Teaching Examples

Competing with interactivity
July 25, 2006, 12:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After I talked for an hour yesterday with one of our grad students about interactivity, this post from Lost Remote really struck home:

Why would any 18-year-old guy want to watch TV when he can virtually live the role of a main actor in a growing number of stories, now in even more stunning realism? As I’ve predicted before, gaming’s popularity is just getting started, especially as adults are drawn into new virtual worlds that may not be games per se, but explorations.

Of course we can’t make ALL journalism “interactive,” and the TV people will never transform all programming into “choose your own adventure” — but it’s got to be worthwhile to consider how many young people have grown up with two thumbs on the controller.

The nub of this is not direct competition — you can never hope to make an interactive journalism package as rich or as deep as “Call of Duty 2.” But you need to understand the level of control and selection that this audience has grown up with. If someone chooses to look at Digg or Google News instead of a newspaper home page, that’s not exactly because Digg or Google News is more like a video game — but it is related.

The newspaper home page has many more extraneous elements. Ads, for one. In a game, everything on the screen is related to gameplay. You can configure the controls to suit your own style, your own tastes. Even though the configuration options look like advanced physics to somebody like me, to a 10-year-old, they are like a native language.

Today when I logged in to my Google Desktop, where all my traditional news feeds greet me every morning, I was asked if I would like to configure Google Desktop for my Internet phone. If you read this blog yesterday, you know that I, in fact, have a brand-new Internet phone, so how cool is that?

Wait, I’m not just bragging on my phone again — the point is the way Google thinks. It’s like the options in a video game. You want to switch all the controls to left-handed play? Okay! You want to remove certain elements? Put them in a different location on the screen? Okay! Google allowed me to reconfigure my Desktop to make it more usable on my phone and still retain exactly the same configuration I already use on my computer.

So while a lot of people hear the word “interactivity” and start talking about permitting users to contribute stories and photos to a news Web site, I say there’s a much, much broader concept of interactivity that needs to get into the journalism lexicon.

In the new issue of the scholarly journal New Media & Society, Russell Richards urges us to revise some earlier communication models for studying interactivity and adopt, instead, an approach that takes into account “the motivations of the user with regard to content.” It’s not just that we need to provide options — the options have to enhance people’s experience and make it easier for them to do what they want to do.

What they want to do when they’re looking for the news of the day (or trying to understand what is going on now in Lebanon) is not the same as what they want to do while playing an action-packed video game — but the two experiences certainly do influence each other.

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