The Simple Truth About Interactive Storytelling

Jason Nickel is one of the world’s pre-eminent developers for Facebook Connect and interactive video experiences, including Take This Lollipop which registered over 60 million views and 10 million Facebook ‘Likes’, solidifying it as the fastest-growing Facebook application of all time.

I’ve been doing interactive professionally for 13 years. And even as the technology has changed, I’ve realized that what has stayed the same is my need to figure out how to engage users; capturing their attention and giving them something to participate in. That is at the core of all interactive storytelling.

Everyone in advertising and entertainment works on these kinds of ideas. Some of them hit and some fall a little short. But often they get sidetracked by someone else’s plans to complicate things. At Tool, I think we understand that you have to create these great applications and interactive experiences by doing something simple and doing it really well.

One of the first I can remember was Tool’s Cold War Kids site, which really allowed people to engage with content. For that one, we had four different versions of the same song and users could actually mix and match with the band playing various instruments. From there, Facebook Connect came along and suddenly we could pull in the information of Facebook users and really inject them into the experience. The audience was definitely more involved, but we needed simple concepts to move the stories forward.

I want people to click on the Facebook Connect button and realize they’re getting into a personalized video experience, but without looking for that gimmick, that gratuitous profile photo that always shows up.

Tool’s Take This Lollipop was probably the first Facebook Connect experience to really capture what that technology could do and yet it was a project that was done on a bit of a whim. Director Jason Zada and I had a busy schedule at the time, so for us to get that done on time and to get the reception that we did was overwhelming. I mean, it took down the servers four times in the first month.

Watching users capture their reactions to it on YouTube was pretty amazing. People would actually record themselves before going into Take This Lollipop just to capture a raw, virgin experience. Eventually, it turned into people using it as a meme and doing parodies.

My favorite was some students who I assume did it as a class project. They did their own format so it wasn’t a rip off, but just expanded on our idea. There was also a guy in a video that was laughing and saying, “This video did it.” I don’t think he fell for those types of experiences too often.

That reaction is what gets me so excited. Because what I’m ultimately trying to achieve is a story that not only contains a compelling performance where you connect with the actor, but also injects something personalized so that the experience becomes a bit more real and you react. I want it to be different than going to a theater and watching a movie in front of you. It has to actually have a little touch of your life in there.

I want people to click on the Facebook Connect button and realize they’re getting into a personalized video experience, but without looking for that gimmick, that gratuitous profile photo that always shows up.

It’s all an evolution. We’re still trying to figure out how we can get more information from Facebook so we can write stories and create content that not only shows photos, but also presents custom choices for the user. Or maybe the actors will engage with choices based on what the user’s personality is like. There are so many options. But even then, the strength of interactive storytelling will be in our ideas. And, as is true with most things, it’s best to keep it simple.

About Tool:
Bicoastal Tool is an award-winning production company, representing top live-action directors and interactive directors for advertising projects. From funny… visually engaging… and/or interactive, Tool’s diverse roster of unique talent creates unforgettable commercial and digital content across all platforms.