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Interactive Documentary Archive

BBC’s 3D documentary explorer

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Project type: Web


As part of the collaborative documentary Virtual Revolution , a 4x1hr series about  the history and consequences of the web, BBC2  has launched a “3D documentary explorer”. The idea is to allow an interactive viewing of the series content, and therefore to create a new way to browse the content creating a totally different experience than when watching the linear series.

As a viewer you can either watch the programmes on TV (or on iPlayer) OR go to and view most of the series online but in a 3D environment where one can jump off at any time from the video content and  browse related websites. Effectively what BBC has designed is a clever visualization tool that simplifies navigation in and out of the video stream and allows you to jump in between segments of the video itself. A glorified DVD navigation with the added bonus of web links.

Find out more:

Try yourself the 3D explorer

Look at the linear documentary Virtual Revolution (or at least to some documentation about it)

My comments:

Is this an interactive documentary or a clever visualisation tool?

I have to admit that I was quite sceptical when I tried it out. The film starts with the opening shots of the first episode, but one can at any time skip to another part of the documentary or jump to websites linked to the content that one is watching. This means that one is constantly moving from video content to web content. At first I thought that the paste of the video was too different from the paste of the web browsing. When you start watching the episode you do not feel like browsing out of it. TV editing is made to keep you inside the story – and not to allow you breaks of freedom out of its narrative.  But after a while I liked the idea of having a topologiacal view of the whole content of the series.

In a way the 3D explorer is any TV producer’s dream: a way to show you all the research that has been made while doing the documentary itself and still keeping you tuned to the author’s linear documentary. Is the explorer also responding to the viewer’s dream? I do not know… probably not mine… What I am searching in new media is a way to show some of the layers that compose any reality. I like the idea of representing the multiple. Here the 3D explorer adds layers of information to the video stream… is this enough? Are we not back to what used to be called ‘enhanced interactive TV’ – where interaction was only used to give extra information, but not alternative narratives, or depth of dimensions?

Well… I suppose it is a first step. But we stay in the informational layer of “associated data”. Nothing is shown about the users that have collaborated to the documentary via the crowd sourcing process that the BBC has experimented with. Nothing is said about the multiple other ways in which the history of the web could have been depicted. There are no doubts, no other possibilities, no other paths… just some clinical extra information to support the argument of the film.

Behind a sexy visualisation tool that gives a 3D effect to the story a strangely flat view of reality emerges: a reality that is supported by objective data, a reality that gives more of the same and does not consider “the rest”, or the “possible other”. Maybe the documentary explorer is not that 3D after all… which is a shame, because something was there… somethig could have emerged…

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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010

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  1. On March 31st, 2013 at 22:32 nadia wrote:

    I thought this was a great way of taking the conventional approach to linear, objective documentary production and adding some interest to it and making the viewers feel like they can search around a subject at any time and they can get back to the documentary at any point. I think, although it is not a big leap forward, it is a good move in the right direction that can be build upon in time. It was easy watching, at every level.

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