Credit: Screenshot from Hackastory.com.

Turning online stories into games and personalising the experience were two of the themes explored at the Hackastory hackathon in Amsterdam last week.

The hackathon brought together six teams of journalists, developers, designers and filmmakers, who explored ideas and tools for storytelling in the digital age.

“Online storytelling does not have a tradition yet,” wrote the organisers on the website, comparing it to filmmaking, which has had 100 years to develop a structure and a process.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Albertine Piels, one of the organisers of the hackathon, said the hackathon was intended as an opportunity not only to experiment with tools but also to connect with others in the industry.

“We all know how to write a story and how to make a reportage for a TV show, but with online storytelling you need so much more,” she said.

Hackastory was organised with the support of the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam's DocLab, by Piels, transmedia producer Nienke Huitenga and multimedia journalist Emiel Elgersma.

Here are three projects from Hackastory that want to shake up traditional storytelling:

News Bricks

News Bricks is a project that aims to take a story back to its core elements, focussing on who, what, where, when and visuals.

“If you go back to the bare bone of the news, [where] you don't have all the filters journalists put on them, maybe people are interested in different stories than we pick for them.”

After starting with one “brick”, for example the “what” part of the story, other elements can be “unlocked” to reveal the full picture.

“They were thinking of a news consumer that's younger, likes to play games, is more into snacking news, more into reading shorter stories,” Piels explained.

“You could unlock just a certain amount of information and friends of yours have to unlock other parts, so it's also very social-based.”

News Bricks won “most potential for use”.


Screenshot from a model Storyweb.

The concept behind Storyweb is that you could look at a story from different perspectives, and “then take out the control the journalist has and let the news consumer search for their own way,” said Piels.

Storyweb is also aimed at a younger generation who might not want stories built in a traditional way, said Piels, with a headline followed by an introductory paragraph and then the full article.

“They really wanted to give more control to the users and let them pick their own direction.”

Be the president today

This interactive project lets you step into the shoes of the president of Azerbaijan and assess how the decisions you make influence your popularity in the country.

Centred around the European Games running this summer in Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, the project asks how you would deal with issues in the run up to the games, while panels on the right side of the page inform you of your local popularity, international standing, and investment ratings.

The multiple choice answers include the real actions of the Azerbaijani president, as well as tweets from the presidents’ account announcing the decisions.

Piels said the team behind the game are pitching the project both to a newspaper in the Netherlands as well as to an NGO, hoping to develop it further in the run up to the games.

'Be the president today' won best story experience at Hackastory.

Video by Emiel Elgersma, Hackastory.

Other projects looked at virtual reality, and at temporary stories. Storyhacker for example allows users to insert themselves as characters into a radio drama, and their part would disappear once someone else joined the play. Piels said this was “Snapchat for theatre makers”.

Ding is another project experimenting with temporary stories. The team created a social network centred around train delays - it allows users to post stories which would only be available for the length of time by which their train was delayed.

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