SXSW 2013: Interactive capabilities and cross-platforms

Every year after SXSW is over, all journalists, experts, and investors wonder what the new trend is. What exactly among all those things seen and heard is that Next Big Thing?

During the four incredibly eventful days people have been thinking about what to tell about to those who would ask them questions about the conference when they would come back to their cities. Is it possible to deliver all those ideas and conceptions heard about during the variety of the performances, demonstrations, and publications?

And the answer is “yes”. There actually was the key trend on the South by and it can be explored be means of the two slide presentations of a mobile web strategist and front-end designer, Brad Frost.

Brad Frost has demonstrated the variety of devices we need to optimize the sites for to avoid any problems in their usage and about responsive web design. He told a lot about practices and techniques that allow to correctly display the content on all devices without spending a lot of time for testing on each platform and each resolution. And then Brad has shown the following:

Indeed, at SXSW you could meet a lot of people wearing strange glasses, at the sight of which half of people began to stare at them and whisper, and others hid their faces and turned away.

But Brad was talking not about the way our lives could change due to the fact that everything is fixed not only by means of dashboard cameras, but also by means of people wearing those strange glasses. He wondered how the responsive design may be of use to customize the content for the Google Glass? And what about customizing the content for the projection on a car windshield?

You may want to check Brad’s presentation on SlideShare:


The main idea is that we need to accept the never-ending cross-platformity and cross-functionality of websites, services, and the content itself.

One may say that we are offered to apply the Nassim Taleb “black swan” theory to everything we consider as “digital”: to accept as a given the fact that in every moment of our life there may happen something we are not ready to face up or prepare for beforehand. Something that changes the rules of the game.

Think of Apple iClock release, for example. Will your site or application suit it?

Answering an interviewer’s questions David Karp, the founder and CEO of the Tumblr (short-form blogging platform) said:

We created not social but content network, that is why we succeeded, despite of such competitor as Facebook.

In other words, if you create good content (or provide people with possibility to create the content and transmit it, just as Tumblr does), maintain flexibility and multi-format – you are able to easily adapt it to any structure. But if you hold on to the form it may figure out to be unsustainable when technologies or users’ behavior change (think of LiveJournal).

The founders of a popular MDK public told that due to risks related to existing on somebody’s platform ( can ban them in any moment or, for example, forbid their advertising) they decided to develop mobile application and there were thousands of installations right after its release.

The point is that if you created a brand, style, and content – it is not quite wise to transmit it in one way only. Even if you do not believe in changes and think your users got used to particular design you should understand that any up-to-date platform is controlled by somebody. Do you have an iOS application? Apple may decide they do not like you at any point. Do you have a site? You may be included into the Roskomnadzor register, etc.

The same was illustrated at SXSW by Jason Brush, executive vice president of Creative and UX at POSSIBLE and a film director by education. He expressed his opinion about the way that movies and traditional video formats should step over the bounds of a screen to succeed.

Of course, we are not talking about making the whole cinematograph interactive and creating the plot by means of audience voting from their mobile phones. The aim is to complete users’ experience outside the cinema or YouTube player, to tell a story in a more “comprehensive way.”

Means of expression

There was a great example in this presentation about resent article in New York Times about group of skiers that got into a snow avalanche. Formerly this text could only be used to make a documental film with landscapes, interviews with those who got into the snow avalanche, experts’ opinion, shots of avalanches from the mountains, and that’s it.

But journalists have deconstructed the format and assembled it in a quite different and unusual way.

The material is based on the text, as text is the basis of any network content nowadays. It may be seen on any device, as well as easily created and changed.

However, the long text of the skiers’ adventures may probably attract only the fans of this kind of sport, and even not all of them. There are other tools to explain the plot and to attract attention, to make read the entire story:  interactive map, videos with interviews, pictures, and all this performed by means of smooth and easily controlled layout that allows studying the story with the convenient for users speed, to learn the most interesting moments attentively, and to omit the boring ones but still get the point.

In addition to this you are still entertained, given a possibility to take a breath, to look deep into the story. You are not able to receive all this even with the best magazine.

Certainly, NYT demonstrated the high level of journalism (as well as haute couture, high journalism is not something that is used in everyday life, but it sets the trends). To invest money and time in every story to create the same design for all the content is not an easy task and also quite costly.

The New York Times case (besides the other cases discussed) reflects one more important aspect: cross-functionality doesn’t necessarily mean non-linearity.

Your communication line may still be a classic plot incrementally developing as we move forward, it is not necessarily to attack the user on all sides. Just think of users and let them accept the material in such a way, so they could be able to obtain the fullness of the information in all formats and would be able to control the flow of this information.

The following website may serve as a model. The information content that offers to a user to learn about one grizzly bear from Canadian forests would be enough to write a book. But with the help of interactive map, infographics, sound, pictures, video, and text users are able to learn everything authors wanted to let them know in twenty minutes.   

Those examples stay far away from the cross-platformity. The ideal example would be a story that offers some text and a short video on a mobile phone, interactive map on ipad, a story on ibook, and all this in one on a desktop browser. You need to decide yourself what is the place of Google Glass in communication like this. But you should admit this is certainly the easier and more organic approach than just to adapt the existent content for it.

Some experts would say the main conclusion of SXSW is discussions about development of space technologies that representatives from NASA told about. It is possible to talk about different applications like Vine that were discussed at the conference, about certain technologies and services. But all they are just small pieces of a great digital universe. It is impossible to think of them with detachment. All that we do should cover the full service of new possibilities; consider variety of formats, platforms and methods. Technologies have already come to this. Will people keep pace with them? Let’s wait and see!

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