O pessoal do P3 pediu-me para escrever um texto de opinião sobre as mudanças que o Facebook anda a fazer, na sequência de uma séries de artigos sobre o cansaço dos utilizadores das redes sociais. Eu aproveitei para abordar uma questão que me interessa muito que é a representação da identidade individual nas redes, e na sua recriação online. Para mim é tema que dá pano para mangas e que abordei aqui, assim como vai aparecendo na coluna que faço para a PCGuia.
This Sunday was spent editing a video for a multimedia package I’m doing about an independent cultural centre. My subject is Filipe, the drum teacher, and he gets to show off a bit.
The gear used was the 60D, audio by the H4N, and edited in sturdy but insufficient computer with Premiere CS4 an After Effects. The drums sound great, but the interview has that common hiss in these HDSLR, but I think I figured how to get the levels right next time. I probably went a bit overboard with color correction, maybe it’s too dark.
Let me know what you think, and wait for the coming videos and developments of this project.
I wrote a post for Tracy Boyer’s awesome Innovative Interactivity blog. It is a bit different from the stuff that usually is posted there – it’s mainly about multimedia, and you should follow it – because I discuss the new characteristics that should be taken into account when creating digital news products. I’ll be writing an in depth series over each item soon, but meanwhile you can get the gist of it.
It’s not about just informing people anymore, it’s about creating a product that lets people do something with that information, creating richer and more immersive content, making it more valuable and with a longer lifespan.
The goal is to combine these features to create an integrated product, going beyond placing them along the content. Multimedia, interactive packages are a great example of integration of these items, but many tend to forget some that could make the information more useful and improve user’s experience.
These are just the main ideas for this concept, so I’ll highlight the most important characteristics for each element.”
I should start a category in this blog called “the spilt milk department”. I’d include all the great ideas I had in the last years and that were never developed or wrote about. I could make up excuses and say I’ve been busy (I have) or that I’m lazy (I am), but the fact is things evolve quite rapidly on the interwebz and it’s easy to blurt out a few ideas that quickly will dissolve away into cyber-oblivion, and you need time to build a solid concept. But the rule of thumb is “just do it”, and not “procrastinate until it’s perfect in your mind”. Enough crying. Here goes:
Two years ago I thought about how we could trace back to the original source of information, mostly news, on the web: the first tweet, the igniting blog post, the seminal article that got shared, sliced to quotes, linked to, built upon, changed, remixed, archived. Not only it’s a good way to understand the current online ecosystem, but if analyzed correctly, this flow could provide new insights to create new distribution strategies for news contents, and a real assessment of the impact of a specific event in social media (all media is social these days, by the way). I presented my thoughts about this last year to a class of MA students in their Cyberjournalism class at Porto University and the plan was to build a tool that would track that flow from the very start.
The way information about a news event is distributed has changed dramatically in the last years. The so called traditional media are no longer the diving force in this process rather to be substituted, in part, by the active participation of users, that became creators, distributors, and sharers of news contents, using tools like Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, blogs and other social networks.
We already know this, but what I’m looking for with this proposal is a model that provides a clearer view on this change, its consequences, and how media should rework their strategy in this decentralized logic, and take the most from it. To understand that logic allows a better, more profitable management of their resources, in gathering and subsequent information distribution, leaving their central role as source of all journalistic contents, but intervening in different parts and ways along the flow. It’s the end of the mainstream media concept and their transformation to stream media.
The ideas presented here were the basis for a prototype, that could be validated and improved with a more scientific and empirical approach. My goal was to create a three dimensional, dynamic visualization, that corresponded to reality. The NYTimes example presented above is a good example of that. But for now, I’ll use my drafts, which are quite simple, to give a basic perspective on the current and future changes in the news paradigm.
In the age of pyramids
For decades, news were built and distributed in the same way,, and we have to understand the classic news model that dominated from the industrialization of journalism, specially in the 20th century, and that remained relatively unchanged even with the coming of new media like Radio or Television. The breaking point occurs with the internet and the Digital Revolution.
Media as source of the information flow
In a pretty simple way, this is how it worked:
Journalists gathered information in the field with the news story characters, witnesses, official entities;
Information was edited, published;
The audience had access to the information in print the next day or in the following news segments on TV or Radio;
After consuming the news, all the information could be discussed by the readers/listeners/viewers in a more or less private way, in a direct, interpersonal relationship. The information could be recovered in new news pieces if new developments occurred;
And its useful life ended here, not long after it was created. Unless the audience members created their own archives, there weren’t many chances to recover or reuse that information, since all content (or most of it) was archived and in the possession of media companies. The main feature of this half-life of news was its caducity. Only the more relevant events would become a part of the audience’s collective memory, in a scattered, individualized and disorganized way, in most cases.
The very own ritualization of the journalistic process, with news at fixed hours and institutional establishment next to communities and sovereign bodies, contributed to make it closed and limited to a reduced number of people that determined the degree of importance of a specific event, following rules and guides, almost clerically. They were the defenders of public interest, the public opinion makers, and the power to reach the masses granted them the status of the Fourth Estate. News consumers participated in the information routine simultaneously as actors and public, with very few interference in the practice of news professionals, that held absolute control on what and how it should be published.
The media were the creating hub of all news contents, and all their work was directed from top to bottom, in a pyramidal structure, whether inside news organizations, in content distribution, or in content building (the inverted pyramid), and they were its keepers. But with the new technologies it all collapsed, and we watched the horizontalization of the news process, that now occurs also beyond the borders of the traditional journalistic structures.
From carpet bombing communication to relational communication
So if in the previous paradigm information was static, closed, finite and with a short half-life, the current situation is pretty much the opposite. If the audience was indiscriminately bombarded with information, the internet provided room for niches, with specialized information. And links and the link economy changed everything: we can comment and quote on a specific piece of information providing immediate access to it. We share and point the path to information. Add the social media/aggregation/recommendation/distribution tools and we are no longer passive elements in the news flow, but active characters in the creation and distribution of information.
With the 24 hour news cycle and the permanent breaking news status (news are no longer “breaking” these days, they’re just “happening”; news can be “exclusive”, but basing their importance in a time factor is, to say the least, irrelevant) the pressure on media to keep the information flowing has become intense:for example, the traditional news cycles for newspapers no longer comply with the needs of a permanently connected audience, nor the construction of ritualized information published at a specific moment if made with “breaking news” in mind.
Another thing that doesn’t work is closed content, or content that cannot be shared or distributed in different platforms. Facebook has become an important place to access information, where individual articles from specific brands chosen by users are shared and commented by personal networks immediately. Twitter was probably the first place where this happened in a massive scale. Recommendation became a simple process, that took news from the media platforms to individual platforms, that are based in the sharing logic. Check this Pew Research Center report about how people navigate news online.
What we are watching today is the “user curation of content”, where news spread faster and farther than they did, just because the users are no longer mere recipients of indiscriminate information but active participants in its distribution. This new ecosystem broke the previous model where media were in a stand bombing the audience with information, in a one way relationship, moving now to a situation where exchange is the rule.
And media is no longer the sole source of news, just remember how many events were first transmitted by users through social networks and online tools only to be picked up but news pros afterwards: earthquakes, the Iran election and, more recently, Bin Laden’s death are great examples about the role of users and social media in the distribution of news.
With these factors in mind, I thought about how we could visualize the flow of information, from the very first tweet, post, video, etc.
The upward spiral
The main difference between my idea and the NY Times visualization is that I thought about a spiral instead of ramifications of content. This seemed to be the most effective way because I had a few parameters in mind: time, range and audience attention. In my draft Facebook wasn’t considered because it was 2009 and it wasn’t as important in the flow like Twitter was, and blogs had more relevance in this ecosystem.
So, this is how it works: at the epicentre there’s the event, first tweets and posts, picked up afterwards by media as breaking news, retweets/shares in social networks, comments, more media articles, new user generated content based on new information or built upon the existing one,and so on and on. Audience attention is higher at the beginning, and it fades as the flow widens. This is not a process closed in time, because information can be recovered and reutilized days, weeks, months, years later, which is another feature of digital content: it’s perennial, and database or archive journalism is something that has been growing recently.
These are measurable parameters, if only there was a tool to compile and calculate them…
Of course in reality things might differ, and the constant elements may vary, because media companies can be the creators of the first tweet, or other tools can be used – Iran elections had a huge impact also because of the YouTube videos made available by the protesters – but the core idea is the following: there is a root (or roots) that generate more content, linking opportunities through sharing, recommendation or referral, and construction of new content based on the pre-existing information.
What I had in mind and that Cascade does superbly is to track the various connections, and evaluate the ripple effect caused by a single piece of content. Mapping the origins of information and assess their impact can be useful not only to validate that information but also to develop new strategies in content distribution.
The Tornado Effect
The development of this flow, represented by a spiral, would create what I call the Tornado Effect. Imagine a horizontal axis, a timeline representing the event developing chronologically, and the vertical axis where the information spirals upwards in time and connections. The more numerous the connections and links, the higher the spiral; the longer the interest lasts, the lengthier the timeline. Most events would briefly touch down and dissolve away, others would be powerful enough to drag a significant number of users and platforms into it, or even generate new tornadoes.
There is a scale to measure tornado power, the Fujita scale, that goes from F0 to F10, and I was thinking about having one applicable to these phenomena, let’s say from G1 to G10 (the Gamela scale – meant it as a joke, ok?). Events like Michael Jackson’s death, the revolutions in Northern Africa, William and Kate’s marriage would be high up in the scale; blog posts and articles shared on Twitter by a small group of people within a short period of time would be close to zero.
And if we selected paths of information, from an original source to it’s various ramifications, like we can observe in Cascade, we would have something like lightnings inside the tornado, connecting the related content dots along the spiral. Sounds fun doesn’t it?
Leaving visual metaphors aside, what’s the purpose? First, we could analyze where does the information come from; then how it is shared and used; and finally, who contributed the most. A thorough analysis of the path of information could represent a shift in the strategy for media companies that could reconsider how to find, distribute, create and aggregate content, making it more viral, and rethinking it to augment its longevity and usefulness.
The role of the users in this process would be better observed and weighed, and a more complete view on the platforms and mechanisms they apply accessing and sharing information would be possible.
And above all, new types of journalism practices would have to be applied. Curation has become a huge concern for media pros, and there are many tools to curate content, professionally produced or not. Archive journalism would become more important than it is now, since curation is creating archives in almost real time in a way, but with these tornadoes mapped out we could infer who tweeted first, what was the relationship between events and content, and related contents, down to the millisecond, since everything online has a timestamp. Information is now perennial, and should be used taking that feature into account.
Of course, this is not a fully developed idea, and I lack the skills to build such analytic tool. But as concept, I believe it would be useful to understand the spreading of news and create new strategies from that understanding, and at the same time mapping out and monitoring the evolution of information. And the Cascade project is quite close to that.
Leave your disagreements, ideas, praises, this week’s lottery numbers in the comment box. Thank you.
A few months ago I was invited to write an article for a special edition of MACA magazine, published on the occasion of the Festival Grande Angular of documentary and special reporting.
Since I’m all about digital narratives , my idea was to reflect upon the changes the online environment brought to documentary production, and which new conceptual, production and distribution possibilities exist thanks to this new logic.
Before the cinematographic fiction, moving images were initially dedicated to capture moments of everyday life, as we can see in the first experiments made by the Lumiére brothers. Restricted to a single minute of film, there wasn’t much they could do but capture short portraits of day-to-day activities, a fragmented, animated view on the surroundings. That contribution was decisive to change the way the world envisioned itself.
Today, a little bit over than a century later, we are going through another revolution, equally important and with even deeper effects in our relationship with the world. The internet and the advance in digital languages technology created new fields and methods to tell and share non-fictional stories, where personal vision and independence are paramount, just like the opening to participation of an unexpected element: the audience.
But to understand what can change, we must realize what already did.
The digital revolution
Our lives changed with the internet, and the way we deal with reality – ours and shared – changed profoundly in the last decade. If the Industrial Revolution took almost two centuries to change society and its habits, the Digital Revolution took less than two decades. We are in the age of ubiquitous, interactive, immediate, multimedia and – above all – personal communication.
Never so many contents were created and consumed like now, and most of them come from the “people formerly know as the audience”, in Jay Rosen’s disruptive concept. It’s a shift in the power of content creation and distribution, multiplied many times over with the coming of social networks like Facebook, which is forcing many industries to rethink their business models and production methods: first the record industry, then movies and, from the very beginning, news industry.
Their place as an unique source and the exclusive role as a mass scale distributors were questioned by digital society’s structure, based on creation, sharing and redistribution, and powered by the spirit of independence and affirmation of individuality.
Technological advance and digital gear development are also an important part of this new order of things, as a cause, consequence and metronome for this (r)evolution. Thanks to cheaper, higher quality products, it is not just simple to access information but also to create it.
Digital cameras – first in photography, then video and recently the combination of the two – reached such accessible prices that democratized the image creation process. And since they’re so easy to use , anyone can create their own collection, and with free hosting video and photo platforms like Flickr and YouTube a process that before demanded huge technical skills only available to a few became simple to all.
If we include cell phones that can capture, edit and publish visual narratives we can say that all that power is, literally, in our hands. The iPhone is the best example of the ability that the object formerly used to make phone calls has in that field.
This new logic and the new relationship between the common user generated a sort of hyper-real and hyper-personal metanarrative, not based on the reflection of reality itself, but on the slivers of the mirror that supported it. Millions of fragments of daily life, just like the Lumiére modestly did
Silver or LCD?
Documentary, as a format, took benefit from the digital reproduction means. Throughout history, documentaries were always limited to the parameters imposed by cinema and television. More recently, the documentarist’s vision gained more reach and longevity thanks to the DVD, allowing more profitability and recognition to a genre that has been capturing fans in a society immersed in narratives of reality and in real time. And, for the reasons stated before, using less expensive resources.
Documentary movies no longer need a screening room, or, ultimately, a living room. It doesn’t have to rely solely in traditional promotion nor distributed by the established channels. The biggest screening room is the personal computer and the modern advertising machine is based on social networks and sharing. And the best poster is the product itself
We know that it’s hard to make users to pay for online content. That doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to the making of the movies: merchandising, physical support editions with exclusive extras, special screenings, these are all ways to finance a documentary project. We can even ask to our potential audience to crowdfund our project.
There are platforms specifically dedicated to this type of funding and there are documentary makers trying to do it individually. Using the existing tools we can make make our work easily available, and with a smart use of the social networks, promote it. Documentary, like any other online content today, can be watched whenever and wherever the user wants to, in their device of choice, whether it’s an iPad, a smartphone or a computer. And the best part is that it’s no longer hiding in a shelf, but permanently available on the web, prolonging its longevity and reinforcing its value as a document
But the digital crowd can provide more than financial support. They can provide the story.
The audience is the content
Although there was much discussion about Ridley Scott e Kevin MacDonald’s A Life in a Day, that intended to mashup users’ contributions through Youtube into a movie revolving about the life in the world on the 24th of July of 2010, there was who anticipated that and did something in the same mold. Frank Kelly, an Irish independent filmmaker, used Twitter to create a feature film that gathered 140 short movies, 140 seconds long each, and shot synchronously in 140 places around the world by whoever wanted to participate.
In May 2009 he told me that “as an independent filmmaker who has no funding and is still trying to break into the film industry, the internet is an essential tool to continue to create work and connect with like minded people “ allowing him to do something that would have been impossible “10 years ago”. Adequately titled “140”, this movie has been reviewed favorably because of the efforts made to coordinate these scattered views that, together, produce a larger image of the planet than just the sum of its parts.
Even when creating documentaries in a more traditional fashion, audience participation and the importance of networks to collect information are of unquestionable value, or isn’t the internet the biggest archive and communication space in the world. Despite the dimension of this archive is practically infinite, collective memory and personal networks of each user are still valuable resources that de documentary maker can explore in a scale never seen.
Thus, the stand of the documentarist, like any any other content creator nowadays, is changed. It is no longer a unidirectional relationship, from one to many, but an involving process of constant dialogue.
It wasn’t only the relationship with the audience, platforms and the distribution process that hás changed for documentary makers. The relationship with the very subject, the story’s characters and narratives have changed. The advantages allowed by a more portable and discreet equipment, the agility and discretion collecting audiovisual material have also increased, and also the speed and facility in editing.
New languages and production processes appeared thanks to the new technical possibilities provided by digital narratives. It is probably the biggest change in visual language the genre has ever seen since cinema verité in the 50’s and 60’s. More content, less expenses, more possibilities in post-production and the involvement of other formats inserted in the video opened new creative horizons for reality storytellers.
Journalism online, in long format and depth contents, borrowed the documentary “tone” to tell stories. If we look into one of the references in this field, project MediaStorm, we can find many natural features from documentaries present in those narratives.
They go beyond the limitations of video and they use native online narratives like audioslideshows, a narrative supported by synchronous audio and photography. Other trendy way to create documentaries, thanks to the characteristics of the online, and already tested in the traditional format in movies like Barakaand the Qatsitrilogy, are films that explore a non-textual style, based only in the power of images and music.
“Routines” series follow this model with a strong experimental component. These new ways to tell stories question and broad the very definition of what a documentary can be, in its form.
Even the duration of the movies no longer has a standard online. Many documentaries, or films that fall into that category, aren’t very long: they can be two or 15 minutes long, function as unique pieces or be part of a series. The liberty to easily approach any subject and dedicate the strictly necessary time to it came to prove that the importance of an issue, and its beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
There are no stories, concepts or characters too poor to work on. What the Digital revolution brought to the narratives of reality were processes and spaces for stories that were previously neglected or abandoned either by traditional media, or even by those who would be the only ones interested in telling them: the documentarists.
But if we have tools, spaces, freedom to tell those stories, we must understand that, since it’s an environment in constant evolution, the digital, networked world facilitated other ways to make documentaries, beyond the linear narrative.
The future is not linear
One of the most important characteristics in multimedia language, i.e., a language that includes different, interdependent media, is interactivity and the possibility that each user has to find its own way through the narrative, instead of following a story passively. This type of “reading” is defined as non-linear. The implications of these two key-elements of the online medium affect deeply the way the documentaries of the future are built, being the future right now.
Online, video can coexist with other formats and integrate with them. A documentary can be based in a narrative supported by a map, a timeline, or those two things simultaneously, where users can navigate through blocks of visual information, videographic or not, in a more or less immersive experience according to their choice. The opposite can also happen, providing interactive characteristics to video , opening a new world of possibilities to any element within the story.
And reality itself can be the support for the documental narrative. With the development of Augmented Reality applications in mobile devices like smartphones, documentaries have a new canvas: the physical world, with the documentary work superimposing to the image captured by the phone lens, and using technologies like GPS and special recognition.
What documentaries can do, just like any other narrative based in real physical spaces, is to tell a story street by street, mixing past and future in the image of the present that we see in the naked eye. The future of the documentary is thus full of possibilities.
The only thing that is not changed is the passion and the need that move documentary makers to provide a view over a specific aspect of reality. Conscience agitators by nature, they should look to digital society like a true admirable new world, where their work can reach audiences and dimensions unthinkable only 30 years ago, where the life and repercussion of their narrative fragments can cut deep and leave their mark way after the time they were created. Their responsibility is to document, and their glory will be to persist in an ocean of information, that grows deeper and deeper.
The main feature of documentary is to not have defined borders, and to be in constant evolution. There was no better time to be like that.
I’d like to also add the interactive docs by the National Film Board where documentaries are being developed under the multimedia a nd interactive demands. A great example is the project Out My Window.