Interlude.fm – The Viewsership Experience
[Scroll down for Eric Hahn’s blog post]
Focus: Is Data collection a good method to improve the viewsership experience?
The interlude webpage promotes the viewer interactive experience on a very singular way: “Interlude is more than interactive. With interlude, video can feel your emotions and respond to your interests in real time.” By personifying the medium as almost a human that is able to interact with the spectator’s needs, the platform highlights the power of the video over the interactive viewer/creator experience. It goes beyond what Peter Weibl extrapolates upon Marcel Duchamp’s artistic manifesto that “the receiver is an integral component in the creative act – the viewer switches to become an artist, the consumer becomes an artist”. (Weibl, 1)
Indeed, Interlude re-establishes the role of the creators and their pieces as the primary guides of the experience, assuming that the interactive process has been well thought enough to satisfy the viewer needs and, more surprisingly here, his/her emotions. The statement relates to the way Marsha Kinder refines the interactivity concept as a “normative term” because the interactive process of the viewer would never erase the “rules established by the designer of the text”. (Kinder,6) Thus, more than fetishizing about the viewer as a creator of the experience, Interlude asserts itself as a “service provider” that entertains its users and drives them in their pleasures of interacting with the media. By reaffirming the importance of the platform, the viewer would be more effectively defined as a viewser (viewer/user of the platform), the interface becoming the “pre-established” routes where the spectator can “hitchhike” (on a hypertext mode) as metaphorically explains Sandra Gauzendi. (Gauzendi, 20). Drawing upon Lev Manovich’s theory of visual technologies as an externalization of the mind, Interlude becomes also the archive (prosthetic memory) in which the viewser knows that he can explore his/her potential vital need for feeling, existing or new emotions, through the interactive experience of new narratives.
In this way, with the diversification of the available interactive mediums on their platform (music videos, i-docs, home movies, advertisements, animation and fictions) along with a large range of professional creators (from amateur video-makers to Hollywood filmmakers), Interlude provides a variety of mediums that can almost meet any curiosity and emotion.
An issue must be raised: because the length of the hosted project cannot last more than several minutes, Interlude would need to be extremely efficient to reach its goal . For instance, when cinephiles are used to the convention of having an exposition scene before getting into the narrative, Interlude ought to be quickly more straight forward to entertain and produce the need for interaction as the story unfolds almost instantaneously. What would be then the secret?
In our interview with Alon Benari, Interlude’s chief creative officer, we addressed a question about one of our hypothesis that, to reach their mission, the platform would collect data of the interactive process to improve the viewser experience. There is a common stigma that data collection is a negative practice that reinforces the power of the new technologies as promoters of the surveillance; that serves the interests of major capitalistic companies but also Governments, as Snowden confirmed with his revelations. Nevertheless can we still raise this ethical question if the data collected on a platform are automatically reinjected into that same platform to deliver (not only but mainly) a better participatory practice?
Alon Benari says “We live at an age where everything is data-driven (…) within video, outside the Interlude platform, you are pretty limited, you can say how much drop off phase or how much people turn off the volume but not much more than that. The Interlude platform allows for a bigger leap in the amount of data. You can say where did they prefer, where did they engage, which directions they chose, how quickly they engaged (…) and of course for advertisers, it is important but the interesting thing is how we use it for the content creators”. As he explains, Interlude platform has also become a laboratory that contains much more possible data than any other interface thanks to the nature of the possible interactions online. Studying them leads the evaluators to provide guidance to the creators on the way to shape content and produce a better entertainment. However, it seems important to question whether a quicker click or a more successful option in the choice of a situation or a character in the narrative are really crucial criteria to help designing better the content. If these interactive choices reflect more on the viewser personal instincts or initial tastes, does the level of engagement only reflects on the quality of the viewsership experience? To go further, would it be a better way to connect the platform more organically to the viewer and control the heart beats or brain vibrations to reflect on the influence of the medium on the emotions?
In addition, the chief creative officer touches upon the tension of being too attached to the data evaluation in the appreciation of the “viability” of an interactive project. He says “a number of people would say there is a lower engagement here, it means the joke is not funny, change it (…) but this is the crystallization of the dilemma that any creator has; on the one hand, you want an audience and you want people to watch your video, on the other hand, you do not want to make the content funnier only for that (..) you need to be true to what the content is and if some people don’t like it, that’s fine”. Alon Benari reminds that even in the inception of an interactive media, a creator should not be enslaved to the only criteria of the engagement of the viewer as Kate Nash further explains in her typology of the experiential dimension creator-viewer and the possible dictatorship of the clicking narrative (Nash, 59). Even if a data reveals a deficit of attention in a specific moment of the process, the creator should remain faithful to the artistic statement he/she wants to put behind the piece.
Thus, besides the data collection, Interlude keeps on developing workshops between the interface artistic developers and the creators to build a community that reflects on how to deliver a better experience to the viewser without relying only on the information collected. This is what Kate Nash also recommends as “the significance of an audience research from a ground to understand interactive interaction” (Nash, 59). Interlude also wants to keep a great standard in the projects they host and often co-produce, by trying to attract more avant-garde art pieces to diversify their contents.
To conclude, even if Interlude pushes the reflection on how to optimize the interactive process with the content at the heart of their work, it seems that no specific criteria would completely be able to secure the success of an interactive medium. What matters is above all facilitating though a great interface, a bridge between the creator project and the audience. Success or not, the future will tell but the increasing number of submissions and consumers has already been a great indicator of the constant interest for this new type of viewsership.
Gauzendi, Sandra “Setting the Field: Defining Linear and Interactive Documentary.” InteractiveDocumentary.net. Web. 20 Mar. 2016
Kinder, Marsha “Designing a Database Cinema”
Manovich Lev “Visual technologies as Cognitive Prostheses: A short History of the externalization of the mind”
Nash Kate, “Clicking on the world, Documentary representation and Interactivity”
Weibel, Peter “User art_Nutzerkunst”
Interactive interview of Alon Benari available on Interlude platforms : https://interlude.fm/v/zD8G6z
Interlude: A User Guide to Interactivity
Having had the opportunity to experiment with the Interlude platform, I will be approaching this from the position of the user, which, in this case, I am defining jointly as creator and viewer. It might seem problematic to investigate the Interlude program from this dual perspective but, as I hope to make clear, it is a necessary or at the very least a more effective approach. By analyzing the platform through this dual lens, I hope to illustrate the limitations and possibilities of interactivity both in terms of strict platform functionality (clicking, etc.) but additionally regarding levels of narrative construction both pre and post project completion. In essence, an effective analysis of the potential of the Interlude platform cannot be reduced to a creator or viewer approach but must take both into account along with how each is invited to interact with the software itself.
At it’s most basic, Interlude offers users the ability to create and navigate stories, moments, events, in a fairly limited “choose your own adventure” capacity (see Alon Bernari interview). This “conversational” mode of interactivity (Gaudenzi) certainly allows for some sense of agency but in many cases the limits of interactivity become immediately apparent. Simply navigating the “story” twice, in many instances, points to the limitations of the database. That said, from a platform specific perspective even this simple and limited interactivity is significant particularly due to its seamlessness. One need only look at a video as unassuming as “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to see the platform’s importance. Where sites like YouTube have allowed for some sense of “hitchhiking” and/or “conversational” interactivity, Interlude has fundamentally altered the viewing experience by offering viewer choices to play back with no visible or audible incongruities as is clear in “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Although the user is prompted to “make a selection,” the narrative itself smoothly incorporates the chosen narrative path into current playback thus limiting aspects of user distanciation so prevalent in other forms of this interactive mode.
This limited approach of course points to the larger possibilities of the Interlude platform, many of which are being explored. In an article regarding the principal differences between linear and interactive documentary, Gaudenzi suggests:
If linear documentary demands a cognitive participation from its viewers (often seen as interpretation) the interactive documentary adds the demand of some physical participation (decisions that translate in a physical act such as clicking, moving, speaking, tapping, etc.)…. And if linear documentary depends of [sic] the decisions of its filmmaker (both while filming and editing), interactive documentary does not necessarily have a clear demarcation between those two roles (8).
The problematic and mutable relationship between the role of author and spectator, creator and viewer is central to myriad discussions surrounding new media, but the tenuous line between the two can indeed be sharpened or blurred depending on modes of interaction. What is perhaps most striking regarding how this relationship is negotiated within Interlude is the allowable degrees of variation. One could dismiss the “choose your own adventure” approach as simplistic but the complexity of such an approach is made almost limitless by the Interlude platform. Specifically, the creator of the content is offered unlimited flexibility in layering of content effectively turning individual projects into searchable databases with limitless configurations. Admittedly, a truly collaborative approach is missing if one is to conceive of traditional digital databases as content hubs for unlimited contributors, but that limitation should not in and of itself limit the importance of the viewer in this relationship. Effectively, the viewer can indeed have seemingly unlimited flexibility in piecing together disparate elements of the database but such a project necessitates a massive investment by the creator. Furthermore, as is illustrated by a recent Coca-Cola advertisement created through Interlude, the interface itself is not limited to simply “choose your own adventure” approaches but additionally and more complexly allows for “choose your own perspective” allowing a viewer to enter the subjectivity of different characters seamlessly at any moment thus dramatically altering how the story is experienced and/or unfolds.
While the ability for the viewer to drastically alter potential outcomes or configurations begins the merging of creator and viewer, it still leaves us with the seemingly unbridgeable gap between what content is included in these individual projects (databases). Without digressing to the more problematic aspects of data collection, it is precisely the ability for the content creator to monitor “clicks” and “paths taken” that begins to further distort the clear demarcation between content creator and viewer. Taking into account how viewers interact with material necessitates an alternative approach toward content creation. Rather than simply produce a linear video, new and pressing questions arise while others disappear. No longer concerned with crafting a specific story or document through a fixed perspective frees up the viewer to create their own (within the limitations of the database) while forcing the content creator to tailor the interface, database, and interactivity to that of a participating audience. Typical linear approaches to narrative certainly can incorporate the audience in the construction of the film to some extent (will they enjoy this film, etc.) but with the interactive component of central importance, the audience takes on a much more central role.
Overall, Interlude seems positioned to fundamentally push the boundaries not only in content creation but also in further fusing the role of content creator and viewer. The platform itself is surprisingly flexible and rather than restricting the interactive approach to a limited “conversational” or “hitchhiking” mode, alternative modes of interaction are both possible and surely already existent in Interlude content.
Gaudenzi, Sandra. “Setting the Field: Defining Linear and Interactive Documentary.” InteractiveDocumentary.net. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.