After spending all day at home tending to a child just sick enough not to go to school, I’d really been looking forward to exploring a web first, this evening: The Strand: Venice, CA. It’ll make an excellent first post as a guest blogger at HUMlab, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out.

Let me explain: The Strand is the latest web exploit of the people who made the Blair Witch Project. It’s an episodic drama using video, a weblog and a discussion board, and the first episode was released today. It even has a plan for making money. This episode is free, but from here on in you have to sign up for a micropayment account with Bitpass and pay 99 cents for each episode. Sorry, webisode.

Interestingly, the micropayment isn’t the only method employed to Keep Readers Out. Each webisode is, it seems, a 600 MB video that you have to download over BitTorrent. It’ll only play on specific versions of Windows, with very specific software. The “Detailed instructions” in the email inviting me to come look at this are as long as my arm.

Unfortunately for The Strand, I’m a Mac user. There’ll be a Mac version, they promise. Later. Why is that hard to arrange if it’s just video? What about Linux users? What about future users of Windows 2007? What about the woman who told me about The Strand, a Windows user, but she just sent me email saying she’d spent hours trying to download those 600 MB.

I think I’d rather just reread Online Caroline instead. Though that web drama is nearly five years old, it’s still surprisingly avante garde. It actually crafts a narrative that suits the medium instead of using the web as a complicated means for distributing 600 MB of video.

But then, you know what? They’re not really trying to make a narrative suited to the medium. They’re interested in “long tail broadcasting”, traditional film and video production for niche markets. BitTorrent, in theory, lets them do that, and clearly in a few years the technology for this will be easier and won’t scare as many members of that niche market away. They’re exploring production and financing models for a method of distribution that might be the future of cinema.

So far it doesn’t look as though they’re creating new kinds of narrative, though.
[Crossposted to the HUMlab blog, where I’m guest blogger for a fortnight!]

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