Popcorn is a Gateway Drug

Brett 's excellent vignette about the Living Docs hackathon.

WIRED just published a story about our Living Docs project with ITVS. In a nutshell, we spent two days with six documentary filmmaking teams to prototype how the web can bring their films to life.

This was about much more than “making a website” for the film. It’s about making web-native films that live in your browser.

It’s a very cool story, and validation of our goals for Popcorn, like:

1. making web video work more like the web;

2. fostering innovation in web-native HTML5 filmmaking;

3. building capacity for creatives to work effectively with web developers.

But a recurring theme in the press for Living Docs, and for Popcorn generally (see Atlantic’s take on the Open Video Conference), is to put popcorn.js at the center of the story.

In a way that makes sense. But popcorn.js is not a platform, or a comprehensive framework, or a panacea for people who want to do interactive storytelling.

It’s a gateway drug.

With popcorn.js, you can spin something up in a few lines of code. And as with jQuery, the growing body of plugins serve as building blocks for new and exciting experiences. But you still have to roll your sleeves up and make something. Popcorn.js is a gateway drug to the intoxicating world of webmaking.

The real story here is how HTML5 and open video enable innovation in form and process. Fork me on GitHub. Borrow some code. Make a tweak and instantly see the results. This makes web making much more than an afterthought: it puts HTML5 at the center of the creative toolkit, right there with the camera and the editor, from the beginning.

(Imagine what this means for social issue documentarians: they can more easily bridge the gap between viewers watching the films and taking action, for instance. We’ll publish these prototypes soon.)

Making web makers

A lot of creative people recoil at the idea “releasing early, releasing often.” The thought of developing for the web, and all the peril and promise there, is scary and foreign.

But popcorn.js is a gateway drug to a new way of working. Working with developers in a highly iterative, open way shows that speed and experimentation are rewarded. It sparks ideas about how you can engage with audiences as active participants. And it inspires confidence in creative people to become web makers themselves, go out and make amazingly cool stuff using the raw materials of the web. That’s a win for the web, web makerism, and Mozilla.

I think we demonstrated all of that at the Living Docs hack day. So to focus on popcorn.js as the center of the story doesn’t do it justice. Popcorn is just the synaptic sugar that makes x event happen at y time—on its own, it won’t hold up to the hype or scrutiny.

Cole Gillespie put it really well during his presentation at the Living Docs event: “A lot of people are really excited about popcorn.js. But you know what? It’s just javascript, man.” Amen.

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