Research questions and compared methodology to establish a taxonomic study of the interactive documentary

In All posts, Research Articles by Arnau Gifreu

To establish a taxonomic proposal, I propose in this section some possible questions to develop this framework and a methodological approach based on the study of the two components that have enabled the interactive documentary, the documentary genre and the interactive media. The main questions arising from this work and which may provide the basis for the subsequent taxonomic proposal are:

  1. How can the concept of an interactive documentary be defined?
  2. What attributes and / or characteristics must the genre have to be considered as such
  3. Will a new type called the author-user documentary, the web documentary or the interactive documentary appear?
  4. Is there any continuity between linear and interactive documentaries? If not, how can the differences between the two media be reconciled?
  5. How can the interactive digital and online media create new logics for the representation of reality?
  6. What is the basic difference between the traditional documentary modes of representation and the new types of navigation and interaction? Which are more important in the genre studied?
  7. What new strategies are needed so that documentary and informative non-fiction products are as appealing as fiction products? What are the contributions / innovations that interactive communication offers the interactive non-fiction documentary?
  8. Will there ever be a mode in which the user (interactor-contributor-participant) is able to generate content, i.e. to assume the role of broadcaster and be able to enhance the document with their own personal perspective and content about the subject covered? What does this mean for authorship?
  9. Ten years after the birth of the documentary in its interactive format and the transition from offline to online, what contribution has the new web made to the development of this format?
  10. What type of dialogue is established between the interface and / or the system and the user? How is it different from the traditional audiovisual genre?


The main methodology is based on the comparative study of the evolution of the two audiovisual areas studied -the conventional documentary and the interactive digital medium – in order to identify and examine the major theoretical and applied areas of convergence between the two areas. A reading and analysis of theoretical works in the two areas described are the methodological basis for the core initial research.

As regards the documentary genre, the analysis focuses on the works of three of the most well-known authors: Erik Barnouw (Barnouw 1996), Richard M. Barsam (Barsam 1992) and Bill Nichols (Nichols 1991, 1994 and 2001). We have also consulted important aspects of other authors including Michael Renov (Renov 1993 and 2004), Paul Rotha (Rotha 1952 and 1970), Michael Rabiger (Rabiger 1989), Elisenda Ardèvol (Ardèvol 1994, 1996 and 1998), Jan Breschand (Breschand 2002), Josetxo Cerdán and Casimiro Torreiro (Cerdán & Torreiro 2005), Alan Rosenthal (Rosenthal 1988 and 2005), and Magdalena Sellés (Sellés 2008). The main focus is on Barnouw, Nichols and Renov, as these authors provide classifications for the different modes or types that can be useful when considering some comparisons with the various navigation and interaction modes.
In addition, their classifications are among the most broadly accepted in an area that is as difficult to define as documentary categorization. As we studied and analyzed the history of the documentary, most of the representative works in this extensive field were obtained from various libraries and the Internet. As a result, as well as viewing many pieces, we also developed the historical part as well as audiovisual monitoring and analysis. We thereby created an audiovisual database on authors, theories, works and major films in the documentary genre.

As regards the digital media, the analysis is based on the theoretical concepts of interactive narrative and multimedia culture of authors including Lev Manovich (Manovich 2002), Janet Murray (Murray 1999), George P. Landow (Landow 1995, 1997 and 2005), Raymond Kurzweil (Kurzweil 1987, 1998 and 2005), Marshall McLuhan (McLuhan, 1985 and 1987) and Ted Nelson (1970, 1981 and 1997). We paid particular attention to the innovative authors in our immediate area: they include Xavier Berenguer (Berenguer 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004), Ignasi Ribas (Ribas 1998, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2009 and 2010), Lluís Codina (Codina 2009, Codina & Rovira 2006), a recognized expert in online documentation, Carlos A. Scolari (Scolari 2004a and 2004b, 2005, 2008a, 2008b, 2008c and 2009) and Hugo Pardo (Pardo 2005, Cobo & Pardo 2007), specializing in mobile communications and interactive narrative, among others.

In addition, we used an intensive search of the Internet to compile valuable resources taken from universities around the world and from different networks (using metasearch engines). As well as several websites and blogs they were of great help in locating and selecting the existing works on the genre today.


It should be noted that this proposal is being reviewed in order to be presented as part of the theoretical framework on interactive documentary study, which may be subject to changes in the future (PhD defense:“The interactive documentary as a new audiovisual genre. Approach to proposed definition, taxonomy and analysis model for the evaluation, design and production”, UPF 2007-2012).

You can expand the information on the characterization of the interactive documentary reading some of my articles: “The Interactive  Documentary. Definition Proposal and Basic Features of the  Emerging Genreand “The Interactive Documentary. Definition Proposal and Characterization of the New Emerging Genre” (2011).

Also available on these links some of my presentations and communications at events and conferences, as performed for the I-Docs Symposium (Bristol, 2011) and the McLuhan Galaxy Conference (Barcelona, ​​2011).

Arnau Gifreu Castells

Researcher, Professor and Producer
Universitat Ramón Llull / Universitat de Vic


Other interesting posts

For more information on the conceptual and methodological framework in relation to the interactive documentary, you can read my previous posts published on

–    Where we come from. Introduction and initial ingredients to build a correct taxonomic proposal


Recommended citation:

Gifreu, Arnau (2010), El documental multimèdia interactiu. Per un proposta de model d’anàlisi. [Treball de recerca]. Departament de Comunicació. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, pp 12-16.

Gifreu, Arnau (2010). The interactive multimedia documentary. A proposed model of analysis. [Research Pre PhD]. Department of Communication. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, pp 12-16.