Collaboration Cubed

Since our outing at Storyology in December we’ve been tweaking the NewsCube and rolling out some new features, among them embedding and collaboration.

Users will see some new icons on their settings page, and the full-screen presentation mode allows a NewsCube to be shared on Facebook and Twitter, emailed to friends, or embedded on websites. It means people can read, play, and distribute a NewsCube without an account – much like YouTube videos.

Embedding, along with sharing, has long been on the list of core functions for the NewsCube because it is vital to building awareness, and hopefully adoption, of the technology.

Everett Rogers called this process diffusion, referring specifically to the communication of innovations and new ideas through a social system.

In our case, we hope our sharing and embedding tools will help diffuse the NewsCube, so it makes sense to spend time developing that capability.

But the case for collaboration is less obvious. The function we have rolled out allows a user to share the creation of a NewsCube with others. It means a group of cubers will have access to the editing functions on a single NewsCube. Cubes that are shared with you appear in your My Cubes gallery.

This type of collaboration means story cubes can be created by more than one person, but it falls short of the ‘breathing’ story idea of the original NewsCube concept.

Since it was conceived in 2011, one aspect of the NewsCube was a way to involve readers in the creation of stories. The idea has roots in hypertext theory, which suggests that stories can be constructed so that readers have a level of control over the narrative and can alter the plot, or switch perspective within them.

It was envisaged that a publisher or author would create a NewsCube in the first instance but that readers would be able to make contributions – add stories, commentary, or media – so creating an evolving, ‘breathing’ story.

Such contributions might shed light on an unreported aspect of a story, or show how an issue changes over time. Each face of the cube could be used to cluster related content, but these relationships would be fluid and could be changed by journalists or readers as the story evolved.

The aim is to tell stories in a way that captures their diversity, nuances and perspectives.

This type of interaction means authors relinquish some control over a story to the reader, and as I discovered from those who used an early prototype of the NewsCube, it makes people uncomfortable.

Some wanted to preserve the cube they had made and create a duplicate that could be collaborative, while others were concerned with how unwieldy a story might become if it was “designed by committee”.

At the same time most recognised that collaboration could lead to new insights and make stories better.

The question for us was how to design something that accommodated these views and was usable.

Several times it was put in the “too hard” basket. The need to develop a workflow around collaboration, ownership and control was a lesser priority than making sure users could get content onto the NewsCube and share it with others.

But we were asked often how to show a NewsCube to someone without making it public, and whether a team could work on one, so we looked again at collaboration.

In the end our solution has been to allow sharing between other NewsCubed users. This means more than one person can construct a NewsCube, though the owner has control over publishing and other settings.

It is not the living, breathing vision of interactive storytelling I imagined, but it provides a level of functionality that users desire. And design is all about the user.

This post was originally published by The Walkley Foundation

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