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Don’t Push It: Integrating Interactivity with Intention… and Discretion

Co-Authored by Sofie Strasser & Laine Kaplan-Levenson

Producers Institute 2012It’s another week thinking about interactivity here at Land of Opportunity, especially after receiving the great news that we will be participating in the 2012 BAVC ‘Stories With Impact’ Producer’s Institute later this fall (#psyched!). As we continue to develop partnerships, design a community-focused user experience, and generally investigate the realms of transmedia storytelling, we can’t help but notice the growing backlash about being too ‘plugged in’ to the the 24/7 cyber reality that encompasses us these days. It seems the latest trend on the internet is to, well, get off the Internet… or at least resist the addictive siren call of constant connectivity for no real reason.

Just this past week, Forbes, The Washington Post, and Mark Zuckerberg’s ghost writer all weighed in about the ills of posting ‘too much coverage with too little substance’. Because we’re trying integrate social-issue curated content with interactive technology to spark change (which The Knight Foundation says is possible! #phew), we’re looking through the quality vs. quantity lens in determining just how interactive we should be.  How does one avoid creating the transmedia equivalent of cotton candy?

We turned to Dr. Deborah S. Chung’s article “Online User Motivations and Use of Interactive Features on an Online News Site: A Uses and Gratifications Approach”  to get a breakdown of the three dimensions of interactivity to distinguish and choose from. The first and lowest stage of interactivity, the ‘execution of control’ (how Orwellian), limits the actions users take by specific goal-oriented searches, links to external sites, file downloads, and content rating. All interactivity here is between the user and the provider. You find that stage a lot on commercial websites (the provider collects your information and then addresses you with product recommendations or store locations, e.g. annoying/terrifying Google ads that know your every thought before you express it) .

The second ‘human/medium’ stage, gives users the possibility to express their own opinions by uploading public content. There are a few popular ‘human/medium’ websites you may have heard of, like YouTube and flickr, but what about interactive platforms that  ask users to share experiences and ideas in order to spread knowledge and create change? The Swedish online newspaper Norran is a site that contains user generated news from those that register and upload their stories, photographs and videos; they claim that this will be the future of newspapers, and established a Media Lab that features exclusively user generated content as a fixed part of their website. It’s in Swedish, but check it out (What’s that? You haven’t heard for the iSpeak Swedish app? Someone’s not spending enough time online…).

The third and highest stage of interactivity, the ‘human/human’ stage, is all about communication between users, creating online communities through messaging systems, user created profiles, and ‘following’ capabilities. Here’s where social media sites (Facebook and Twitter) dating sites, recipe sharing, and other online communities come into play.   This is also where the cotton candy starts flowing as people begin to document their lives with increasing levels of inanity.

In developing the Land of Opportunity Interactive Video Experience we will begin with the first level of interactivity, which would allow us and our partners to provide and curate all of the content, allowing users like you to exert control only by navigating through that given material. If we go a step further and build in Level Two interactivity, in addition to just navigating the content, you could leave comments and rate content, upload and share your own stories, and become a vital part of the conversation. In this case the heart of the project would reflect the democratic citizen participation concept we explored a few weeks ago.

Taking our project to the third level of interactivity would allow for a robust online community to form around our (and your) content.  You could create personalized profiles, follow others, and connect via messages. In this case the web experience would act like a social network based on the common thread of our core urban issues. The community would become as important as the content.

For instance, if we upload a clip of Brazilian immigrant worker Elza F (a character in our feature film) taking about how her American dream of work and wealth became a nightmare of low wages and exploitation, that material spark online conversations about workers rights and/or immigration. Users can share their immigration stories and create community dialogue around them. Then immigrant rights organizations like Undocubus could publicize a campaign, and raise awareness and encourage action.

Sounds great right?  But does this put us in the dangerous territory of giving users yet another virtual mask to hide behind, while drowning in a sea of content? Are we contributing to  keeping people from talking in person, shaking hands, walking the streets, attending rallies/protests in the real world?  We’re realizing when designing interactivity it’s crucial to think about how to contribute to the growing cacophony of the Internet in a meaningful way. This raises important questions about how to identify our core audience/community and most directly serve their needs, instead of aiming for mass appeal.  In this case, does quality trump quantity?

So come on ride the Level 2 (or 1.5, since you can’t upload content) Interactivity Train and give us your comments/thoughts/opinions!