Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Symbionomics Media Experience

Part of what Jay and I hope to accomplish in the long run with the Symbionomics project is making a feature length film. However, we believe the experience the audience has with the film is just as important as the content of the film itself. Today, the options for experiencing a feature length film are somewhat limited, so it may be time for a big redesign.

To get a lay of the land, let’s start with the current popular ways films are experienced. DVDs are totally unsocial. You sit there and you watch the film with no idea of who else has watched it or what they thought about it. You also have no way to contribute your own thoughts or enter into any kind of dialog other than with those who are physically present in the screening room. That seems a little last century to me.

Also, since DVDs are physical objects, once they are burned they do not change. While the extras on DVDs do make an attempt to provide additional context (such as commentary tracks), this material is just as unchanging as the film itself. This means that as new information and perspectives come to light, eventually the DVD becomes a historical artifact as opposed to a living document.

The rise of web video services such as YouTube or Vimeo has done much to address these fundamental shortcomings. However, while YouTube and Vimeo are awesome for short videos, you can only comment on the video as a whole. That may be fine if there are only a few ideas in the video, but for longer format films this limitation means only the shallowest of conversations can arise.

Netflix’s streaming service has certainly grown more robust over the last year, yet it still has only a few social elements. The viewing process itself still feels more like a lecture than a seminar. I watch a film, I give it a rating, and maybe I write a review if I am highly motivated.

Jay and I have been playing with how to take a quantum leap forward in audience participation. Think Soundcloud for video. Soundcloud is my favorite music platform by far. I majored in music composition in undergrad, and one of my favorite parts of that experience was getting and giving critiques. In a good composition class, your fellow students help you reach your highest potential by offering support, camaraderie, and constructive criticism. Soundcloud does this very effectively by allowing users to make comments at specific points in the timeline. In other words, if I, as a musician, decide to add a drum beat at 2:23, folks can make comments that appear precisely at that time. The result is a highly focused critique of the composition, which in turn leads to a supportive community of musicians who learn and grow together.

We want our audience to have the same kind of experience with the Symbionomics film. Imagine watching a finished film where any frame in the timeline can be commented on. If some expert in the film makes an interesting point, and you have a burning desire to respond, just add a video comment to that frame. These comments could be threaded to allow for dialog between different commentators. Comments could also include links to relevant external media sources, such as someone’s TED talk.

By allowing an ongoing dialog to emerge in specific response to moments in the film, we create the possibility for a living document. If new perspectives come to light on a given topic, people can add links to the latest and best web talks. The result is a collaboratively created way to drill into specific topics and ideas presented in the timeline of the film.

We want to hear your thoughts. What would make you want to participate in this kind of dialog? What features would you want to see?

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