Update: Google played one of these during the Super Bowl. Nice!
Like Joanne, I noticed the big Google banners on NYTimes.com and, er, totally clicked one. (Isn’t that funny? The one product in the universe that I absolutely don’t need to learn more about is the one that got my click-through.)
The ads lead you to Google’s new Search Stories videos, which are really shockingly clever and watchable. Major props to the team that conceived and executed them. (Check one out, even for just a couple of seconds, so you’ll understand the rest of this.)
These videos are the newest examples of a distinct and important genre, and I think we can take it even further. But first, a quick tour.
Start with something super-minimal like Humble Pied, which totally celebrates its video-chat origins. The nod to the iChat interface is what makes it work for me; compare/contrast to something like Bloggingheads, which is much more, you know, faces-in-abstract-rectangles.
Next. Did you ever see The Monitor circa 2008? I don’t think they produce it anymore. I won’t bend over backwards trying to explain it; you should just click over and take a peek. Basically they use the Mac OS X desktop as a stage, pulling familiar objects on and off—web pages, sticky notes, video clips in little brushed-steel Quicktime frames. The fact that the view is so familiar makes it all instantly understandable. The fact that the view is so familiar also makes it pretty spectacular—you realize just what a trick it is to coordinate that kind of screen choreography.
Michael Wesch’s sublime The Machine is Us/ing Us isn’t quite in this genre, but it uses a lot of the same techniques to great effect.
It all begins, of course, with the screencast. You might have seen this screencast of a producer assembling a Prodigy song in Ableton Live; here’s another one that’s a little more straightforward. It’s kinda amazing how watchable they are. Turns out a rich interface being used in real-time is pretty interesting to watch. (And the music doesn’t hurt.)
This genre makes absolutely no sense on TV. I love things that make absolutely no sense on TV.
So I actually think Google has vaulted to the front of the field with these videos. For one thing, their use of sound is subtle and brilliant; it lights up your brain. They also just really deliver on the fundamentals: they are 100% faithful to the interface (no exceptions!) but they present it in a super-dynamic way. And finally, they’ve invented a brand-new narrative technique: autocomplete suspense. (Seriously: it’s their secret weapon. G-E-N-I-U-S.)
But where does it go from here? Is this really just a micro-genre best suited to ads for internet companies? Or does the fact that we spend so much time on this stage ourselves mean that it really can be the venue for more (and more kinds of) storytelling?
Mash this up with fantasy UI. Is there a great science fiction story waiting to be told with UI not at the periphery—not on Tom Cruise’s touchscreen—but at the core?