Finding The Tool That Brings It All Together

One of the hardest parts of the Digital Media Commons Initiative (DMCI) project has been finding the right tool for the job. I had a hard time creating a narrative when I didn’t have the tool that would help me imagine a framework that I needed to build within.

When I first started this project I was looking at Open Exhibits as an authoring tool, but not long after I started playing with it they were bought out by another company and it seems that support for the tool went away. The tool was also buggy and instead of spending time dealing with it I left it behind.

Around that time I was still struggling to come up with what the content would be and what story I wanted to tell. I knew I wanted to do something involving Mary Washington history, possibly utilizing a map, and using items from the Library’s Digital Collections to create an end product that could be displayed in the Convergence Gallery. So, for awhile I put away the worry about how I’d build it and I figured I’d spend some time delving in to learning more about Mary Washington history and spending time in the Digital Collections to see if anything grabbed my attention. I read through the majority of Edward Alvey’s History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972 and also read a good portion of William Crawley’s University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History 1908-2008. During this time you’ll see I stumbled across cool things like Faulkner visiting Mary Washington. I also spent a fair amount of time looking at the Centennial Image Collection finding shots that caught my eye or made me wonder, “where was that?”. I still seem to be terrible at taking notes, but at least I wrote down citations so I could go back and find things later.

After accumulating lots of interesting facts in my head I became obsessed with the idea of building a BuzzFeed style quiz about “What Era of Mary Washington Do You Belong In?”. I figure it’d be fun to capture some of the excitement and hype of the ridiculous quizzes and I had quite a bit of Mary Washington information in my head. There is no real good free tool out there that helps you design personality quizzes, but I found a plugin for WordPress that could possibly play the role. I started building a spreadsheet, collecting images, and playing with the plugin, but once again I was not over-joyed by the tool. So, I put that half done project down and once again struggled with “what is the story?”.

Next I went on to the idea that using my knowledge in Mary Washington history I’d write an interactive fiction using Twine as a framework to tell story. The story was going to take you back in time to a day in Mary Washington and you’d be able to, through a narrative, get to learn about what life was like at Mary Washington. Once again I started in, writing, collecting images, mapping out the path. I quickly became frustrated by what would essentially be a text driven story. I love interactive fictions, but a builder of compelling fictional narratives I am not. Frustrated by my own inability to be a creative writer I put away that project too.

Sidenote: Is it a wonder I struggled so much with academics? So many half-done papers and projects haunt me.

After many failed grandiose ideas and feelings of disappointment I circled back around to the original idea of a map. This time, taking a concept from the interactive fiction iteration of the project, I’d build a map of Mary Washington as it would have been seen in 1957. I decided to build it in Prezi because it allows you to move through a visual space and I knew that Prezi works with our kiosks. I started collecting images, writing blurbs of content and piecing it together in Prezi. It happened again though. I did not like the way the story looked in Prezi. Would I ever find the tool? Would I just have to accept good enough? (ah, the joys of being a perfectionist).

Cut to last week: I shuffled in to DTLT, looking for inspiration and to vent my frustration of not finding the “right” tool. I described to Andy what I was trying to do and why I just didn’t like the way Prezi was handling it. He thought for a moment and said he might know of a tool that could be the thing I am looking for. Enter stage left:


I went through the live demo and was immediately entranced by the possibilities. It is an incredibly extensible presentation tool and it doesn’t require anything fancy to run (HTML framework, baby!). There is even a website that utilizes the reveal.js framework called Slides so you easily build presentations without knowing any code. What really caught my eye was the ability to add depth to a linear narrative. In each slide you have the ability to add nested slides. So you can have a fairly simple narrative that goes left to right, but if you want to give people the option to spend time getting in to more detail they could delve deeper by going down a level. It also has lots of little features (like native support of gifs) that are nice to see and could be used in fun ways.

So, what now?

I think since I am so close to summer I might as well take the time to learn reveal.js instead of using (although it is very slick and has great features on the free level). How do I know this isn’t going to lead to another dead-end? Well, I can’t really know for sure, but at this point I think I’ve really exhausted all possibilities (and I’m exhausted by the constant thinking and rethinking). I’m going to spend the summer learning how to program reveal.js so I can tell the story of the Sights at Mary Washington in 1957. Hopefully, if this tool is as cool as I think it is, I can easily create other projects in the future using it.

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