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Immersive Digital Storytelling

Connecting with Audiences through Long-Form Content

As the demand for rich, in-depth content grows, how

can organizations navigate the technology gap and
become better online storytellers?

While the digital community has optimized the

1 The Evolution of Sound Bite Stories

Part 1 explores how the evolution of technology

creation and delivery of short-form content,

has impacted the societal dynamic around storytelling.

it has become clear that telling a story should

2 The Resurgence of Long-form Storytelling

not be restricted to solely a sound bite. If

Part 2 addresses the resurgence of

anything, the massive collection of short-form

interactive, long-form storytelling. We review several creative ways businesses and publications are using

content generated over the past few years has

immersive content experiences to tell stories, market products, and communicate messages.

highlighted not only the void around, but the

3 The Storytelling Technology Gap

current challenges facing the creation of longform, immersive experiences on the internet.
Unfortunately, telling stories in this way
remains expensive and inaccessible for most
businesses given the available technology.

Part 3 examines how the lack of a viable tool for

accessible, in-house storytelling has created a gap in the marketplace.

4 Introducing Fable

Part 4 reviews noteworthy features of Fable, one solution filling the

marketplace gap discussed in Part 3.

5 Concluding Thoughts on Storytelling

elements of successful digital storytelling.


Part 5 concludes with an overview of the

Part 1:

The Evolution of Sound Bite Stories

Storytelling has always existed as a foundation of human interaction.

However, fast forward by about a decade and storytellers found themselves

Regardless of the cultural or environmental specifics at play, as long as there

in a dramatically different landscape. While a gigantic repository of

has been a need to exchange information, storytelling has provided humans

knowledge had been created, there was no way to really navigate it in an

with a conduit to share their experiences. While the mediums, styles, and

efficient or productive manner, let alone weave that knowledge together

formatting in which storytelling occurs shift to meet the trends of the day, at

into a narrative. Naturally, people set out to solve this exact problem, which

its core, a good story is one that captures the hearts, minds, and attentions

ushered in the age of the content management system (CMS).

of the audience in question. Whether that be in the more traditional forms

of oral histories, novels, and theatrical narratives, or more modern shapes
of videographies or data visualizations, storytelling always aims to foster

Volumes Upon Volumes

connection with others.

While computers may possess the processing power necessary to quickly and

The Impact of the Internet

efficiently navigate a large collection of items, humans arent quite so adept.

The same influx of information and data that was once novel and exciting
rapidly transformed into a self-imposed burden that needed to be dealt with.

The advent of the internet marked a significant paradigm shift for

storytellers worldwide. The speed at which both the breadth and depth of

CMSs caught on quickly in response to demand and rapidly became the

a subject could be retrieved, shared, altered, and managed far surpassed

primary platform for organizations to edit, modify, and publish their digital

the previously substantial impact of the printing press. In its infancy, the

content. As a point of unified integration for nearly any content format,

internet was a flurry of people merely excited to make their information

the CMS was an incredible boon for short-form content, particularly in the

available to others on this massive, interconnected network. Little attention

form of articles and blogs. Social media plugins, data streams, internal

was paid to the relationships between, the display of, or users engagement

video hosting, and other multimedia content providers support more

with the stories being shared.

sophisticated short-form content today than ever before. Both PAC-12


Part 1:

and the NBA suite of sites, for example, present multimedia content by

and short-form video is the future of marketing.

integrating content and data from services like Ooyala, Brightcove, and other
internal video hosting platforms.

While short-form content most certainly has its time and place, it is clearly
not capable of telling the whole story alone; it is not truly providing an

This brings us to today, where short-form content has been supposedly

immersive experience for the audience that allows for a deeper connection

boiled down to a science. As a result, weve witnessed a proliferation of

to be established.

click bait headlines, animated GIFs, and simplified lists. Media sites like
Buzzfeed have perfected the news snacking content type, catering to
those with short, sharp bursts of attention. Much of the content served up

Battling the Filter

today is in some variation of a sound bite story - nothing more than a few
seconds for fear the attention will be lost.

As products of our environment, storytellers and audiences alike have

internalized the behaviors of skimming, summarizing, paraphrasing,

Short-form content is created fast and consumed faster. Examples include

and filtering. Such a response is essentially mandated in a world that

things like tweets, status updates, short infographics, Instagram photos,

seemingly never ceases to accelerate and continues to multiply in volume

Snapchat images, Vine videos, short blog posts, and articles under 350

as people become more and more connected. Yet, even with a proliferation

words. As new short-form platforms spring up with dizzying speed,

of content to satiate this incessant need for fresh and new, there is

excitement about their possibilities have gripped some in the digital world,

clearly a longing for something more substantial. A desire to find a deeper

causing some writers and speakers to declare (a bit hyperbolically) that the

connection in a world full of superficial ones. A request for the balance and

future is short-form, brands must master short-form storytelling,

interplay between short-form and long-form to be restored.

While short-form content may be great for keeping pace and driving traffic,
it is long-form content that builds lasting, long-term relationships that
keep your audience coming back time and time again.


Part 2:

The Resurgence of Long-Form Content

In contrast to short-form, long-form content can be defined as in-depth

The New York Times has been at the forefront of this effort, launching

content designed to give its audience a large amount of detail and

into the digital storytelling scene with the wildly ambitious Snow Fall in

information. Over the past two to three years, theres been a major

2012, a six-part narrative of John Branchs account of a deadly avalanche in

resurgence in long-form content, accompanied by a growing recognition

Washington state. The project was recognized in April 2013 with a Pulitzer

of its importance in digital marketing and journalism. Long-form allows

Prize for feature writing. Other publications like the Washington Post

organizations to demonstrate their expertise and build credibility to an

have experimented with new storytelling models for long-form pieces,

extent that is just not possible in a shorter format. In addition to requiring a

and increasingly employ clever data visualizations to make statistics

deeper investment in time and attention from potential customers, long-form

more approachable. More recently, MSNBCs Dying Cities uses an endless

content does not suffer from the short virtual lifespan that plagues its short-

scrolling mechanism to keep users engaged as they move through the story

form cousins. The average tweet, for instance, only has about 18 minutes

of the struggling American Rust Belt.

of prime time before it becomes largely irrelevant. A white papers deep

technical dive, on the other hand, may attract readers for months, if not years.

In an interview with USA Today, emerging media columnist Barb Palser

points out that heightened interest in long-form coincides with the

Long-Form Journalism

proliferation of mobile devices. Data from the Pew Research Centers

Project for Excellence in Journalism reinforces this. In a study on the
Future of Mobile News, Pew found that 73% of tablet owners access long-

Businesses and publications are getting more creative about how they

form content either regularly or sometimes; 19% do so every day. About 60%

use immersive content experiences to tell stories, expose products, and

of those users read two to three long articles in a sitting, and another 17%

communicate brand messages. The most successful are those which treat

read four or more. Tablets and phones, Palser says, are more conducive

the internet as a medium in and of itself, not just a location for content.

to spending time on content [Mobile devices are] more analogous to

In the sweet spot between list-icles and solid blocks of unpalatable text,

carrying around a newspaper or a magazine.

some media companies have fused journalism and web design to effectively
tell powerful stories.


Many publications now employ teams of experienced developers solely

Part 2:

for the purpose of creating long-form articles, recognizing the draw they

an in-depth look at the Model S, letting potential customers take a self-

have on readers. According to Palser, Investing in quality talent and

guided tour through the cars features, history, materials, performance

producing great examples of reporting and interactive storytelling can

options, and more. We are truly given the full story of the Model S, as close to

have an important brand-building effect.

comprehensive as possible without visiting the dealership floor. Apple, too,

is a recognized leader in innovative product experiences, utilizing simple,

Building Brand Stories with Creative Interactives

bold design and an engaging scrolling technique to craft a narrative around

individual products. These products transform from something we observe
to something we explore. The interactive experience gives us a sense of

Its not only media companies that have embraced immersive, long-form

ownership and connection we would otherwise lack.

content as their preferred medium for storytelling. The Council on Foreign

Relations (CFR), a think tank and publisher, explored a visual storytelling

Like short-form, there is no set formula for effective long-form content, and

model that treats written narratives not as ends, but rather beginnings.

its amazing how companies have used this opportunity to be creative as

With its interactive InfoGuide series, CFR focused on user interaction and

they push the boundaries of available technology. Unfortunately, the best

design, presenting stories on a single page in order to surface as much

multimedia interactives are resource-intensive and not easily replicable with

content as possible in an engaging scrolling experience.

limited time and/or staff. In Part 3, well explain the technology gap making

Brands, too, have discovered new ways to help users to experience their

it difficult for smaller organizations to keep pace with the interactive content

products digitally through interactive design. Tesla, for example, provides


People are willing to dig into content they truly care about. Marrying the
best practices of short-form with long-form provides the double whammy
of engagement and retention.


Part 3

The Storytelling Technology Gap

In todays world, one way to achieve design-intensive layouts like those

team elects to implement their interactives outside of the CMS, the loss of

mentioned in Part 2 is to compose the HTML by hand. This proves to be

technical standards can prove problematic over the long term, increasing

problematic for most content managers, who, after all, are not always

maintenance and cost of ownership.

experienced developers. As Anthony Colangelo points out, theres

a tension between long-form, immersive content and the CMS as a

At the other end of the spectrum, out-of-the-box tools provide a relatively

mechanism for creating and deploying it: its difficult to wrangle unique

inexpensive starting point for long-form content publishing. Tools like

layouts and styles into a templated CMS. Most content management systems

Aesop Story Engine or Atavist give content managers a template to work

are simply not built to accommodate the kind of flexibility that exquisite

from, much like a CMS but with a focus on long-form narratives. While they

long-form demands.

allow organizations to dip their toes in the world of digital storytelling,

these products are a far cry from the immersive, interactive experiences

Limited Options

possible with a dedicated development team. Like any templated layout, the
resulting story is restricted to a predetermined format, closing the door on
truly dynamic, intricate storytelling.

One solution to this dilemma is to hire experienced developers capable of

writing the custom code to create beautiful interactives. However, this is an

This is the storytelling technology gap: the space between restrictive layouts

expensive option, one that can quickly become difficult to maintain as an

and costly development resources.

organization attempts to scale its content production. If you want to add

stories at a faster rate, you will be forced to expand your technical team. Very
few organizations have the budget to operate in this manner. Likewise, if the


In Part 4, we examine Phase2s new technology solution built to fill this gap.

Part 4:

Introducing Fable
When we realized that several of our clients were interested in exploring

images, and videos can be nested within each other. Images can live

long-form interactives and were frustrated by the lack of options, Phase2

inside maps, which can live inside timelines, etc. Not only does this

set out to create a storytelling platform that would enable authors to build

inspire richer interactivity with readers, but it gives content managers

immersive narratives through complex, flexible layouts. Development

infinite options for designing layouts. Rather than being constricted

revolved around resolving our clients pain points and addressing their

to one layer, as was the case with the previously mentioned tools,

needs. The result was Fable.

they are free to nest elements allowing their audience to dig deeper.
The Carnegie Corporation of New York, for example, integrated an

Fable fills the marketplace gap, living in the middle ground between

interactive affiliate map into a long-form storyline about Andrew

expensive development teams and one-size-fits-all templating tools. It

Carnegies history. The graphic provides a space for relevant interludes

requires no development skills to use, empowering non-technical content

that enrich the narrative, but dont detract from it if visitors arent

managers to craft beautiful stories, but can be expanded on by development

interested in exploring farther. Like most effective interactives, this

teams who wish to be truly creative. Put simply, it is more ambitious than

one allows readers to control the pace and direction of discovery. This

the current tools on the market, but cheaper to maintain than a custom

control creates not only a deeper connection to the content, but to the

development team.

organization providing that content as well.

What Sets Fable Apart?

Extended Development: In conjunction with Fables ability to enable

non-technical users, the tool also provides power to developers. Thanks
to Fables existing catalogue of sophisticated elements (as well as its

While Fable has many benefits - including empowered authoring, device

Markup Component, which supports a wide variety of embeddable

optimization, embeddability, Drupal integration, and more - there are three

widgets), developers do not need to spend time hand-coding the basics

key features that make it truly unique in the marketplace.

of the interactive; thats already been handled. In addition, Fable is

Nesting: Fable utilizes a nesting capability that has never been seen

optimized for multiple breakpoints out-of-the-box, so responsive design

in a tool of its kind. Elements such as interactive maps, timelines,


is one less thing for developers to focus on. Fable provides, in essence,

Part 4:

the building blocks necessary to construct a good story, with none of

a non-issue. Static files requiring no processing engine or database to run

the distractions. Instead, they are free to focus on more sophisticated

and dynamic content running browser-side ensure no Fable user has to fear

integrations, like data visualizations, custom widgets, or social media

the success of their interactive. When your content goes viral, Fables simple

content from a third party. Via UTF-8 support, the stories told through

hosting and publishing model will make sure your story reaches everyone

Fable can be shared in multiple languages, giving developers bandwidth

successfully on any device.

when addressing different audiences. Furthermore, because the

technical team is not spending excessive amounts of time on the basic
widgets, organizations are able to make their resources go farther. Even a

Whos Using Fable?

small development team has a lot of room to maneuver.

Performance & Hosting: Often times the power to create rich, long-

To explore how Fable is being used today, take some time to poke around in

form content results in heavy pages that can have long initialization or

these interactives by Phase2s partners, the Carnegie Corporation of New

load times. Fable addresses this by only loading the needed content as

York and the University of California San Francisco.

the user begins to interact with the page. Known as lazy loading, this

Andrew Carnegie: Pioneer. Visionary. Innovator.

minimizes wait time and allows the user to begin enjoying the content as

Andrew Carnegie Fellows

soon as they are ready.

Great Immigrants
Mobilizing for Math and Science

In addition, knowing that many organizations fear the increased cost

associated with high-volume traffic, Fable was designed to make hosting


UCSF 150

Part 5:

Concluding Thoughts on Storytelling

In this white paper, weve discussed trends in both long- and short-form

to know what shes trying to say. Using a tool solely for technologys sake

content creation, the technology gap in the storytelling market, and Fable

will eventually lead you back to square one. Therefore, it is important to

as a reliable tool for filling this gap. To conclude, wed like to leave you

have consultants on staff that can help guide an organization down the path

with a caveat: technological innovation should always be in service to your

of great storytelling.

overarching story.
Fable is a technology solution for organizations committed to not only great
Organizations that tell stories successfully stay true to the age-old principles

storytelling, but their role in developing a strong story of their own. Digital

of storytelling: their stories follow an arc that conveys a core message,

storytellers should know how to gather and surface story elements that

communicating what makes them unique and forging connections with their

reflect who they are and where they want to go.

audience in a real and powerful way. Technology can create new ways to
deepen those connections, but before it can be effective, the author needs


Lets Tell Your Story.

Additional Resources
Phase2 Resources:

Other Resources:

Fable website

You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span

The New Narrative

Data Visualization in Journalism: An
Interview with Michael Keller
Crafting Content Strategy for Interactive
Visual Dimensions vodcast
The Craft of Building Educational
Interactive Stories
Data Visualizations in Journalism


Than a Goldfish, Time.com

5 ways the listicle is changing journalism,
The Guardian
Why Short-Form Video is the Future of
Marketing, Fast Company
The Power of Long-form Content in the Age
of Short-form Content, Scripted
When is my Tweets Prime of Life? Moz.com
Snow Fall, New York Times

Cyclings Road Forward, Washington Post

Sea of Steel, Washington Post
The Rust Belt, MSNBC
Long-form journalism makes a comeback,
USA Today
Future of Mobile News, Pew Research Center
An in-house CMS for immersive
storytelling, American Press Institute
Longform Content with Craft Matrix,
A List Apart