facebook, and we want our character to use them as well we must start with the basics. The story is the most important part of your online creation, and as such it has to be reliable, and the characters, and their action, have to make sense to the viewer (Look at Cleaner’s last scene to see a case where it was NOT done properly).


Three Missing Links In Making Internet Video Mainstream Entertainment

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As the year ends, here are the three most important developments that can change the online video market as we know it:

1. Content Discovery – as new blood and creative people are getting into the online video market, users are overwhelmed by the amount of unknown content out there. Technologies today do not provide a good solution for that. This issue prevents new content creators to get to wider viewer circles. One interesting direction that was not fully explored in 2007 is to mix online video and commercial content in a single engine, discovery site or recommendation mechanism. Some are starting to do that, but there is still a long way to go before an application would offer me both "The Wire" and "35". Do it on my TV screen as part of my setup box and I am in love.

2. Cross Platform Content Delivery –  a long definition for a simple request – help people watch their online video on their TV screen. Most online creators are still providing video only productions, where users experience is the same on TV and their computer screen. The ones who would enable my mother to simply watch "Ask a Ninja" on her living room TV screen,  not only become a rich men – but also change the online video market as we know it. If you think this is last year news – please bear in mind that Apple TV is a flop, Microsoft Media Center is still used mainly by tech savvies , and online video is NOT main stream entertainment.

3. Top Talents Getting involved in Online Entertainmentand experimenting with new kinds of storytelling: yes, content is king, but only amazing content will gain traction in the mess of UGC, mid tail and pirated commercial grade videos. Though I’d love to see a direct to Internet video production by Simon David, I’d be thrilled to see an online ARG by Rodriguez, or a new kind of high end drama that gives the viewer added value by seeing it online.

Jeff Pulver’s predictions can be found here.

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Online Storytelling, Justification, And What The Godfather Has To Do With It

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This is the first in a series of posts where we will try to discover and define the art of online storytelling. The aim of these posts is to create a conversation, and as such, they will be posted in Facebook and relevant mailing lists. All posts will be tagged with “online storytelling” – I’d appreciate if you’d tag response posts the same so we could trace the conversation. Also, if you read this post not on my blog, I’d appreciate if you will post comments here too – so everyone can join the discussion – even if they are not on Facebook….

In a past post, I’ve detailed my view that Internet TV is only one side of video on the Internet, and as such, provide limited storytelling tools.

I was asked by a local College to create a course detailing the theoretical background and practical applications of this medium. We’ve created a multidisciplinary team, including a TV director and media innovators, to work together and define the medium.

In our work, we stumbled across many issues. It seems that the narrative tools of the Internet are complex, and yet to defined.

Here is an example – do Internet storytelling tools act as a film camera, or they are a manifestation of a fictional world? Though seems like a trivial question – it is definitely not an easy question to answer. The reason is that each answer have wide implications. If we treat the Internet as a camera, we assume that viewers and characters are accepting the convention of the existence of the camera- The 4th wall concept is accepted, and viewers and characters alike are not “aware” that the camera exist. In this case – one does not need to justify the existence of the camera – we agree that it is there, and we agree to ignore it. Therefore one can tell a story in the Internet with a clear entry point – a website that starts the story, and the storyteller can upload scripted and pre-recorded videos in its most simplistic way to advance the plot. However if the Internet is the manifestation of the fictional world – the writer needs to justify every piece of media that the characters upload to the Internet – meaning, every online activity has to be in the boundaries of logic of the character.

Sounds trivial – but it is far from that. If a character needs justification to every online activity, the narrative is limited to very specific story types – ones that there is a character that writes a diary  or online journal. While it provides a great narrative tool for drama, it complicates other genres such as crime or espionage story. How can you tell a story about a secret agent if you need to justify the fact that he has a blog or Facebook profile?

Furthermore it narrows the type to characters you can create – they have to be active online, otherwise they are not seen.

This point made me think about the final scene of Godfather 2Michael Corleone, in one of his darkest hours, remembered the past of his warm family. In a flashback scene, we see Vito’s Corleone birthday, where Michael tells his brother that he is going to the army. Everyone are waiting for the guest of honor, and then we hear a door open – it is clear that Vito has arrived. This emotional scene works great, and shows the difference in the life of the Corleone family through the years – for the worse. Merlon Brando refused to participate in this scene, and is not shown at all. It doesn’t change its impact, and sometimes I think that it increases its effectiveness. So, can we use the same tool in online storytelling? Can we use online characters to reflect on offline characters – and how does it affect our narrative possibilities?

My main concern with deciding that the Internet is just like a camera, and that viewers and characters alike are willingly buying in to the illusion it creates is the following:

1. The art of online storytelling is in its infancy. “Letting” creators “get away” with the 4th wall concept might be a slippery slope toward just posting video on the Internet and calling it online storytelling.

2. Online users do not get the same overall experience that films provide. When going to the theater, the dark room, sound system, and overall experience allows you to dive easily in to the fictional world presented on the silver screen. Online experience is different – viewers are less focused, which increases the pressure to create a reliable world that is adjusted to the medium, and not take for granted that users have their full attention to the creation they see.

In the mean time – take a look on this Nine Inch Nails / Godfather mashup…

YouTube – The Godfather Part 2 w/ Nine Inch Nails

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