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Try to increase interactivity

February 13, 2017

By Michelle Balmeo
One of my staff’s goals this year is to bring the same variety of storytelling models to the web that they offer in print. That means exploring a lot of new tools that make online interactivity much easier than it used to be (back in the good ol’ Adobe Flash Action Script coding days). As they do this, I’m asking them to share the tools and their process in a series of short Q&A posts. If your staff experiments with one of these or another online multimedia tool, please share.

1. Which multimedia tool did you use?

I used Thing Link.

2. What does it do?

It allows you to place markers over images that you can hover over for a text bubble.

3. What story did you use it for, and why did you choose this particular tool for this story?

I used it for “50 fresh faces,” an interactive photo collage of 50 different incoming freshmen. Each photo could be hovered over for information about the student, such as their fears about MVHS, rumors they had heard about it, etc. (Note: The app was used again later in this project.)

4. What did you find the tool does well (what worked)?

It is a very easy, straightforward way to make an image interactive. Much like Facebook, the user can tag photos and allow others to tag it as well. In these tags, the user can type text that can be viewed by hovering over it. It has a very simple point-and-click interface that takes very little getting used to.

5. What were your frustrations with the tool (what didn’t work, or at least didn’t work as you’d hoped)?

It is a very limited program. You can’t do simple things like make text bold or italicized and you can’t make the markers invisible. In the feature I used it for, I wanted to type the questions in bold, and the answers in normal type. Instead I had to start each line with a Q or A to differentiate the questions from the answers. The fact that you can’t make the tag markers invisible meant that each freshman had a big black dot blocking their face when they were hovered over.

Also, it is very convenient (especially in a group project) that you can allow others to edit the image. The only problem is, you can’t restrict editing privileges to a specific group of people. Either only the user has editing rights, or the entire public does. This led to readers being able to rearrange the tags and sabotage the image until I restricted editing rights to myself again.

6. When might you recommend this tool to others?

I would recommend Thing Link to those who would like to make a quick, simple, interactive visual. It works great for articles that can feature a lot of supplementary information. It is also a great alternative to simply using captions for a series of photographs. However, you should only use it provided that you do not need to tag many parts of the image, otherwise it blots out a lot of the image when hovered over.

— Q&A with senior Morahd Shawki, El Estoque special report editor

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