Although it is hard to imagine, it took twenty years after the invention of the motion-picture camera before actual movies were produced and ever longer after the invention of the television before the first sitcom was aired. In these stark examples, it becomes clear that new media technologies require extensive experimentation before they can be utilized most effectively as a storytelling medium. As web technologies and online platforms develop at break-neck paces, it can be a true challenge to notice when and how the internet, with its practically ubiquitous users, finds ways to optimize storytelling.
Here we will explore what the latest in interactive online storytelling looks like, how it is done, what sets it apart, and if it has the chops to lead the way in the future. HTML5 was released in 2010, so let’s hope that it will not require twenty or more years of exploration before finding its optimum narrative voice.
Lately, online news outlets, like the New York Times, The Verge, and others are utilizing media tools for their storytelling efforts that are increasingly vivid and rich in content. Their article pages are transformed into huge, interactive canvases of various media elements, photos, videos, gifs, text, and more. This trend is done primarily utilizing HTML5 which is the latest of the widely used markup language notable in its accessible media playback and drawing features of <video>, <audio>, and <canvas> which do not require proprietary browser plug-ins to be viewed. These are the features behind the new trend in online storytelling and there remains future potential for their innovative use in this realm and others.
Start by checking out a prime example of media playback as you probably have not seen it before, this New York Times Magazine article “A Game of Shark and Minnow.” The images, integrating audio, video, and still photos, are stunning, that’s for sure. But the experience of ‘reading’ this article is also remarkably different in that the reader is not asked to stop watching a clip in order to read or to stop reading into order to watch a clip. It is also happening simultaneously as an integrated story. And this allows the images to do much more explanatory work and serve a more central role, as opposed to the supplementary one that they play in so many other journalistic mediums.
Even storytelling through an animated infographic company is become a profound online tool by taking infographics one step ahead of the game then they were when they first made their way onto the internet.
It’s obvious that this form of storytelling has great potential, but takes some time to get used to. The NYT Magazine article expresses such dynamism that it compels the reader to just keep on scrolling. For the tablet or other mobile device viewer, the editors have removed some of the video content to maintain this experience. That may or may not leave holes in the story for those who did not read this story in its desktop version. The notion of scrolling imagery is also founded on principles that try to keep the necessity for readers to change their behavior to a minimum. Despite this principle, readers may feel disoriented by the moving imagery behind text captions and by the pace at which it feels one is expected to read.
But there is little doubt in the mind of online marketing companies that HTML5 opens up doors for new online storytelling experiences. And video makers and software developers are continuously exploring the potential of this standardized tool. Rich-media content, when combined with engaging storytelling, and eye-popping design is currently the best recipe for interactive and innovative web content. Yet, there is surely more to come among the vivid artistic and narrative possibilities out there.