Friday, February 13, 2009

Of interactive narratives and home pages

One of my primary web design goals recently has been to convert my static Web 1.0 homepage at into a Web 2.0 portal of interactive excitement (or at least to take a few steps in that direction). It has become a significant journey of personal, professional and technical growth.
It felt right to start where I did, essentially a summary page of what I offer online. But as I look around the Web, and I think about why anyone would bother to come to my pages, I think the homepage should be more interesting and informative and even a little bit of fun for users. So my concept has been developing along with my increased interest in the rise of mobile technology. I'm not an avid cellular phone user, but it seems absolutely clear to me that as cell phones -- particularly those like the touch pad iPhones, which don't require typing or even reading -- give virtually everyone easy access to the power of the Internet, the Web will soon be making another major leap in the market and become as Mark Weiser, former Chief Technology Officer of Xerox-PARC, once predicted, "ubiquitous." To pay homage to the power of the phone in our lives today, and where I think it's going in the future, I've designed my page around the phone metaphor, letting it dial into my space in various ways. I also think this would translate well to people who access my site via phone. I will post that soon, I hope. I want to continue to develop it through various buttons and gizmos, of course. In addition, I want to incorporate my continuing interest in storytelling and narrative construction, particularly interactive narratives. But this is at least the first step.
For direction, I look to Mark Stephen Meadows again and his passage on Ralph Koster, who served as the lead designer of Ultima Online, and who early on identified two distinct paths of interactive narrative. The first he called "impositional," the style of story design in which the creators maintain most of the control, giving users limited choices in which to complete a few different branching narrative arcs. The other style he calls "expressive." That is more like architecture, designed for use but also exploration. In that, the story creator sets up a framework and the user does the rest, including reaching self-determined goals and following user-controlled direction and pace.
Just as my homepage had to go from static to the next phase, I think it's properly evolutionary for me to aim for gaining some impositional experience first before reaching for the brass ring of expressive. Also, I'm not sure the purpose of my site, at least as I'm envisioning it now, responds as well to the expressive style as it does to the impositional outlook of: I'm going to give you some freedom to move around here and see different things. But I'm not trying to create an environment like a weak facsimile of "The Sims," either.
Speaking of "The Sims," video games and movie/DVD web sites right now are so far ahead of everyone else, I often find myself in awe of what they are accomplishing, particularly in comparison to the baby steps being taken by the news media, which could have just as much to gain, if not more, by the increased interest people have in information.
When a company like IonStorm, for example, calls its game, "Deus Ex Machina," or "God From the Machine," I begin to feel that I'm taking part in an almost spiritual awakening of humanity in our potential for intelligence and connection and worldwide partnerships, only at the same time realizing that most of the best ideas seem to be coming from the entertainment industry and most energy funneled in that direction, creating just more and more distractions and ways for people to escape reality. In the meantime, "real" news is withering under the spotlight in which Paris Hilton's hijinks compete head to head with local city council agendas, bringing to mind Neil Postman's prophetic book "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business." I'm quickly stepping off the soapbox, though, and getting back to the matter at hand, the homepage.
Another inspiration to me has been author Scott McCloud's,, use of the metaphor of a monitor as a window, into which we can see limitless possibilities, such as a comic on a rotating cube or covering a globe. I hope that before I'm done I can create something uniquely digital, not just something remediated, something that takes full advantage of these incredible tools we now have available in new and innovative ways.
During this redesign process, learning about the possibilities, I've also been immersed in the potential of the tools and how much work it can be to get oriented with those. I'll say, it's not like picking up a hammer and looking for something to strike. I recently bought Adobe's Creative Suite 4 (design edition), which includes Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, Illustrator and InDesign. I also bought a copy of Adobe Premiere Elements. While I've dabbled in all of these before, or similar programs, the little quirks in each has taken a significant amount of time to learn, at least to use in the now more ambitious directions I'm taking. I began just by browsing the many, many free training videos on YouTube and around the web, and I have to say that I quickly learned you get what you pay for. Oy! Many of them are really terrible. Thankfully, though, Adobe gave me a 30-day membership to, and I've been impressed with the design and care and layout of that site. Extremely simple to navigate, and I have learned an incredible amount in a very short time period (although many of those hours have been stolen from my allotted few still assigned to sleep; I was up until 4 a.m. yesterday, paying for it today). My main emphasis recently has been on Flash and its ActionScript 3.0. I guess I naively thought that software today had become primarily point and click, but this one still needs a significant amount of coding. The possibilities, though, are amazing. I also have been delving into the world of public domain media -- images and sound and video -- to help supplement what I have, and I've been impressed with the growing amount of content available for such use. Which brings me to a couple of questions for you. What are your favorite places to get online software training (particularly if that can be had at no cost)? And where do you prowl around for public domain media? Please share any sites I should be visiting. Thanks!

1 comment:

Jessica Badger said...

I like the idea of using a phone as the interface to your website. It is forward thinking and very nice.