The challenge: reinvent ‘TV news’ online

May 3, 2011 § 9 Comments

Recently, we’ve seen a huge change in video online. The advent of web native <video> makes it possible to mash up moving images with social media, tie clips to data from across the web or, more simply, create simple transcript-based interfaces for navigating long pieces of video. Yet, despite the these capabilities, we’ve seen almost nothing in the way of new kinds of storytelling. Telling stories with video online today looks pretty much the same as it did when I used to shoot local TV news 20 years ago.

This is something we hope to change with the first Knight Mozilla news innovation challenge topic. We’re inviting hacks and hackers from around the world to answer the question: how can new web video tools transform news storytelling? People with the best ideas will get to bring them to life with a full year paid fellowship in a world leading newsroom.

The next ‘montage moment’

What do I mean by transform storytelling? Just that: taking today’s online video tools beyond the mechanical and obvious, bringing people, ideas and events to life in ways we haven’t seen before. To get your imagination going, think back to how visual storytelling emerged in the world of cinema.

The Lumiere brothers made some of the worlds first films. Workers going to a factory. A train arriving at a station. Etc. The Lumiere’s fixed frame wasn’t much to write home about in terms of story. But seeing moving photographs was hugely impressive to most people at the time. It was a technical wonder.

It took 25 years for Eisenstein to grab hold of this technical wonder and then say: wow, I bet you we could tell a more powerful story if we varied the shots a bit and then edited them together. With Potemkin, he invented the visual language we still use to tell stories today: montage.

The fundamental technology didn’t change in those 25 years. The Lumiere’s knew how to splice film and move the camera around. Eisenstein’s breakthrough was to use basic film technology to tell a story in a new and creative way. Which is very much like where we are at with web native video today: huge technological potential just waiting to be seized for creative storytelling. What we need now is a ‘montage moment’ for the web era.

Open video: a huge palette of awesomeness

The potential of web native <video> truly is awesome: we can now link any frame within any video to any other part of the web. This was hard to do in the world of Flash video. The introduction of the HTML5 <video> tag over the last two years has made it easy.

Early experiments and demos hint at the potential of this new open video palette. With the recent State of the Union, PBS used Mozilla’s popcorn.js tools to synchronize their live blogging with the timecode of the President’s speech:

The same tools have been used to show how transcripts can be used to search and then navigate immediately to anywhere within a long clip. This demo from Danish public radio shows how this can work with web native <audio>. The same thing could easily be done with video.

Of course, the big potential is in connecting video to the massive amount media and data that already exists all across the web. Imagine if you could weave the sum of all human knowledge seamlessly into your news story or documentary. That’s now possible. This book report demo shows the basics concept, with a student connecting her narration to wikipedia articles and news reports.

Google and Arcade Fire took this idea a step further, pulling moving images from street view and Google Earth into a rock video. If you enter your zip code, your neighborhood becomes a character in the narrative in real time.

The Japanese based Sour-Mirror went even further, pulling you into the video. Enter your Facebook ID and turn on your camera, and then you become a character in the band’s video. Again, in real time.

These demos make an important point: the line between what’s in the frame and what’s on the web is dissolving. Or, put nerdily, timecode and hypertext are fusing together. They are becoming one.

Are you the next Eisenstein?

Despite all the niftyness, there is a problem: these demos do not yet tap the open video palette to tell stories in meaningfully new ways. Open video tools like Mozilla’s Popcorn and Butter provide a starting point. But they need people with a creative flair for both web technology and storytelling to bring them life. Which is exactly why Knight and Mozilla threw out ‘how can new web video tools transform news storytelling?’ as our first MoJo challenge question.

We’re hoping that you — or someone you know — is up to this challenge. If you think you are, you should enter the MoJo innovation challenge. All you need to do is: draw up a napkin sketch showing how you might tell a story in a new way with open video, write a brief paragraph about it and then submit it online. If your idea is solid, you’ve got a good chance at a fellowship where you could actually bring it to life at the Al Jazeera, BBC, the Guardian, Die Zeit or the Boston Globe. Who knows, maybe you could be the Eisenstein of open video?

Find out more about Knight Mozilla News Innovation Partnership on the MoJo web site. Or enter the MoJo news innovation challenge today.

Brett Gaylor joins Drumbeat team

August 18, 2010 § 6 Comments

I’m very happy to announce that Brett Gaylor officially joined the Mozilla Drumbeat team earlier this month. He’ll be playing the role of project producer — leading his own Web Made Movies project and helping to find new Drumbeat projects over time. Brett will also be directing a documentary series about Mozilla and the future of the web.

Photo: CC-BY, Joi Ito

Brett’s already made great strides setting up the Web Made Movies lab initiative with Seneca College. The idea is to get filmmakers and web developers collaborating on new tech tools that shape what cinema will look like on the open web. The first project coming out of this lab is popcorn.js, which was demo’ed in early alpha at Whistler. A polished version of that demo is here:

Also, Brett has started work on a documentary where Mozillians will paint a picture of the open web that we’re building. He interviewed about a dozen people at Whistler and has a number of other shoots set up. Footage and a call for participation will start leaking out through the fall, with first episodes or edited clips coming by the end of the year.

For those haven’t heard of Brett before: he is the director of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, an awesome film on copyright and culture that has been broadcast in over 20 countries and seen by millions He also founded OpenSourceCinema.org, an experiment in applying open source principles to filmmaking which was used to get thousands of people to contribute to the making of RIP. In many ways, Web Made Movies is a continuation of the Open Source Cinema experiment.

Web Made Movies, a teaser

April 12, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’ve been meaning to blog about Web Made Movies for a while now. It’s one of the early Drumbeat projects I’m most excited about. One reason is the pitch: “A documentary about the future of the web, told by the people of the web.” But I’m also excited by the proposed partnership between filmmakers (submitting footage and episodes) and hackers (creating innovative HTML5 video interfaces). The idea is not only to create an online documentary series, but also invent an open source approach to cinema.

You can also view or download ogg open video version.

Brett posted a teaser videoblog on Friday (above), prompting me to put fingers to keyboard. The teaser is mostly an invitation to participate by submitting story ideas. We’re looking for examples of new internet technology, applications or content that will shape the open web of the future. Brett (and probably Henrik) will be blogging on the story framework soon. But it would be great to get your suggestions now if ideas are already popping to mind.

The first big opportunities for participation will be the pilot episode and a ‘future of the video player’ design challenge.

Shooting has already begun on the pilot episode, including interviews with Local Motors, Iranian bloggers, Brasilian computer recyclers and (hopefully) Johnathan Zittrain. If you have stories or footage to contribute, we can roll them in.

The design challenge will start later in April, and will unfold over the next couple of months. It’ll provide a chance for people to brainstorm cool HTML5 video use cases and then to submit design mockups that combine the best use cases.

The pilot episode plus leading design sketches should be ready for public consumption in June. See the Web Made Movies roadmap for more info.

What does the web mean to you?

December 17, 2009 § 1 Comment

As I blogged the other day, I’ve been asking people for ideas on the ‘movie about the web, by the web‘ concept. One of my thought experiments was to simply ask people: what does the web mean to you? I edited the answers together as quick video poem just to see what it felt like.

Also: watch or download as OGG open video.

In some ways, the result is a bit schmultzy. But there is a nice affirmation also: people are totally ready to talk eloquently about very big ideas about the web. This is a good thing as the goal is to make a massively collaborative movie that helps people understand the web and why the fact that it’s open matters so much. It think the citizens of the web are more than ready to pitch in to do this.

If anyone’s interested, I’d love to see other clips responding to the ‘what does the web mean to you?’ question. Just you talking. Or you and your friends. You can just paste links below as comments. It’ll keep the thought experiment going.

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