Highlights from Tribeca Interactive

This past weekend I attended Tribeca Interactive, an all-day forum hosted by the Tribeca Film Institute (TFI). The forum brings together “thinkers and innovators from the worlds of film, media, gaming, technology and society to explore storytelling in the digital age.” Dalia Othman and I liveblogged some highlights from the day:

Look Who’s Watching: What can storytellers learn from the privacy debate
Ben Moskowitz (ITP/ Mozilla)
Ben Moskowitz addresses questions of privacy and ownership over data and suggests the concept of procedural, data-driven storytelling, where personal stories are based on user data. He discusses personalized storytelling as a data-enabled technique that goes beyond interactive storytelling. Take This Lollipop is an example of an online film that brings users into the film experience through drawing from their Facebook profiles (experiencing the film requires connecting with Facebook). Using data to make documentaries more persuasive and personalized could include motion graphics, voiceovers, or scene selection (e.g. scene selection changes based on user data). He addresses some concerns with this approach – including ceding authorial control and privacy issues – but focuses on the potential for enhanced creative storytelling.

Documentary, Expanding
Wendy Levy (New Arts AXIS)
She focuses on the need to connect artists, technologists, and communities to facilitate unexpected collaborations and to tell stories that shift mindsets. According to Wendy, “we have to create spaces where stories become present and the apparatus becomes discreet.” She describes her most effective collaboration as those that come along with a sense of loss and letting go (equal between collaborators). Several of her projects illustrate these concepts:

Sparkwise “gives meaning to your data and momentum to your goals.” The platform contextualizes data by combining metrics with video, audio, text messages, and other content to create online stories.
Stories of Change weaves together documentary storytelling and social entrepreneurship.
This is Our City is a 6 foot fence of photographs in Oakland. The idea is to create a public art piece that brings communities together in representing and engaging in dialogue focusing on their city.

Lyka: The Adventure
Lance Weiler (Digital Storytelling Lab at Columbia University)
Lance believes in discovery based learning, so created Lyka as a learning tool. Lyka is a robot that made it to earth because her planet is being destroyed due to environmental degradation, so Lyka is on a mission to save her planet. Lyka helps kids become heroes by helping her return to her planet. The project is a “STEAM learning lab on wheels” and mixes storytelling and game design to build 21st century skills. They bring Lyka to schools and run lab sessions with challenges that weave together coding and storytelling.

Beta!: Making Game Design Fun and Accessible
Errol King (Beta!)
He starts by telling us his “life story in 60 seconds.” He talks about Super Mario Brothers and his love of videogames, and how he learned math through video games. He was diagnosed with ADHD and then put in front of more games. He has always been a maker, and he wants to make things with a purpose. He worked at a Boys and Girls club and watched kids play games in a classroom and asked himself, “Can gaming give people a voice?” He and some buddies blended various gaming techniques to create BETA, a gaming learning platform. They created a language called Codepop, which he describes as a “tweet-sized” interpreted language. They facilitate workshops and encourage children to take on roles during the workshops (“coder,” “game designer,” etc.). He wants people to make the world they wish to see; the world is open source, so access it and make it what you want.

Don’t Build Audiences, Build Community
Andrew Devigal (Digital Media Innovator & Strategist)
Andrew says his aim is to build a community, not an audience; he wants to shift the conversation from one of audience interaction to one of community interaction. He says that we need to go beyond Facebook likes and retweets. Impacted communities have invaluable knowledge that needs to be voiced. While we tend to hear polarized voices, we need to hear from communities. He introduces Harvis, a mobile tool where people can provide feedback on a viewing experience. His team has used Harvis at screenings of documentary films as a way to promote collective dialogue. Harvis allows audiences to upvote or downvote and also provide commentary during a viewing experience. Throughout his presentation, Andrew trials Harvis with the TFI audience and at the end of the presentation shows a timeline with an interactive display of audience responses to the presentation. Harvis can immediately surface issues most important to a community and mine hidden stories.

Real is a Platform Too
Michel Reilhac
Michel describes the traditional divide between “reality” and “fiction:”
real = physical = facts = true
fiction = virtual = imagination = false
This is the way we have been educated to think, but today we have a different notion of what reality means:
real = physical + virtual + fiction + facts + imagination.
The notion of reality we are dealing with is multi-layered. We need to engage with real life through meaning physical experiences and true relationships (not just friends on facebook).
He shows a video for Coca Cola’s Social Media Guard. The ad hasn’t been played in the U.S., but it’s interesting that big brands tap into the collective anxiety over social media overdose. Being constantly overdosed in virtual reality leads us to experience loneliness. He shows “The Innovation of Loneliness” and then describes how mixing real life and screen experiences is a great opportunity for enhanced real life experience; real life is an interface and a platform. There’s a deep trend towards stories that are pervasive and permanent. He cites a study that confirms that stories will increasingly interact with us in the real world. The natural consequence of this shift is that stories will be told 24/7. Stories can be tools to help us change the world around us.

Shadow, a project that purports to create the largest dream database in the world.
Flashmob, an example of an entry point to a story about plastic waste.
CinemaCity, augmented reality app allowing users to view classic film clips overlaid on the location where the scene takes place in Paris.

Introducing the DocuBase
William Uricchio (MIT Open Doc Lab)
William touches on historical context for today’s interactive documentary field, discussing how viewing practices shifted dramatically in the early 1900s and are currently undergoing a significant shift. He introduces DocuBase and gives an overview on the interface, starting with Fort McMoney as an example. He says the goal of DocuBase is to map the field and provide a way for people to learn about interactive documentaries. The site includes “making of” information and interviews with directors. The site is a helpful resource for a new generation of documentary filmmakers. He shows the curated lists of interactive documentaries on the site and uses Ingrid Kopp’s list as an example; curated lists are a way to lead users into the interactive documentary space. DocuBase is a research tool and lends insight into how people are framing interactive documentary projects.

Closing Keynote – Digital Dissatisfaction: The Limits of Technology
Jonathan Harris (Artist)
He starts by saying he’s going to talk about technology and timelessness. Rectangles don’t appear in nature, so let’s stop integrating them into digital interfaces. He talks about his own relationship with technology; he spent his 20s staring at screens and his early 30s in cabins and in nature, and now’s he’s in a middle zone. He gives examples of timelessness: a wooden bird, a shell necklace, a pencil. Somewhat timeless things on the internet include Wikipedia and Craigslist, as they haven’t changed much in the past 10 years (giving them a sense of authority).

Well executed ideas often have these qualities: Playfulness that feels natural (i.e. of nature); pacing that matches the time in which you live; relevance to your current reality; endlessness, delivered in layers; flow to fill an empty niche.

He summarizes his projects in simple sentence descriptions:

10X10: “An hourly snapshot of life on earth” (2004)
We feel fine: “A search engine for human emotions” (2006)
Cowbird: “A public library of human experience” (2011)

He demos Cowbird and reads stories from the platform, illustrating how stories are connected and tagged on the ecosystem.

Why does timelessness matter? Timeliness is appealing, but it’s harder to draw people with timelessness. He cites a story where he sees an Old New Yorker cover depicting significant artworks growing out of masses of people, and talks about great works of art that are timeless and are the building blocks of civilization. In a changing world, people need anchors and lighthouses. Timeless things provide these anchors. Meaning takes time to accumulate; love is slow.