Sure, big organizations like The New York Times can create immersive storytelling experiences like Snowfall -- but is that a useful example for small or midsize organizations?
The good news is that new tools are making large staffs and budgets unnecessary even for projects that seem like they must take a lot of custom development times. These tools allow you to create fullscreen, scrolling, and (sometimes) responsive features. Adam Schweigert of the Investigative News Network and Jessica Plautz of Skift presented.
- Creatavist -- Created by the Atavist magazine, this mini-cms creates fullscreen "magazine experience" minisites. One example: Boston's NPR affiliate WBUR's coverage of mob boss "Whitey" Bulger's life, crimes, capture, and trial: bulger.wbur.org
- Zeega is an interactive video platform that lets you create minidocumentaries that allow the visitor to point and click their way through a story that isn't necessarily linear.
- Scrollkit -- Scrollkit is a fullscreen, magazine-experience editor. Scrollkit's creator got a lot of attention for a stunt he called "Snowfall in an Hour," where he replicated Snowfall.
- sStory -- a free-to-download fullscreen experience created by EJ Fox; you build the package just by editing a text file and adding text and links to photo and video.
"These don't work unless they're well-edited," says Schweigert. "Consider the narrative; the more elements you have, the more you have to think about where they fit in the story. The NYT's new story "The Jockey" worked less well, IMO, than snowfall, because the audio interrupts the narrative too much. If you have automatically playing video, make sure it feels like it makes sense in that spot."
"Create an experience where the reader feels surprise in the experience -- but in a way they can work with," says Plautz, giving the example of an LAT feature where the soundtrack of an autoplaying video happened offscreen, well below the point where she had scrolled to. "It was rainfall," she said. "And I kept thinking, 'Why is it raining? WHERE is it raining? It was terrifying, actually."
"Conventions exist for a reason," says Schweigert. "There are some things post-Snowfall that are borderline unusable, or unreadable." Immersive environments can become "a usability nightmare," says Schweigert, where the user doesn't necessarily know where to click or what to do to advance themselves through the story.
Here's a collaboratively edited hackpad of notes and links to tools and examples of projects: #snowfall4all Hackpad
Go see even more tools and interviews with teams using them at Source.