Content is More Important than Quality – Digital Storytelling

There is so much digital content available for consumption and most people have relatively easy access to technology to create this content, however, high production values do not seem to be a prerequisite for audiences. As long as the content is of interest, and able to be downloaded or buffered, users are willing to engage with it (Dobrian et al. 2011). The online video with the second most views over the first 24-hours is known as Chewbacca Mask Lady, reaching 50 million views in a day (Parker 2016). It was originally recorded and posted to Facebook by Candace Payne while sitting in her car. While this example is definitely an outlier, I’m curious about the relationship between perception of quality and user engagement.

Audio First for Audiovisual

In support of content over quality, if the audio is of poor quality and the information cannot be heard, it creates a big barrier for audiences to engage (Beerends & De Caluwe, cited in Harrell n.d.). This definitely aligns with the findings of Dobrian et al. (2011) where audiences are willing to sacrifice video quality (to a certain extent) as long as they are interested in the content. If the audio quality isn’t perfect, videos can be helped by using subtitles, Ashraf (2016) found that ‘78.2% of all views are silent’. This is all in services of making it easier for audiences to understand the creator’s intended message.

Amateur Hour

The internet and social media have provided an open platform for users to share their digital creations and Jenkins (2006 p. 136) identifies its value for amateur storytellers:

“Most of what the amateurs create is gosh-awful bad, yet a thriving culture needs spaces where people can do bad art, get feedback, and get better. After all, much of what circulates through mass media is also bad by almost any criteria, but the expectations of professional polish make it a less hospitable environment for newcomers to learn and grow.”

For online distribution, the ability for people to reach a community with shared interests is more important than the quality of the production. The deeper value of amateur production was also recognised by Allocca (2018) who, trying to comprehend YouTube as a vessel for ‘authentic entertainment’, saw ‘The authenticity that attracted us to early YouTube videos and channels came not from their amateurism, but from the aesthetic honestly that naturally accompanies amateurism.’ I believe that the appearance of authenticity has become its own visual aesthetic, identifiable by recordings with phone selfie cameras, and used in video marketing to give the impression that something is unrehearsed, unpolished and produced with the same technical resources and capabilities of its intended audience.

References

Allocca, K 2018, Videocracy: How YouTube Is Changing the World . . . with Double Rainbows, Singing Foxes, and Other Trends We Can’t Stop Watching, Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, USA.

Ashraf, S 2016, The Silent Movie Era Returns On Social Media, Locowise, 9 December, viewed 21 April 2018, <https://locowise.com/blog/the-silent-movie-era-returns-on-social-media&gt;.

Harrell, L.S n.d., Why Audio is More Important Than Video Image Quality, VTREP, viewed 21 April 2018, <http://vtrep.com/audio-is-more-important-than-video-picture-quality/&gt;.

Dobrian, F, Awan, A, Joseph, D, Ganjam, A, Zhan, J, Sekar, V, Stoica, I & Zhang, H 2011, ‘Understanding the Impact of Video Quality on User Engagement’, in SIGCOMM ’11 Proceedings of the ACM SIGCOMM 2011 conference, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 15 – 19 August, pp. 362-373, viewed 20 April 2018 <https://dl.acm.org/ft_gateway.cfm?id=2018478&ftid=1012372&dwn=1&CFID=31083971&CFTOKEN=6f884d4dd7ac3957-6DD46D29-079F-0AB0-320EA49C7CAE8053&gt;.

Jenkins, H 2006, Convergence Culture, NYU Press, New York, USA.

Parker, R 2016, Chewbacca Mask-Wearing Mom Hits 50 Million Facebook Views in 24 Hours, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 May, viewed 21 April 2018, <https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/chewbacca-mask-wearing-mom-hits-896120&gt;.

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Writing Digital Stories for an Interactive Audience

Panopticon Digital Story Proposal


One of the difficulties I have faced when writing the script for Panopticon arises from the awareness that the audience has agency in the story world. They can decide which content they want to look at and, because the story won’t automatically continue, they will need to choose to keep engaging with the content. I am worried that telling the story through a non-linear collection of moments and mediums will make Panopticon inaccessible and fail to engage the audience or hold their attention.

The Loop

Tarrant (2003, p. 201 – 202) points to Lev Manovich’s ‘proposition that the loop might be understood as ‘A Narrative Engine’ [where] interactivity becomes less about stopping and going, and more about the continuous re-direction of flow and energy’. The structure of the loop implies that the story needs to return to the same place, a place that can now be explored with new information and any momentum gained must be redirected. Sharing Panopticon through the Verse portal would allow us the opportunity for both linear, chapter-based, exploration and a duplicated landing page that would serve as the location for the loop. Within the boundary of this loop, the story content needs to include directions for the audience that indicate there is more specific information available in other mediums that will deepen the understanding and experience of the story.

Narrative Structure in Three Dimensions

The emergence of the transmedia form has required new structures for developing a narrative. One proposed structure depicts the narrative as three-dimensional, with one dimension being logical and linear as in traditional cinema or books, the second as the choices that audiences can make to influence the first dimension, and the third as the medium through which the story is delivered, which also recognises that there is a meta-level of experiencing the stories – a journey of connecting plot points across these dimensions (Bastiaens & Bouwknegt 2014). We started developing our story concept through a chronological, linear version of events and identified which mediums we would use to tell these parts of the story. Our next step would be to engage our audience through developing the other story dimensions, using tools that lend itself to the transmedia format.

Withholding or Misleading Information

One tool we can use is choosing to withhold some information from the story. Long (2007, p. 53) discusses playing on the audience’s desire for more knowledge, ‘building strategic gaps into a narrative to evoke a delicious sense of ‘uncertainty, mystery, or doubt’. To encourage the audience to make choices about the story, we can also offer alternative descriptions of events or moments depending on the medium it is told through. Bastiaens & Bouwknegt (2014, p. 1284) say that for, the user, this ‘offers the possibility to design his own significance within the text. […] each choice in paradigmatic design has the ability to differ and change according to personal interpretation.’

Hopefully, by implementing these ideas we will be able to create a rich experience that encourages deeper audience engagement with Panopticon.

References

Bastiaens, O & Bouwknegt, H 2014, ‘Transmedia and Semiotics, A Structural Model for Transmedia Dynamics’, in New Semiotics Between Tradition and Innovation: Proceedings of the 12th World Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies (IASS/AIS), New Bulgarian University, Sofia, 16 – 20 September, pp. 1279 – 1289, viewed 12 April 2018, <https://iris.unito.it/bitstream/2318/1645420/1/01_STANO_Con-Fusion%20Cuisines_New%20Semiotics.%20Between%20Tradition%20and%20Innovation.pdf#page=1279>.

Long, G 2007, ‘Transmedia Storytelling: Business, Aesthetics and Production at the Jim Henson Company’, MSc, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, viewed 12 April 2018 <http://www.geoffreylong.com/downloads/geoffreylong_transmediastorytelling.pdf>.

Tarrant, P 2003, ‘New Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative’, Media & Education Magazine, 2003, Issue 136, pp. 201-202, viewed 12 April 2018 <https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.rmit.edu.au/docview/236471115?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo>.


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24 Hours in Melbourne

Hootsuite Screenshot 1 Hootsuite Screenshot 2 Hootsuite Screenshot 3 Hootsuite Screenshot 4 Hootsuite Screenshot 5 Hootsuite Screenshot 6 Hootsuite Screenshot 7

The Connection between the Creator and the Audience in Social Media Storytelling

While composing my short story to share on Twitter, incorporating four Instagram images, posted by other creators with the hashtags #cmwp2018 and #24melbourne, I realised that the linear story I was constructing would not be consumed by the majority audiences in that order. Once the final Tweet has been posted, the closest a viewer would get to seeing my original story would be to land on my feed at the last image, decide to scroll to the beginning of the feed and work their way through the chronological posts returning to the story’s end. What seems more likely, however, is that the audience would see one of my Tweets among unrelated posts, either within their own feed or within the context of a hashtag. Considering how users interact with social media, do previously accepted concepts of narrative structure apply to this medium?

In an interview with Mark Cousins for The Story of Film: An Oddessy (2011), Baz Luhrmann identified the first rule of making his Red Curtain Trilogy as ‘we need to know the story up front.’ Luhrmann elaborates explaining, ’In this participatory cinema…you need to know where it’s heading and you need the story to be extremely linear, one thing happens precisely after another like maths so that you save time. You can take the human moment…and we could expand the emotional experience of that beyond the reality in life. …we’re making something that happens in life better than it is in life – bigger than it is in life’ (The Story of Film: An Oddessy 2011). These ideas resonate in context of social media storytelling where the audience enters the story at the most recent content, particularly on Twitter. If the audience chooses to go from the most recent post back to the beginning, they are aware of what is coming at the end. Also, the story itself is comprised of moments that, when shared, go beyond the reality of life. The reality is distorted by the captions, filters and modifications that the content creator uses to influence the audience’s perception of the moment, and by the ability for the audience to choose how much time they spend examining the content. However, in terms of narrative structure, these stories are not complete. We enter them midway through the telling, not at the end, and they often do not follow a linear series of meticulously crafted events.

In social media storytelling, it can be difficult to define a beginning, middle and end, taking us into what Robert McKee identifies as ‘Nonplot’. ‘Story dissolves into portraiture, either a portrait of verisimilitude or one of absurdity. …Although they inform us, touch us, and have their own rhetorical and formal structures, they do not tell story’ (McKee 1999, p. 58). The complete collection of images and captions shared by the content creator offer an insight into their day-to-day existence, inviting audiences to perceive the world as they choose to perceive it. McKee (1999, p. 58)  continues to say that “Although nothing changes within the universe of a Nonplot, we gain a sobering insight and hopefully something changes within us.”

These examples of narrative structure presume a distance between the audience, the creator and the content, however, in the social media medium, users occupy both roles and have the ability to interact and manipulate existing content. One new narrative approach born from this interaction has been collaborative storytelling through hypermedia. Liu et al. (2011, p. 1546) states that ‘participants can develop different story branches in hypermedia while in [a linear appraoch] they share a single story path.’ This approach allows for multiple versions of a story to exist, with multiple creators contributing to the growing narrative world while crediting the proceeding creators. Liu et al. (2011, p. 1546) states ‘social media that facilitate social creativity on the Web must create an environment that attracts potential contributors around the world to participate in creative works.’ Such an environment could be the platform for the development of new narrative structures where single path stories can evolve into an interactive labyrinth without a singular and all-knowing creator.

References

Liu, C-C, Liu, K-P, Chen, W-H, Lin, C-P & Chen, G-D 2011, ‘Collaborative storytelling experiences in social media: Influence of peer-assistance mechanisms’, Computers & Education, vol. 57, pp. 1544-1556.

McKee, R 1999, Story, Methuen, London, UK.

The Story of Film: An Oddessy (episode 14) 2011, TV mini-series, More4, UK, directed by Mark Cousins.