Clouds Over Cuba: A New Way to Recount History Online

by Evs

About a month ago, a friend sent me the link to this documentary about the cuban missile crisis. I was immediately inspired. The doc itself is quite good, but it is the experience of watching it in this format that has really impressed me. It seems I have found a prototype of the type of media I want to be making next.

Take a look if you have time:

This documentary was created for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library by The Martin Agency and directed by Erich Joiner and Ben Tricklebank at Tool. Running two-hours, this project exists primarily as a full browser video player. It has an interactive timeline and seamless links to additional information along the way. This additional info consists of scans, images, archival audio and video recordings –  all from the JFK institute itself – as well as expert commentaries from historian Sheldon M. Stern, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, author Eric G. Swedin and professor Timothy McKeown. For more info about the doc, check out this review.

I think that this format has amazing potential for the future of online video and visual storytelling. You could totally use a similar framework with a creative project or a tv show. It encourages people to stay involved and focused on the project, but gives curious people a chance to leave the linear narrative of the doc to learn more about specific themes without losing their place.

While interactive video isn’t really anything all that new, I think what really got me excited is how much more accessible the technology used to build this site has become. This site is built like a website using html5, javascript and css. However it feels almost like an app. It also uses the interactivity subtly, without relying on flashy gimmicks. Transitions between pages is so beautifully seamless (one of the perks of html5) and the pace of the web experience matches the pace of the documentary. The unified design of the page and textures on the video result in an overall product that feels dynamic, yet totally unified.

It seems to be time to re-think video (again). We have all become used to youtube and vimeo as our primary video platforms. But if you think about it, the formats in which the videos are presented remain somewhat standard. You watch the video without really interacting with it, other than leaving comments under the video or by closing the incessant pop ads (on youtube).

But what if you could actually click inside the video, get more info when you wanted. As it stands, when I watch a doc, I often like to find out more about the info being presented, or I want to verify the legitimacy of certain statements. So I tend to open another browser window to do some additional investigation on the side. But this is awkward and distracting. Sometimes I get so caught up with another article I am reading that I lose my place in the doc, or lose interest in the original documentary entirely.

Whats great about this documentary, is that you are expected to dig deeper into the topic. And they make it extremely easy and fun to do it. It encourages interaction and curiosity, yet keeps you on the site, and on topic. But I think we could take this even further.

Imagine the possibilities…