Webdoc.com as a tool for idocs

Webdoc.com is a new website for storytelling you should be using.  From our prospective as i-doc makers, it offers an interesting paradigm: separable page format that whilst remaining in the control of the maker, offers a unified (though linear) discussion space that can be remixed (and made nonlinear).  It’s also an interesting case study as an interface that encourages expression using media rather than text.

An expanded version — the version abandoned in testing by the creators — would be more advantageous for creating idocs. Nevertheless the version now available for use is unique.

Usually webdoc means web-based documentary. Here, webdoc.com refers to the web as a document. For those unfamiliar with the site, it provides “rich expression” by allowing the user (even encouraging) to mashup images with video with sound into a unified space. Others can then respond underneath. Each ‘document’ created can then be re-embedded in Facebook, on your blog or website— taking the fuss out of adding user permissions.

I had an interview with two of the founders recently, what follows is a summary of our discussion. Stelio Tzonis and Olivier de Simone talked about their inspirations in the documentary field and social media. They also shared useful insights for platform design. They expressed an interest in working with idoc makers in future, using webdoc.

Stelio Tzonis describes webdoc like this:

“The web is divided into two worlds, the world that is more editorial where you do a blog, you do a website. This is a world where you spend time and you don’t really do spontaneously. And there is the spontaneous expression world with Twitter and Facebook that is really for the way you can express yourself.

…it’s really a process of grabbing, recording, and it’s not something that you build like a story, it’s really something that you try to connect.”

He continues:

“It’s like knowledge, like when you take notes. It’s like the document you create and then from those notes you will create new notes and the source of those notes were also coming from other place [sic] so we believe webdoc is the web.”

Some interesting uses have followed:

  • In the Japanese earthquake and following Tsnami of 2011, people used webdoc to collect photos, video, and even data visualisations.
  • After the subway bombing in Minsk people used the site to collect photos of the incident.
  • The singer Jamiroquai used the site to upload what is in effect a virtual flyer with a sound clip to advertise his arrival in Brazil.

If someone wanted to take and embed just a few posts from the Japanese earthquake of 2011, perhaps discuss the relationship between data visualisations, they could just embed those little posts because each is like an index card or a smaller document from the whole.

Making the document separable is a key point, say de Simone, “you need to go where people are, not get them coming to you… And that’s what we mean by remixing of the communities— to get access. If you’re like with something full screen then it’s really hard to actually get the hand of the guy you want to speak with.”

Which brings on another key point in the design of webdocs: a single, small space for rich expression. Interestingly, Tzonis and de Simone found that the larger space, the more features the design had, the less people were will to express themselves.

Tzonis explains,

“What we saw, the first thing is the more you reduce the space of expression, the more people will express themselves. That was really interesting. … It was for us a big process to reduce, but we have done just to see the— to detect this tipping point where we move from this creation to an era of spontaneous expression, rich expression.”

De Simone adds that the key is to suggest possible ways to contribute because then the ‘blank-canvas’ fear goes away:

“you have a blank page and you have this fear of creating. It’s exactly that. The more you suggest them… that it doesn’t take you too much of time, the more they gonna use it.”

Further considering the size of the space, smaller leads to tighter definition for participation: if it’s well defined, people know the exact parameters which is key for contributions. People are left in no doubt of the point and the method by which they can add to the story.

Both stress that they didn’t create a social tool, they created a tool to help people express themselves more on social tools. Take for example video responses on youtube or anywhere else — or photo responses — they are seldom available on the same screen unless someone has collected them or you have a blog/site that’s multiple – editor. Here, anyone can contribute. They can use their Twitter, Facebook, or Google + id, or they can just sign in and create an ID with webdoc.

Webdoc firmly believes in universally connecting and remixing communities. They see these groupings on google+ and now on Facebook as a bit un-natural as often, says Tzonis, our familiar groups bleed into each other:

“We have the impression that we are in the stone-age of social networks… because they are a walled-garden…we believe that the social network in the future must be really open and allows you to be friends with whatever services.”

Just as they think that social media memberships should be universal, they see few limitations on webdoc as a tool, including for idocs.

Tzonis says, “We have friends who work in documentaries. When they saw webdoc they said it’s a way perhaps to capture and collect things, and associate those things and share with several people and try to do some kind of collection of element together. … It could be a way to add some kind of rich social interaction around those webdoc documentaries that would be developed on the web.”

They see webdoc as supporting webdocs and idocs because they are keenly aware that non-linearity and remixability are both key concepts in webdocs and idocs. They say they would “be pleased, in fact” to investigate using webdoc for idocs.

Stelio Tzonis is @stzonis and Oliver de Simone is @olidess