Digital Storytelling Festival
Crested Butte, Colorado
September '99

I wrote this text out first, then adapted this outline which i referenced twice while i spoke. the parts in this font were not included in my verbal remarks.

consolizing the web

thanks to dsf for nuturing me, with a stage and great contacts.

i was invited here to talk to you folks about the state of the internet i suppose - i'm a young guy, i spend a disproportionate amount of my day online:

an illustrative example: my job at consists primarily of sitting on ICQ - the most frenetic of all the online "instant messenging" services. those of you who have used icq will recognize the "cuckoo" of an incoming message. each message arrives as a separate item - there's little continuity to the exchanges, compared with AOL Instant Messenger. You can also send files and pictures and urls to single people and groups - it's more geek chiqy.

i am to sit on icq and remain in contact, and within reach of my editing staff, a team of (mostly) 15 year old who surf the net voraciously for game related content for me. I am the playstation editor. i got this job because i have web editorial experience, and a background in computer games, not because i had any particular leaning towards the playstation in particular.

so i am going to share with you what i have recently learned from this job place, what my girlfriend amy calls "a tribe" more than a company. we're game players, so my office is a full on full time game immersion.

sega has just this month the latest gaming console the "Dreamcast" - consoles being deciated game machines that are hooked up to regular televisions. This puts sega on the technological bleeding edge ahead of sony and nintendo, who are stuck with their current consoles, five and two years old respectively.

screenshot of web on dreamcast Sega has decided that for their machine, cutting edge means connectivity, so the $200 Dreamcast unit comes internet enabled with a 56k modem. For newbie netizens, all you need to do is establish a $20/month account with AT&T Worldnet and you can surf the web and even write email through your television, as well as play the most photorealistic games that man or woman hath wraught.

If people buy the Dreamcast, or the next generation Playstation 2 or Nintendo Dolphin, and it all these consoles are keeping up in the connectivity race, then there is going to be an entire population of people who is going to have access to the internet, reading stories on the web, through a machine that people currently buy for Donky Kong, Super Mario and intrepid Tomb Raiders.

storytelling in this future: many in this audience won't be using games outright to tell their stories (indeed most of the popular games now resemble films in terms of staffs and budgets - Final Fantasy IX is projected to cost $40 million to make). Writer, designer, illustrator types have the wonderful web to share their stories. As we grow accustomed to this medium, and adapt what we may have learned about writing and designing for print to hypertext online, the evolution of browser to console is already evident in the pagemaking of younger storytellers online.

before we get to the online examples, i want to share a few pictures from some video game interfaces, to examine how some games manage information and navigation. My gaming background is PC games, starting in the mid-1980s.
Neuromancer - shot - 1988
Circuit's Edge - shot - 1990
Dune 2 - shot - 1992
Rage of Mages - shot - 1998
adventure games, strategy games - information overlay. each of these games would look like a web page, if they had less colour and blander fonts and perhaps nicer pictures. games have panes like most sites have frames. except because of my nostalgic attachment to tangible urls, i frown mostly on frames use.

these panes in games serve to provide navigation within the game - for managing inventory, resources, personelle. it's a very basic answer to the question - how do you divide up a square?

a very recent example from a game not yet out - impressions "Pharaoh" uses a deeply egyptian motif that is even hard to understand unless you know the specific city building commands of the game well enough to interpret their heiroglyphics. they have made their frame artistic.

and if you look at my desktop while i work, you can see a similar approach to information management - windows in windows, stacked within reach of each other, different functions in different panes. The borders of my workspace teem with function and context.

bearing this in mind, i think you can see a sort of evolution in web design.

first abbe don, who is again trying to solve chronic knee problems and couldn't be here. we wish her well. her site, Bubbe's Back Porch is hypertextual while reflecting a foundation in print design. Pictures are pictures, and text is text. Links are underlined. The page is longer than the screen by two. There are columns of text. there is a web navigation - embedded hyperlinks and top and bottom navigation. The text with pictures is straightforward and easy to read and understand - it's familiar, like looking at a magazine. perhaps a sacrifice to the web, the aspect ratio is skewed vertical.

with derek powaczek and maggy donea, the fray and colours, respectively, we can see the interface beginning to leave the top and sides of the screen, and begin to take unpredictable, more interactive forms. it may still be like a magazine, but now it's wired magazine, or maybe nest magazine. the aspect ratio is beginning to tighten into something more resembling television - in both the fray and colours, there is very little page down scrolling, or if there is, it is embedded in a larger window frame context that doesn't move.

Still from their layered complexity, hidden interfaces and striving for cinematography - these sites play more like arty boxes that beg unpacking rather than friendly postcards. In some cases here the interface is the message.

If we examine the other extreme of design function - absolute market driven community building, we can see sites targeting young folks have their own shared interface chracteristics. >en and (alloy too), we can see an attention deficit interface. they aren't afraid to pop up windows at you. something animated and moving on most every screen.

when you watch a short show on >en, you don't just sit still for a few minutes, you can play an interactive game and read up on the history of the players. the bolt re-presents its audience members and readers at every turn so you can read their personal pre-selected story and compare it to your own for possible future connection.

(sites like, perhaps a portal for young folks who fancy themselves literate. gershom?)

finally i'd like to share with you folks elly and bjorn's sites. originally i wanted these two up here with me so we could argue these issues out in front of you - maybe next year. elly and bjorn, each of them has a site that you should see.

first off, elly is a 21 year old web designer in san francisco. she spends her workday online and does most of her workday socializing online as well. her site is a constant metamorphosis. the essential elements remain the same - elly has cams. she has a camera on her life at home, sometimes she has a camera on herself at work, and she likes to write.

broadcasting your warts and smiles directly online elecits a different kind of audience response - i've seen the kind of "fan mail" she gets seems more like a postcard than a letter - people send her images and write about themselves in the images. at this year's web 99 elly presented a slide show of people stories attatched to their photos, each blink of the projector was another individual's web burp - elly's old site randomly loaded links to these people, so that wherever you were in her words, you were only one click away from "a random fuckbag."

stapler dustbuster
a ?? year old secretary at MIT, bjorn has subsumed the interface into his web pages. no bigger than an index card, bjorn's pages are short and direct. they mention products, his girlfriend, and sharing viagra burgers with his dad. each story is a single screenful, no matter what your monitor size or resolution. you can read bjorn without scrolling, and when you've reached the end of one bit of bjorn, you click and you can immediately see the whole of the next part available. clicking for proceeding portions presents a different kind of invitation to the reader than scrolling. i think we will see more sites like wired news and salon, that already break their stories up into two and three page bits, breaking them up into even smaller chunks - both for advertising and interactivity. either that, or the text is only one sub window in a gyrating multimedia explosion inside your web browser.

each of bjorn and elly offers modular, quick in and out experiences. there's generally very little downward clicking, more deep clicking, and popping out.

These next generation storytellers are building stories that more closely mimic the forms of games. deeper clicking, windows in windows, layered interface, and often a sense of whimsy. in addition, the humourous touches in games make people reach out to them, and i think you'll see that same spirit and design sense permeating some of these sites we've seen today. for people who browse the web with a joystick, this might be the best way to share your stories.

general bibliography:
Peter Greenaway's film The Pillow Book for information layering, the brain as a funkdified alternative way to navigate otherwise static info, esheep is the bomb, nest magazine, mindex maybe useful for you.
games: shenmue: people, weather, jobs, the sims: family raising through environment rich features.


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