Want to make your stories more engaging? Here are a few tools that might help
The world is an immersive, sensory experience. Shouldn’t our stories be too? With some new web platforms, they can be. These fall within the realm of transmedia, a relatively new arena that’s full of exciting possibilities.
For those unfamiliar with this brave new frontier of journalism, transmedia can be loosely defined as any project or platform that combines text, visual and/or auditory media and interactive elements to create a rich experience for the audience. This could be on the web, off the web or a mix of both.
We’ll look at examples of transmedia projects on a grand scale in a later post. For now, we wanted to share some tools that can help you easily put together stories with extra layers of media and interactivity.
Ease of use: 2/10
Best for: An ongoing project that will have updates and diverse media. An alternative to WordPress.
These folks made a documentary called deepsouth and used Jux to build out the website. It’s part blog, part promotional website, but includes lots of additional media elements like trailers, photos, maps and more.
Here are a couple of options for long form projects or stories with a lot of multimedia elements.
Ease of use: 4/10
Best for: Projects you want to put on the iPad. Either longform text narratives with lots of additional multimedia, or multimedia-rich projects with lots of different elements.
iBooks Author is a free program by Apple. It’s a layout/design program for making multimedia-rich books for the iPad. The interface is very easy to use and enables the user to include slideshows, text, videos, images, charts, keynote presentations and much more without any programming know-how.
The best thing about iBooks Author is the finished product: an interactive, multimedia-rich book that users can put on their iPads and show to potential employers.
Here’s an example of a book I designed and produced with iBooks Author last year: In Search of Home
iBooks Author is a great program to think about when conceptualizing what shape a capstone might take. The biggest downside is that the software only creates content for the iBookstore. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, consider our next option.
Ease of use: 4/10
Best for: Projects you want to sell or distribute on various tablets and via the web. Longform narratives that have lots of additional multimedia elements and other extras (sidebars, original documents, etc.)
Creatavist is a relatively new platform by the folks behind The Atavist, a web and tablet publishing company focused on long-form journalism with added multimedia. I just helped a friend produce one of their inaugural books on the platform, so if anyone is interested in learning more I’m happy to talk.
Creatavist is designed for long form so it’s built around chapters. Chapters can be text-only or they can be slideshows, videos or single images. Users can also embed all sorts of so-called extras into the text. These include websites, maps, photos and video, audio, text sidebars, character profiles and a few other odds and ends. Most of these extras display as pop-ups when they are clicked. Check out the image below for more context.
The image on the left shows what the extra looks like within the text, and the image on the right ois that same extra when clicked.
Creatavist also allows for a soundtrack and/or narrated version of the book to be included, so readers can listen to the audiobook or have ambient noise play throughout their reading experience.
Creating an account is free for one project and goes up in price from there. Perhaps the best thing about Creativist is that once you hit publish, the platform automatically makes it available in the iBookstore for iPads/iPhone, the Kindle bookstore on Amazon and publishes versions for the Nook and other ereaders.
These next two examples are less suited for longform projects. They’re best when you have a project or piece that has potential for a lot of different media.
Ease of use: 6/10
Best for: One-off projects that have diverse multimedia elements. People who are in love with parallax scrolling (see below).
Scrollkit is a drag and drop interface designed to make it as simple as possible to combine a variety of media. Here’s a project Smithsonian Magazine designed with Scrollkit. Here’s another one by CUNY alum Danny Gold for Esquire.
The interface is designed to make it easy to create engaging, media-rich stories that take advantage of parallax scrolling. For those that don’t know, parallax is a type of web design where different elements of the page move at different speeds as you scroll. Examples here, here and here.
Here’s a very rough, quick one I mocked up using text, some photos, a youtube video and some audio from Soundcoud: Aleppo Evil. There’s much, much more potential for those that get creative or spend more than 5 minutes on it. A head’s up though: it has a small but frustrating learning curve (as does Newhive).
Ease of use: 5/10
Best for: One-off projects that have diverse multimedia elements
Newhive is another drag and drop site that’s trying to make it as easy as possible to create content with a multitude of media. The interface is a bit more freeform than Scrollkit and has a more robust set of customization options.
It also supports a huge range of embeds, including options from Grooveshark, Soundcloud, Google Maps, Mailchimp, Tokbox, Flickr, PayPal, Ted and pretty much anything with an iframe. As with ScrollKit, it has a small but frustrating learning curve.
And finally, below take a look at a few others that aren’t quite ready for primetime, but worth keeping an eye on.
Storyplanet is designed to create interactive multimedia stories that the user can navigate through. It’s been in beta for a year now, but it’s supposed to launch before the end of the year.
If it ever launches, it will be amazing.
The screenshot above is from Migration X. The story features text, a photo essay and an interactive map, but Storyplanet can also feature videos and audio. Below, you can see a story in progress. Each page (called a tile in Storyplanet language) can feature any of the above elements. Depending on the story’s structure, the author can then drag the tiles into different layouts. Users can then navigate up/down/left/right by following any given page’s arrows.
Stay tuned for more information about Storyplanet’s launch.
Zeega brands itself as the easiest way to create and share interactive videos. Most people use it to make pieces that are more experimental and/or artistic than journalistic, but there are a few good examples of journalism. Rough Ride Black Gold Boom is one.
Zeega allows the user embed images, gifs, sounds and text to create a more immersive experience. They can be your own, or the content can come from Once complete, they can be shared via Tumblr, Facebook or Twitter or can be linked to or embedded on other pages just like a youtube video. Check out this zeega embedded on KQED featuring Daft Punk’s song Get Lucky.
Zeega has a long way to go before it’s really a stellar possibility for polished storytelling, but it could be a great tool for the right story.
Did we miss anything worth looking at? Let us know.