What About Long-form?
& Other Questions

Yesterday I addressed a new cohort of Medill graduate students, discussing the future of interactive storytelling, the importance of Human/Reader-Centered Design and the need for collaboration between Journalists and Technologists. During the talk I got two particularly interesting questions:

  1. Long-form, magazine stories are not easy to read on mobile devices. What is the future of long-form if — as I suggested — journalism’s future is not the Web but new devices? *

    I answered by saying that journalists need to be more sophisticated about serving the right kind of content to the right audience depending on the device the audience is using. On a smartphone audio is always an option. Doing more to reformat the text or break it up would make it more device friendly. And new platforms like e-book readers and tablets may be better options for long-form stories. The key is not to pretend that televisions are radios, that smart phones are magazines or that tablets are laptops. Let each device have the type and format of content most suited to it.

  2. Another student asked if I was concerned that proprietary OSes (for the iPhone, Kindle & Palm Pre) and formats (he meant Flash) would limit the potential of content distribution? *

    The proprietary OS issue worries me less — it reminded me of the late 80s when software development was very platform specific. The marketplace forced developers to make the software cross platform and created common user experience regardless of where the software lived. Besides most users are really using an App or a Web browser to get data from the Internet so the content itself is still not locked down.

    But what about Flash and Apples iPhone/iPad? Sadly I wasn’t prepared to quote Jeffrey Zeldman: “Flash won’t die tomorrow, but plug-in technology is on its way out” or John Gruber: “Web site producers tend to be practical. Those that use Flash do so not because they’re Flash proponents, but because Flash is easy and ubiquitous… Flash is no longer ubiquitous. There’s a big difference between “everywhere” and “almost everywhere.”

    The issues with Flash will solve themselves — either mobile devices will find a to run Flash or designers will present their content without it. Technology issues on new platforms are real, but pay walls and and exclusive content deals are a more insidious threat because consumers, just like developers, can decide they can live without journalism if its not accessible.

* Questions are paraphrased to shorten and add context as needed.

Non-Linear Storytelling: NFL Playoff Scenarios

Like many people who grew up in Pittsburgh, I am watching the Steelers’ hopes for another championship slipping away. My last two weeks have been filled with dreams of unlikely scenarios (Is it possible for three NFL games to end in a tie?) or unanswerable questions (Do the Bengals like the Steelers more or less than the Jets?).

2010 NFL Playoff Scenarios, The New York Times Fifth Down Blog and the Yahoo Sports NFL Playoff Scenario Generator

There is nothing left to Steelers fans like me, except to speculate. I awoke Saturday morning to The New York Times’ Judy Battista who laid out the AFC playoff scenarios in one of the web’s best storytelling devices, a series of lists. As she usual does, Judy presented each of the three to five possible scenarios laying out each one like an arithmetic problem.

This would have been a great storytelling solution to a fairly complicated problem, except that Yahoo had already told the same story better. Yahoo Sports’ NFL Playoff Scenario Generator let’s users pick who wins each game with a simple, visual toggle. Or they allow users to predict the outcome of all the games based on 10 different metrics. The generator visually depicts the changing playoff picture as the user makes their selections (if only Yahoo used Javascript and CSS instead of Flash this would be a great smartphone tool).