(2015-05-08) The House That Fish Built Newsbound Medium

The House That Fish Built – (Newsbound). A new storytelling medium is emerging. But what do we call it?

In March 2012, Robin Sloan introduced us to a “short but heartfelt manifesto about the difference between liking something on the internet and loving something on the internet.” He called it “Fish: A Tap Essay.” 2012-10-01-SloanHouseOfCards

Sloan distributed Fish as a standalone iOS app which, when opened on your iPhone, forced you into landscape mode and asked you to tap the screen to move forward. (Tappable CardDeck)

By controlling the progressive reveal of information, Sloan managed to establish a cadence — something we generally associate with the spoken word, not the written one.

The constant variation also created an undercurrent of suspense. Tapping forward felt addictive and satisfying: What would he do/say next?

Newsbound had produced several video explainers earlier that year — on wonky subjects like the filibuster and the federal budget process. They had attracted healthy traffic, but our user testing had revealed a pacing problem

I’d already entertained the idea of a self-paced, slideshow-esque format, but worried that requiring the user to continuously click or tap their way through a narrative might be too tedious. Then I found myself standing in line for a sandwich at Pal’s, happily tapping my way through Fish

Twenty-five years later, we will prove the hypertext researchers wrong: cards are pretty cool after all.

This year, we released Stacker as a platform to a beta group of writers and designers. They are now creating their own stacks and, every week, we are onboarding more people from the waiting list (which has grown to over 400).

In a blog post on Source dissecting his team’s approach to picture-driven content, NPR senior interaction designer Wes Lindamood categorizes pieces like Demolished as “sequential visual stories” and acknowledges Fish as a source of inspiration (along with the work of Scott McCloud and Frank Chimero).

at Newsbound we’ve still struggled with the “new grammar” that Sloan referred to back in 2012. While working on a stack, we sometimes refer to the atomic unit as a “frame,” other times as a “slide,” other times as a “click.” Lindamood apparently calls them “screens.” Before Betaworks shut down Tapestry (which allowed anyone to create a Fish-esque tap essay), they used the term “page.” And Sloan has called them “cards.”

When it comes to the broader label, we’ve noticed that “stack” doesn’t always … stick. Just look at the wide-ranging terms our readers use to describe our content:

I know there are certain subjects and certain readers for whom it is the ideal platform. I want to see it become as pervasive and familiar as the video or the infographic. And perhaps — perhaps! — if we had a common shorthand for this style of storytelling, adoption would spread faster.

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