From an interview with webdoc.com co-creators Olivier de Simone and Stelio Tzonis, 29 September 2011, London.
Webdoc is built around content, or it’s content centric. Tzonis and de Simone put it in perspective: social media is built for people to come together around content, this is built for content that people can come together around. Their best example is like a rich media virtual flyer that you can control of. Other people with similar flyers can post their flyers in response to yours on an ever expanding scroll face.
Media and interactive features:
- rich media expression through youtube, flickr, facebook and urls (example:hit URL, asks for a URL, using twitpic, it embeds not only the tweet, but the picture tweeted, works similarly for instagr.am)
- Apps for twitter search and slightly more complex expressions (example: tomato throwing)
And the basic user expected like, comment, share
- Public, private, and group sharing
- Embeddable each doc and each reply are separable, so you could re-mix the posts in any order you like on your own site.
It’s like a webpage, almost like a blog but it isn’t because you can remove it from webdoc by embedding it on other sites, which is what makes it unique. It is more than just a micro-blog. The interface seems to encourage the experiencing of a message through media (pictures, video, audio) that can be added; Tzonis and de Simone call this “rich expression.”
On Facebook, you can post once with one kind of media, but then you comment below the post with another kind of media. This allows for multiple media to be displayed at once, non-linearly. They agreed, “It was for us a big process to reduce, but we have done just to see the— to detect this tipping point where we move from this creation to an era of spontaneous expression, rich expression.”
Has social features but is not a social network. (social networks are in the dark ages)
Tzonis says that the idea is that you can bring your social network with you, non-exclusively:
"So for example say when I come to webdoc and I’ve organised an exhibition or whatever and I want to share with some people. There will a lot of chance that I have already this network on another place. So we think that if you have already a social network, it’s best if you connect with it. And then you create your webdoc and you share it with your existing social network. And then when people will come to it, then those people will be connected to this context to this webdoc.
We really believe those social networks will remain because they exist and but it’s like a loop between a webdoc and an existing social network. The idea we believe is that we don’t want to be connected to as many as we can social network.
…Today, if I am on Facebook I cannot be friends with someone that is on Twitter. It’s really a walled garden of social networks. It’s really something we believe must end at sometime.”
Webdoc is meant to be an separable element that is readable across platforms.
Carrying on from above, he further makes the point that you can email to anyone on any other email service. Today we can connect to different sites and have membership using social networks but there is nothing connecting the content across social networks. The content is exclusive to friends on the social network, where as using webdoc more people can come upon it who maybe aren’t in your network (or maybe not, if it’s a private group).
Tzonis said that he took some inspiration from his time with a documentary production company, “it’s really a process of grabbing, recording, and it’s not something that you build like a story, it’s really something that you try to connect.”
He continues, “It’s like knowledge, like when you take notes. It’s like the document you create and then from those notes you will create new notes and the source of those notes were also coming from other place so we believe like webdoc is the web.”
Thus, The format is inherently remixable.
Users weren’t ready for some features of the original version:
Multiple non-linear pages that could be rearranged or remixed. When they talked about this, I pictured something like layers in Photoshop— pages that had certain attributes linked to other attributes.
The ability to go full screen was in the original version but says de Simone, “then it’s really hard to actually get the hand of the guy you want to speak with.”
De Simone explains it like for artists, it’s a blank canvas effect: too much white space is intimidating.
Indeed, they noticed too much freedom rather than suggestion proved inimical to use, “The more you suggest them, the more it’s easy and that it doesn’t— that it takes you too much of time, the more they gonna use it.” The final point de Simone makes that lots of space is temporal, is interpreted by people as a large time commitment: easy implies short.
Tzonis expands upon this:
“what we saw was more you provide some freedoms to the user, the less they will use it. … ok let’s reduce the innovation to something a lot more simple. What we saw, the first thing is the more you reduce the space of expression, the more people will express themselves.”
They are looking at education applications, keenly
They were recently at a 140 characters conference for educators where they talked about integrating webdoc with education. They said that it becomes for teachers a way to stay in touch with children outside the classroom, a space where they can apply what they learn whilst they are executing digital skills — finding and grabbing media and ideas to form rich content in a way that applies to them or that they apply to their school topics.
Why it’s important for my research:
Webdoc has a non-linear approach.
Tzonis says that with webdoc what they wanted to do, “it’s really a process of grabbing, recording, and it’s not something that you build like a story, it’s really something that you try to connect.” This is similar to my approach for interactive documentary— asking people to help me illustrate, to connect different stories in a way. This is one of the modern ideas behind curation in journalism, placing content in context (though that is in error as curation is concerned, see my interviews with curators).
Use inherently teaches digital literacy skills like remixing and curating.
Remixing of media either on webdoc or media mixed together in a webdoc and then embedded — the way of thinking and the skills to do that — inherently teaches ‘digital literacy’. These are important skill sets for succeeding in the economy, things we aren’t getting in an education setting (Davidson, 2011). Through this process of applying information by constructing a basket of content or placing it in a context allows us to personally apply knowledge, thus internalising it (Lambert, 2002; Lundby ed., 2008).
Social object theory at its finest: centered around the thing (an event, an idea, possibly even a physical object). It’s been argued that the reason twitter works so well is that it is built around a social object— a short message (Engström) (flickr, photos; foursquare spaces)— it allows people to come together (and to break apart or re-organise) around topics, messages concerning particular content. But it’s about people around it. Whilst webdoc.com certainly has the same aim, it allows for “richer expression” or more lengthy expression around the content. The content is still a social object, but it makes any kind of expression about a social object possible.
“Until today the website was really monolithic things. For us, the webdoc, it’s a thing you can give, you can connect people around it. So the idea was to deconnect the web from the website, it’s something that you can embed, move, copy, other things. So this is the source of the word webdoc, it comes from document and the web.”
In designing a participative space you must make clear what kind of participation: provide cues, a format, set an expectation.
The early forms of webdoc as described by Tzonis and de Simone illustrate that when authoring procedures in interactive space, especially where there are multiple authors (as in Aylett and Kriegel 2008 and Aylett et al 2008) you must provide a clear guidelines of participation in the context. Jenkins, Murray, others who write about participatory web-based authoring say that the author provides the parameters of interaction and the ‘story’ behind the ‘world’. Here, the tools they provide and suggest using icons and text easily tells the public what and how to participate with.
Open questions and critical views:
Conversation is limited to webdoc.com, but in future they said they will look at it happening other places. I asked if facebook comments spaces can be use once the webdoc link is posted. So far, the collaborations they have had (for commercial purposes) have lead the commentators back to webdoc.
Does the interface lend itself more towards media experiential stories than text based? Instinctually, I think yes. But I can’t articulate technically why that’s the case, it’s just a feel that I get from it. I think, if we look at Tzonis and de Simone ’s comments about webdoc creating virtual flyers that are then in your control and can be embedded, certainly in a number of cases that’s what’s been used for.
Additional use cases worth mentioning are the Japanese Earth Quake and subway bombing in Minsk where people uploaded picture responses and datavisualisations. Other users create like a desk view that includes their interests. They have nicely brought in music using a partnership with Soundcloud that even extends the emotionality of expression— when we think of certain things, certain bits of our lives often I think we associate a sound with it, a song, even?
Users certainly have the ability to input text and very expressive text but people use it visually (maybe more than visually, as music is often included in posts).
here are some use examples:
At what point do you challenge the user to develop new skills?
I have to admit I’m disappointed that webdoc reduced the features they were offering, that they went with a simple version instead of layered, more complex machine. I understand that standards have evolved from game play, have followed from sites that ‘everyone uses’ but at what point do you challenge people to learn something new? As I understand the features that they left out were clever and really lend to non-linear storytelling. Giving into speculation, if what I suspect is the case, more advanced features would be useful in furthering digital literacy skills, presenting the user with something new but another way of doing things.
Though I am very appreciative of what they learned: people will express more in smaller spaces and use something more when it’s a simple thing.