Week 7: Joel Arellano

Public Secrets is more effective than similarly self-guided sites like Highrise because it  leverages the viewer’s imagination. Apart from being an effective way to establish themes of schism, rupture, and worlds apart, the producer’s invocation of Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” offers a lesson in leveraging accessory content and engaging users’ creativity without succumbing to the pitfalls typical of over-inclusive projects like Highrise. Here’s what I mean: By describing Holbein’s work without linking to it, the project encourages higher-NC viewers to do their own quick research and investigate the subject on their own terms and their own time, taking a self-directed break from Public Secrets that doesn’t count toward their assessment of the project itself. If the site had instead tried to include the artwork – say, by including an optional sidebar on the piece – it would have presented limited content, likely without diminishing users’ inclination to seek external context, as well as distracted lower-NC users and confused the purpose of engagement.

The lesson here is to take advantage of the resources already available to users, and to acknowledge that online projects are always competing with the rest of the internet in terms of value and attention. Relinquishing some depth of context can actually be more effective than developing an over-rich environment. In this case, simple allusion as a passive means to allow self-directed, scalable user engagement is more efficient than prompting users with an overt choice of whether to engage controlled content, which could increase perceived noise.

Both Highrise and Public Secrets develop the problem of identity within a labyrinth, but only Public Secrets really succeeds in cultivating this impression. By framing the navigable experience with an introduction that leads the viewer into the ziggurat, Public Secrets provides the time and space for the viewer’s to get acquainted with the experience they’re about to engage. The narrative introduces the navigation panes and structural cues (black/white, in/out), develops a predominant tone, and, most importantly, conjures an image in the viewer’s mind that will guide the rest of their impressions.

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should employ too many predefined avenues and multimedia content in transmedia projects. Books are more engaging than any digital project precisely because they focus on narrative and imagination over the controlled visual impressions, and I think this comparison ought to be recalled more often in the design of transmedia projects.

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