Last month, I participated in an all-day workshop that Mozilla organized as part of Web Made Movies to introduce filmmakers to the possibilities of interactive video using Popcorn.js. I lobbied to be paired with Yasmine Elayat to create a prototype for her project, 18 Days in Egypt, an interactive documentary covering the recent revolution in Egypt, using citizen-produced video. It’s a credit to Yasmine’s knowledge of the material and the work of the Popcorn.js team that we were able to build and demo the whole thing in a single day.
View the prototype here. It should work in any modern web browser that handles html video (even Internet Explorer 9!). Below, I’ll discuss the challenges and solutions we discovered through the process of building a prototype that tells a story as well as it demonstrates the technology.
The goal of the prototype was to give an overall sense of the subject while giving a viewer the opportunity to “drill down” to additional media for more detail. As powerful as HTML video and Popcorn are, it’s easy to overwhelm the viewer with too much information. So we had to choose the content and design the layout and interaction to tell the story while making it beautiful and avoiding distraction.
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New Yorkers who want to be somewhere they are not are always in a rush, especially when taking the subway. Observations of a New Yorker giving directions demonstrate that they frequently have more than one route to a given destination, and choosing the optimal one is a non-trivial task.
From the Essex/Delancey station, one can take either the M train or the F train uptown to almost any station in Manhattan along this particular line. However, the trains arrive on different platforms, which are separated by a long stair case. It is impossible to observe both platforms simultaneously, and there is no automated indication of which train will arrive first and therefore reach a given destination fastest.
Commuters have devised a novel solution. Between train arrivals, passengers will cluster around the stairs separating the two platforms. As soon as there is more than one passenger, they will evenly distribute themselves along the stairs, re-calculating in O(1) time whenever a new node is added. When a train arrives on either platform, the nearest passenger, or edge node, signals the next node by glancing slightly in the direction of the rest of the passengers, and the message is similarly propagated throughout the network, allowing everyone to board the first train to arrive.
The result is an optimal, low-latency, low-overhead solution, built on existing hardware, following the primary rule of the subway: never make eye contact or speak to anyone.
And it’s a magical little reminder that New Yorkers, whatever our reputation, are good neighbors. Smart too.