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Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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Interactivity and Crowdsourcing

The act of crowdsourcing can be considered inherently interactive. The integration of one’s own contribution into a larger, collective work is a type of interaction; the user’s input modifies the output of the work. From the range of crowdsourced work, we can identify three possible categories of interactive, crowdsourced works:

Category 1:  Linear/single-channel works created from multiple user contributions:

Perhaps because of their more simple, feasible final product, this type of crowdsourced video is currently the most prevalent. Life in a Day [case study] is an example of a crowdsourced film, which gathered slice-of-life videos from people all over the world then compiled into a traditional linear film. Ridley Scott hired Kevin McDonald to create Life in a Day, the first “YouTube documentary.” The documentary followed more formally Howe’s definition by creating an official “open call” for footage to be uploaded on YouTube. Anyone could participate who had a camera and access to the Internet, and participants were asked to film a moment or moments in a single day, July 24, 2010, and upload them to YouTube. The editorial team then edited the selections down to a 90 minute, linear film, which debuted at Sundance in January 2011.

The director of The Green Wave, Ali Samadi Ahadi, grew up in Europe, and was from an exiled Iranian family. In 2009, he was working as a filmmaker in Germany and following closely the elections in Iran. Despite Iran’s attempts at controlling the media, chatter and images were flying across the Internet and, in particular, on Twitter and Facebook. In fact, the June elections were quickly coined as the “Twitter revolution” as young people in Iran who supported Mir-Hossein Mousavi, used their phones to communicate through message and photographs of their demonstrations.  

It was impossible for Ahadi to return to Iran to document the revolution, yet when the crackdown occurred, he was inspired to create a documentary. He culled footage from across the Internet. He used blogs by young Iranians to stitch together a script as well as footage uploaded to Facebook, Twitter and the Internet as b-roll. In addition, he utilized animation to pull together the disparate pieces of footage and to visualize the stories culled from various blogs, etc. He also shot traditional interviews of dissidents who fled Iran after the crackdown and utilized any footage that had also been smuggled out. This initial informal gathering became a formalized call for any and all footage during the critical moment in Iranian history.

18 Days in Egypt [case study] creates an environment where participants can produce their own stories about the Egyptian Revolution. Participants can create a story by logging into the site using their social media accounts, such as Twitter or Facebook. Participants use tools such as Google Maps and Calendar to set the time and place of their story. They can then upload their own footage, record web video, and crowdsource footage from the web to assemble the story. According to its website, 18 Days will launch as an interactive documentary in fall 2012 as well.

Star Wars Uncut
, perhaps the most high-profile (and viral) of these recent single-channel works, began as a brainstorm by creator Casey Pugh, a web developer, creative technologist, and then-employee of video hosting service Vimeo. “ The idea and its goal mostly manifested from my personal excitement for crowd-sourcing,” he says. “There were pre-existing projects out there that had me so inspired that I wanted create my own. My biggest inspiration being the White Glove Tracking project [another crowdsourced video project using the artist-friendly programming language Processing and a sequence of Michael Jackson dancing]. I was also working at Vimeo where I spent a lot of time thinking about ways for filmmakers to work remotely together.”

The project, launched in 2010 (and now, in 2012 its sequel, Empire Uncut), offered up 15-section slices of the original Star Wars: Episode 4 – A New Hope (Lucas, 1977) feature film for participants to claim and then remake in their own style. The results were uploaded to Pugh’s site, then seamlessly stitched together into a single, if hodgepodge, video that was then released on YouTube and other video sites in 2012. The final “film” leaps alternately between live action and animation, adult “actors” and children, and bizarre and faithful interpretations. The final effect is simultaneously one of homage and parody.

Category 2: Interactive works created from unique individual contributions:

Music videos like the band Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown [case study] integrate the user’s address data, Google Street Maps, and other input to offer up a customized experience for each individual. Specifically, The Wilderness Downtown, designed by Chris Milk, utilizes HTML5 to aggregate footage from Google Earth into a music video that explores themes of suburban isolation embedded within the song “We Used to Wait.” Viewers type in the address of their childhood home and the site creates a music video collage – multiple windows pop up of satellite and street-level images of the user’s neighborhood juxtaposed with original footage and animation. The Wilderness Downtown samples footage and images without making use of a formal call for participation, while also generating unique, engaged experiences for a “crowd” of individual users.

Category 3: Interactive works created from multiple user contributions:

Chris Milk's The Johnny Cash Project [case study] employs HTML5 to invite users to rotoscope single frames of a live action video, which are compiled into a larger animated music video. The final product stands primarily as a single-channel experience – Johnny Cash’s “Ain’t No Grave” as a moody, dark animation. From there, however, users – even those who didn't contribute a frame – can modify the viewing experience by choosing to watch the video by pulling from different styles of animation that others contributed (realistic, abstract, pointillistic) or choosing the highest rated contributions. The user can explore individual frames, watch videos of the frames being created, and participate in rating contributions. The project is interactive in its making as well as in its viewing.
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