Førsteamanuensis ved Institutt for kunstfag, Høgskulen på Vestlandet – Bergen.

Underviser i og forsker på nye, digitale medier.

Jeg er interessert i forholdet mellom medier og fysiske materialer: i 2021 kom boken Digitale medier og materialitet med en grundig diskusjon av denne tematikken.

For tiden jobber jeg blant annet med lydprosjektene "Auditomosjon" og "Aquafoni", sfæriske medier, ulike former for roboter, mm.

Min Dr.-avhandling om personlig publisering.

Siterte artikler og publikasjoner i Cristin.

5. oktober 2012

Book about Web documentaries - work in progress

I am working on a manuscript for a new book. The working title is Web documentary and below you will find my first draft of the introduction and an outline of 18 chapters. There will be changes, but I do believe this tells where I am heading.



  1. Web documentaries - an emerging genre
  2. Technologies of documentary
  3. Understanding Hypertext
  4. Acting, reacting and interacting
  5. Documentaries as a social construct
  1. Storytelling on the Web
  2. Telling with text
  3. Telling with images
  4. Telling with audio
  5. Telling with video
  6. Interfaces as content
  7. Activities as content
  8. Archives as content
  9. Places as content


  1. Multi platform documentaries
  2. Collaborative documentaries
  3. Documentaries and journalism
  4. New business models

A place to begin is with a view on documentary as a genre with a special relationship to social reality. Documentary makers try to have some influence on parts of reality by observing, comment upon and being in dialogue with this reality through documentaries. Thus documentaries are used to present arguments about a shared world, arguments that are made and transformed as part of social praxis (Nichols 1991).

Web documentaries are part of a genre still in the making. The new possibilities encourage academics to look at documentaries in new ways, and practitioners of the field approach this new landscape of opportunities. Without falling into a position of technological determinism it is fair to argue that some of this development i driven by a combination of technical possibilities, all related to digitization. My main focus will be web-related technologies, where the new features brought into HTML5 is particularly promising. 

Among other features HTML5 incorporates video and audio, which now become fully  integrated with web technology, leaving the past where these media were add-ons that required separate players. HTML5 is designed with mobile devices in mind, including both cellphones and reading devices. This makes it much easier to make connections between video and audio and other information sources on the Web. A webpage can be viewed on a small screen, showing all different media and make connections to the environment through the device’s different sensors (GPS, camera, microphone, compass etc) and present live, up to the moment, information drawn from various sources and connected to a documentary environment.

Being part of social praxis implies that our understanding of documentary change with society. In the early days of documentary its purpose was largely seen as representing reality, where the documentary maker told about people, places and events that the audience found engaging, and often exotic. During the 20th century this understanding has changed towards looking at documentaries as a negotiation of how we perceive and understand reality. In the 21st century this development has continued, fist when documentaries enters the World Wide Web, and then followed by the “mobile web”. Today one can argue that the negotiation implies a much more direct participation by the users, who actively contribute to the construction of the reality that is being portrayed.

With a closer integration with technologies, which are literally part of our daily life, web documentaries holds the potential of being a more integrated part of culture than before. I argue that they will become more dependent on consultation and positioning, and  less dependent on editorial and evanescence. The same argument can, of course, be used when promoting competing genres, like fiction films, books, newspapers and games, as long as they are distributed on the Web. There is, however, reason to believe that documentaries might prove to be more competitive in some areas. Culture is produced in different ways, with different demands when it comes to the  economical resources needed. Relatively speaking, documentaries have always been found in the lower end when it comes to the overall cost of production and distribution. When these costs become lower due to digitization, parts of documentary making becomes within the range of new business models, which will not be available for those who are dependent more costly production models.

The networked information economy seems to be more in favor of those able to adapt to a more participatory and transparent production system. In her recent Phd-thesis Sandra Gaudenzi#. argues that transparency and participation will make us all more sophisticated readers, viewers, and listeners, and finally more engaged and skilled makers. We have seen this kind of cultural production with previous media, perhaps most significantly with the mass introduction of rotary printing presses in the 19th century. In this period there was a close interplay between writers, critique and a reading public, which transformed both culture and the political system.

The Web introduces significant changes to how documentaries are distributed and how documentary makers are able to meet and communicate with their audience. The Web did, however not come to this party unaccompanied. During the same period we have seen dramatic changes in the technologies of still photography, video and film and sound recording. All a result of digitizing.

The resulting genres often break free from the traditional understanding of documentary, and we are now witnessing a new, emerging medium: documentaries distributed, and sometimes collectively created, on the Web. In the following chapters I will present some of these perspectives in more detail, and hopefully give a contribution to the understanding of what web documentaries are, how they are made and how they relate to other parts of society. The book is divided into three parts roughly following, but not restricted to, three related perspectives: the history and upcoming of web documentaries (1), the creation of web documentaires (2), and the potential future of the genre (3). My intention is that the examples and analysis will be relevant both to academics and to creators of documentaries.

Part One
This part of the book will give various background to web documentaries. From their relationship to a larger documentary tradition, and how they are influenced by different technologies. This part will also introduce the concepts and vocabulary that will be used in the other parts of the book.

In 1999, ten years after Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, another Briton, Douglas Adams, wrote a short essay in The Sunday Times - “How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet”. I believe Adams’ text still provide some insight, which is highly relevant when we are going to look into the emergent field of web documentaries:

anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

At the time Douglas Adams was already a person I would listen to, out of several reasons. He was both a gifted author and a dedicated fan of technology, and he told us about the importance of staying curious when it comes to how we can use new technologies to tell more exciting stories. We should not be scared off by technology - “Don’t Panic”, in Adams’ own words. I have tried to keep this in mind when writing chapter one, which introduce web documentaries as a new, emerging genre, and look into some of its characteristics. In this chapter I will present some definitions, and give some initial insight to this new phenomenon.

How documentaries have been told has already changed a number of times, often following new technological developments. New technology has enabled documentary makers to represent their views on reality and share this with their audience in new ways. This is by no means something that is unique to the introduction of digital technologies. Significant technological development of documentary genres did also happen during the era of analog and electronic media. We can, however, argue that the technological development has moved faster, since the breakthrough of digital technologies for communication purposes, and that the influence of technology has become more far-reaching. As a result the transformation of existing media genres, and the creation of new ones, seems to be more profound. In chapter two I give a brief historical background, to make us better understand how digitization of the production processes and new ways of content distribution influence on documentary making. Documentaries do, however, already have a long history, and when faced with new technologies we have to know some of this tradition, hopefully to be able to look a little into its future.

When I first read Douglas Adams’ short piece about the Internet, it made me remember a television documentary programme, called Hyperland. This was also made by Adams, in 1990, the year after the invention of the World Wide Web. Hyperland was a documentary about hypertext and related technologies. It was introduced as a "fantasy documentary”, and I found it both playful and intriguing. In fact it contributed significantly to my own choice of profession in the early 1990s, and made me abandon traditional film studies to approach interactive media. The documentary presented interviews with quite a few leading researchers and thinkers in the field of hypertext. The World Wide Web was still marginal at the time. In fact Tim Berners-Lee, the Web’s father, was not accepted by many in the hypertext community when he first wanted to introduce his ideas about Hypertext on the Internet. At this time Berners-Lee’s ideas about the World Wide Web were considered too simple, and most experts did not see the potential in his open approach to hypertext authoring. Nevertheless, even though Hyperland did not focus on the Web, many of the concepts introduced are surprisingly relevant even today. Hypertext is an essential component of the Web, and in web documentaries, and it is discussed in detail in chapter three.

In chapter four - Acting, reacting and interacting - I will discuss various ways of implementing hypertext in web documentaries. The node-link structure is the core concept of hypertext, which make producers able to create texts that leave some choices to the users. The concept itself is pretty simple, but extremely flexible. Thus there are few practical limits to hypertext can be implemented with today’s technologies. 

The various choices that can be given to users implies that  web documentaries can be experienced within a much longer timeframe than traditional, linear documentaries. It is possible to design for an experience that can last for days or weeks, even years, where the content is developed over time and sometimes invite to, or require input from the users. This kind of storytelling can not be understood in traditional narrative terms, where a plot, with a series of connected events, leads to some kind of closure#. A web documentary that is developed over time might end into the open, sometimes without providing any conclusion at all.

The potential of stories with open ends leads to chapter five - Documentaries as a social construct - which ends the the first part of the book. I find the social aspects of to be particularly important, because this is where documentaries on the Web really distinguish themselves from documentaries told in other media. It is also particularly challenging because the social aspects of a documentary implies real user involvement. In most other media users have to be engaged by the content presented to them, and the communication is mostly one way only. There is no possible feedback from the users that might influence the content. If we want the content and the presentation to engage in more dynamic ways, we must think about our stories and their material as something that should be allowed to evolve. To facilitate the thinking about how to design this kind of communication environment I have worked with a communication model with nine communication patterns. This model will be introduced in chapter five, and used when analysing examples in part two and three of the book.

Part Two
In the second part of the book I will look at the different affordances of Web documentaries. What is possible to do, and what has been done in existing productions. I will look at different productions from various perspectives and try to provide some insight to what works better. Some will be well known examples, others will be from my own practice - where I can give some special insight. My approach will be both analytical and practical in order to highlight general concepts and ideas, derived from the investigation of specific examples.

In chapter six - Audiovisual storytelling on the Web - I will follow the rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web, which challenge our understanding of all media. I will, however, argue that the most significant changes have come in the last five years, with the introduction of new technologies and services. I will look into how a number of related technologies influence on documentary storytelling on the web. This chapter will look at different production from an overall perspective, which is expanded by a closer breakdown of similar examples in the following chapters.

In chapter seven - Telling with text - will look at how written text can be used as part of a web documentary. Some argue that web documentaries should follow the documentary tradition known from film, video and television. From my point of view this does not seem like a fruitful approach. I will argue that there are a lot of documentary qualities in written genres - e.g. travelogues, historical accounts, feature journalism etc. I believe experiences from these traditions will be very useful when we are going to merge different ways of storytelling on the Web. To me it does not make sense to leave the power of written expressions behind, when we are going to work with web documentaries.

Chapter eight - Telling with images - relates to two separate, yet strong traditions: the photo documentary and digital storytelling. Still a lot web documentaries rely quite heavily on still pictures, perhaps reflecting that quite a few practitioners come from a professional background in still photography. This is particularly evident when one look at web documentaries produced by online newspapers. 

The tradition known as digital storytelling represents another approach to the use of digital images, more focused on giving amateurs a voice i new media, and with a stronger emphasis of the tellers subjectivity. 

Finally we have the traditional photo documentary, which already has been heavily influenced by digital media. One result form this  influence resulted is the establishing of web documentaries as a photographic documentary genre at photo documentary festivals. Once again I do argue for a broader approach, where web documentaries are seen as more complex than what can be represented with still images.

Chapter nine - Telling with audio - is something I consider especially important. With a potential exception of smell, audio is the one of the senses that is closely connected to our feelings, a quality that add a lot to storytelling. There is a long, and strong tradition of radio documentaries, but when different media are put together audio seems to be treated as the “stepmother’s child”. The reason probably is that audio in many respects is more challenging, from the producer’s perspective. Quite often one will be able to , make a decent production, even with blurry, slightly out of focused images, or a handheld video camera. On the other hand, there is no way a production can become successful with poor audio. Turned around: if the audio is good, you can allow yourself to put less effort into many of the other parts of a production.

In chapter ten - Telling with video - some qualities from the previous three chapters are merged. I will, however, try to focus on the moving image as a medium separate from sound, still images and written text. Often it will be beneficial to merge several media into video, but when we are planning the production of a web documentary it almost always pays off to treat them separately. A simple example: most cameras, even cheap ones like camera phones, are capable of producing still images and video of decent quality. But few of these cameras are usable when recording sound. This implies that you often will have to think of moving images and sound separately, even with a professional camera, and especially if you are working alone.

In chapter eleven - Interfaces as content - I will look at how the visual design of the web interfaces influence on, and become an integrated part of storytelling. When designing for reactivity and interactivity there has to be various elements on the screen which the users are able to engage with, through the keyboard, touchscreen or the click of a mouse. These elements will have to be part of the visual interface, together with the content presented on the screen.

Chapter twelve - Activities as content - concerns how web documentaries can be integrated with and influenced by live events. In 2012 we were able to witness numerous uprisings around the world, where various social media were used, both to coordinate large groups of people and to tell others about what happened afterwards. These online activities do of course not become documentaries in their own right, but social media can be used in ways that provide resources that can be used in documentaries. In web documentaries we can see several examples where there is a close integration between material that is produced in advance, and material that is created live, during specific events.

In chapter thirteen - Archives as content - I will look at how existing material can be used as source material in documentaries. This follows a long tradition, known as found footage and compilation, often used in documentary films. Typical examples are historic pictures and film footage, which is used as a source of primary information in a new production. Often this kind of material is combined with interviews, and give the audience a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Working with sources from analog film and video one normally had to do extensive research when looking for historic footage, in archives and elsewhere. With the Web this part has changed significantly. Far from all material is available on the Web, but it has become much easier to find relevant material, and the use can often be much easier, as long as one is working with material that is searchable, linkable and downloadable.

Chapter fourteen - Places as content - relates specifically to how mobile devices become part of the growing World Wide Web. Locative media is already an established way of communication, where some functionally is bound to a location, and made possible by devices that can be positioned by GPS. This opens a new field for documentary production, which can be closely integrated with the Web. Among several other features designed for mobile devices, HTML5 includes the integration of position data from the devices’ GPS-module. This can be used to simply position the device, to deliver some specific content. More advanced use can include technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), where mediated expressions are merged with live recordings of an environment.

No mediation does come close to the experiences we can have in a physical place, but our experiences may in some ways be enhanced by media. Like when exploring different aspects of a historical event when standing where it once happened. The connection between mediation and place introduces a number of exciting possibilities in documentaries, where the users can be allowed to investigate different relationships between space and time. The experience of a general space can be transformed into a specific place by various mediated input. This chapter will discuss examples from documentaries and related genres, and introduce a theoretical framework that can be used to classify different place based mediations.

Part Three
In the last part of the book I will look try to into some of the potential future of web documentaries. This will be with reference to existing projects and technologies, but more forward looking than the previous parts of the book.

Chapter 15 - Multi platform documentaries - is about how documentary storytelling on the Web can create a unified and coordinated experience across multiple channels, where each medium makes a unique contribution to the overall story. When creating a story parts can be made as webpages to be experienced on a big computer screen, or even as printed media, to be used at home. Other parts can be situated, to be experienced with a location aware, mobile device, which potentially registrer information about the users’ behavior. This data can then be integrated with social networks, or transformed to become part of the overall story or documentation of ongoing events. The different parts of the story do not always need to be closely integrated, as we normally tend to connect dispersed pieces of information together to form a story. This makes multi platform documentaries very flexible, and open for new genres to be developed.

In the following chapter 16 - Collaborative documentaries - I will look at how large numbers of users may collaborate when making, experiencing and understanding documentaries. This will in many instances be closely integrated with multi platform documentaries, as many of the collective aspects come into play across different web media.

An enormous number of videos are uploaded by individual users, every day. 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and in 2011 alone, YouTube had more than 1 trillion views. This is about 140 views for every person on Earth. Facebook are getting 3,000 pictures uploaded every second or more than 250 million every day. On the blogging site users produce about 500,000 new posts and 400,000 new comments on an average day#, which is only a fraction of what is produced on all social websites. However, most of this material is, if not of poor quality, most certainly of limited interest for other users than the producer and those close to her. Nevertheless, these fragments of personal stories is the kind of material that documentaries are made of, and it provides a vast shared resource of potential material.

This chapter will discuss how documentary material are shared and remixed on the web. I will look at examples where the users is given some influence on the development of stories. With this frame of reference I will investigate some of the possibilities that arise when one open up and invite users to contribute in different ways, to a number of continuously changing and inter-linked documentaries on the Web.

Chapter 17- Documentaries and journalism - concerns how web documentaries meet audiovisual expressions in traditional media. Online newspapers have been among the first to experiment with web documentaries, but I will argue that the potential is far from fully explored.
This chapter will include examples where crowdsourcing is used to assist traditional journalistic methods, and how computer assisted journalism can be integrated with different modes of documentary.

The last chapter - New business models - will look into some of the economic rationality behind the solutions and services that make web documentaries possible. The enormous material published to the Web every day tells several stories about economics, which is important to understand the future development of web documentaries. The main storylines are about cheaper storage, bandwidth and computational power, which leads to numerous services that finally are fueled by an decrease in prices of computer devices. As these devices have got more powerful they have been made smaller and become close to ubiquitous. Finally we got the tendency where more and more people are able to use some spare time to contribute to different online activities.

The first part of the economic story is about how online storage, processing power and bandwidth have got cheaper, up to a point where it for most practical purposes has become free. This is caused by huge companies, like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and several others. They all have to invest heavily in infrastructure to be able to keep their ordinary operations competitive. To these companies it becomes relatively cheap to offer additional services, because this makes them able to utilize the extra resources that have to be built into their systems anyway, in order to handle temporary, high loads. The marginal cost of adding new services then becomes relatively low, and it often makes sense to offer many of these services for free. Google and Facebook are perhaps the most obvious examples. Both companies get most of their revenues from advertising, and anything that can create more space for advertising will be beneficial, as long as the costs are kept low.

The second part of the story behind the economics of today’s webpublishing is a about new and better tools, used to edit and publish content. These tools are typically offered to both amateurs and professionals for free. This follows from some of the same logic as described above, but at this level more players are able to take advantage of cheaper storage, bandwidth and computation. Even a small startup company can rent these services in the cloud, which give them the opportunity to begin small at a small scale, and scale up their services if their business proves successful. This kind of companies will tend to provide a limited service for free, and a premium service for a small fee. If the user base gets large a few percent of the users, those paying for the premium service, will provide enough revenue to pay for a lot of other users who only use the service for free.

It is, however, important to understand and acknowledge that these “free riders” are extremely important to an online service. They are the user base that makes it interesting for some users to pay for the service, and this is closely connected to the relationship between publishing and social webservices. These relationships are summed up in the last chapter, but will also be discussed in several of the previous chapters.

Comments, ideas and criticism are highly welcome (også på norsk).

1 kommentar:

  1. I am having second thoughts about the last chapter- New business models. I do believe it is relevant, and it will be pretty easy to draw on a number of examples. The problem is I am already trying to cover at bit too much, and I believe I should go for a chapter about ethics. Involving the users on the web do introduce a lot of potential problems in the ethical domain.

    Have to give this some more thought.


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