Though the SXSW session on interactive documentaries was meant for film-makers, video and multimedia producers, it got me thinking about how interactivity can be added to things we now lump under headings like "technical writing" and "documentation." If these things are about education and instruction, then they'll certainly work better when users are more engaged. So here's my key takeaways:

  • Linear narration's not going away. By adding interactive components (think comment threads, for example), you can make your narration deeper and more dynamic. Users post their own thoughts and advice, and the piece ends up having a longer shelf life, as people keep adding information to it.
  • To make interactive components effective, the producer has to plan for them from the beginning. When designing your project, be ready to build them in as part of your first pass. Don't think of them as something you can add later, with material that's left over.
  • User profiling is even more critical than it is when you're developing a standard written narrative or video. Not only do you need to know who's going to use your piece, you to understand how they're going to use it. As one person said, "You have to be very specific about who you're targeting and how they live digitally."

A side note: Someone in the audience said they're producing interactive documentaries for mobile platforms. Moderator Suzanne Stefanic, who until recently worked for the American Film Institute's interactive project, said Sundance will soon present a documentary shot with a cell phone's video camera. I am thoroughly dazzled by that.

-- Mark Feffer