I spent a big chunk of January on the road, first in North Carolina at Science Online 2010, then at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. To read about my festival adventures, head on over to the News on the Doc blog at Documentary.org, where I chronicled my daily dose of movies and events and posted filmmaker interviews for the International Documentary Association.
While I'm a bit embarrassed that it's taken me so long to get something up about Science Online, aka scio10, it's also been useful to have some time to reflect on the experience (multiple plane rides = good thinking time). A huge thank-you to conference organizers Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker, the masterminds behind the 4th annual event.
I must admit, I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into when I agreed to head out to the Research Triangle. Compared to the rest of the attendees, I'm relatively new to the science blogging community, though I've had a lot of experience in the online space. But something about the participatory nature of the way the conference was put together (and the exuberant nature of Bora's Tweets!) gave me a good feeling, and now I'm so glad I followed my gut and made the trip. I knew it would be a weekend full interesting discussions about science; what I never expected was that there would be so many wonderful conversations about writing as well. Indeed, Science Online is just as much a conference about 21st century communication as it is about what happens in the lab.Another unexpected delight at Scio10 was the diverse group of panelists and attendees. In addition to the expected authors, bloggers and scientists, there were museum outreach directors, high school students, teachers, science pranksters, iPhone app developers, underwater cinematographers, librarians, software developers, and more. The connective tissue amongst the group was a love for science and an interest in how it's being explored in the online space.
To that end, the event and its attendees made excellent use of Web 2.0 tools. Conference tweets, tagged with #scio10, were projected onto screens at the event venues. While you were in one session, you could see what you were missing in the others by keeping an eye on your phone's Twitter feed. Several panels were streamed into Second Life and live streamed on U-Stream, and those observing from afar could submit questions to the room. The wireless during the sessions, provided by SignalShare, rocked - it was robust enough to allow me to Skype in a guest speaker during my session. Almost everything was videotaped, and Bora & Anton & Co. are in the process of getting the vids online. You can find them here on Science in the Triangle's YouTube channel.
Science & Entertainment Session
I co-hosted a panel on Science and Entertainment with the lovely Jennifer Ouellette, author and science blogger extraordinaire. I presented several examples of cutting edge online campaigns and content pieces that either made use of or were inspired by real-life science, and Jennifer talked about her work with the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences. In true UnConference model, we then posed several questions to the audience and opened it up to the whimsy of the room.
Topics of discussion included:
- If science's responsibility is to accuracy and Hollywood's responsibility is to good storytelling, where and how - or should - the two meet in the middle?
- How can science bloggers pursue relationships with Hollywood studios? Does Hollywood really care about what they have to say?
- Studio films such as Angels & Demons, Terminator, Star Trek and Avatar have the budgets to create innovative online content as part of their marketing campaigns. How can science adapt what they've created in the fictional realm and use it to explore real science online in new, attention-grabbing ways?
- With rich media experiences becoming more common online and drawing more eyeballs, how can good ol' fashioned blogging evolve so that it doesn't become the print media of the Internet?
- Currently, it's common for bloggers to point out the errors in the science contained in movies and television. Yet, film and TV have proven to be sources of inspiration for students, as good storytelling stokes the curiosity that eventually leads kids to pursue careers in science. With this in mind, is there a way to establish a more cooperative relationship between the the worlds of science and entertainment?
- As entertainment consumers move from a lean back experience to a more participatory role, how should science on the web adapt?
Thanks to all who joined in the robust conversation; this sampling of Tweets from our panel will give you a sense of it...
@f1000 talks about scientific consulting on films like Avatar, TV shows like CSI and video games at #scio10 http://bit.ly/5PYlLn
@abelpharmboy Alastair Jeffs: Have to be able to tell a good story; the science is great but...people want a story. Work w/a classical writer
@abelpharmboy @tamarakrinsky noted that some networks have diversity mandates #scio10 12:09 PM Jan 16th from TweetDeck
@abelpharmboy @edyong209 @docfreeride So if one convinces a filmmaker that a young black girl discovering a drug would be a money-making story...#scio10
@edyong209 Passive consumers of entertainment are becoming active consumers. Want to take part. #scio10@thegarbagegirl @tamarakrinsky said something I've believed all along: people want to be involved in the story telling process
@abelpharmboy Hrynyshyn: why aren't there more "normal" people on Bones or House - Jen-Luc says normal does not make compelling characters
Janet D. Stemwedel (@docfreeride) has archived her extensive tweets from the session on a post on her blog Adventures from Ethics in Science - a great collection of observations!
Another thing I'm digging about Scio10 is the continuation of conversations begun in North Carolina via blogs and tweets. Over on The Intersection, Chris Mooney posts:
Science and Entertainment: Beyond Blogging – Tamara Krinsky and Jennifer Ouellette: Hollywood getting into science = definitely cool. But will Hollywood’s ace marketers ever see a real need to court science bloggers to get the word out about films, given the relatively small size of our audiences and the vastness of their ad budgets? Not clear to me how much *we* matter, at least so far.
My response to Chris is that Hollywood will care as long as they think there's money to be made. And when I say Hollywood, I'm talking about the studios and the marketing engines...individual creatives like directors and writers usually have much more genuine interests in the science that's inspired them. Increasingly, bloggers fit into that revenue-generating equation. As audiences become more and more fragmented, finding ways to catch hold of the individual shards who may have interest in a film becomes increasingly important. For example, the online campaign for Coraline was built on identifying and generating interest from several different niche audiences. They buzz created by these early fans bubbled up to larger outlets, feeding the campaign and driving coverage by more mainstream media, thus helping the film to attract a wider audience.
If you want to take a peek at some of the projects we showcased during the panel, here are some handy-dandy links for ya'...
This is an example of the innovative banner ad campaign designed for the film which allows users to rotate through the bridge (this one appeared on MySpace). At various places, hidden features allow you to launch a picture gallery and videos. Museums and labs take note: this could serve as inspiration for a virtual tours.
Agency Credit: Avatar Labs
[Note: the title link takes you to images used in the application, which is no longer available]
This Skynet Adobe Air Application developed for the Terminator: Salvation domestic movie release campaign featured a faux information processor. The sinister Skynet Corporation invited users to download the app to their desktops to help process information. It mysteriously “broke” the day the film was released. This kind of app is an engaging way to distribute new video and text information to fans.
This film stars Paul Giamatti as a man who puts his soul in storage for awhile so he can deal with some of his issues. As part of the marketing campaign, they created a humorous site for the fictional "Soul Storage Company," which allows customers to store their souls online. Site features include the ability to browse the soul catalog and take an office tour, complete with some lovely B-movie-esque video.
Angels & Demons
The “On Location” section of the movie site is an interactive map that contains factual information about the various historical locations used in the film. Hotspots open images, video, models and behind-the-scenes commentary to bring to light the fact behind the fiction. It's an engaging example of the way that a sci-fi film could potentially showcase real science, differentiating between movie and theory in a way that celebrates both the truth of the science and the imagination of the storytellers.
The site for the film features an Adobe Air application which allows users to download an interactive trailer to their desktops that includes regularly updated newsfeeds and links to external content on sites such as YouTube and Twitter. The site creates a community by incorporating social networking tools such as the Typepad community and Facebook Connect. Routes Project
This groundbreaking multi-platform exploration of genetics and bio-ethics used a variety of platforms to engage a young audience. The science underpinning Routes was developed in partnership with the Wellcome Trust as part of the Darwin200 program celebrating the bicentenary of Darwin's birth. It included the following elements:
- An eight-part online mini series called ROUTES in which Katherine Ryan, a Canadian stand up comic, submits herself to a series of genetic tests by 23andme. The Routes website tracked Katherine's progress as a video documentary.
- The site featured community challenges and flash based games based on genetics. Taking part allowed users to amass points. The highest scorers each week were entered into a prize drawing for a chance to win a gaming console.
- A corresponding fictional murder mystery intertwined with the documentary. Eight 4-5 minute episodes aired online and on Channel 4. The audience could delve deeper into the mystery through character video blogs, images from the "investigation" on Flickr, and SMS/text clues.
- Live promotional events included a launch event and comedy show.
**A special thanks to Alistair Jeffs from Oil whom we Skyped in during the panel to talk about the details of the Routes project.
Agency Credit: Oil