‘Chunking’ online content? Don’t assume we start at the same point

Online multimedia production has for a few years now come with the guidance to ‘chunk’ content: instead of producing linear content, as you would for a space in a linear broadcast schedule, you split your content into specific chunks of material that each tackles a different aspect of the issue or story being covered. Interfaces like these show the idea in practice best:

Being a Black Man interactive

The concept is particularly well explained by Mindy McAdams (on text), and Andy Dickinson (on video, below):

“[T]ake an existing package and break it in to its key parts. Write a description of each chunk on to a card or post-it note. Lay them out in a line and then for each card add another for content you didn’t use at that point or expands on the content.


“Then try moving the content around in to sections that fit together. Pretty soon you will have the bare bones of a possible multimedia package.

Chunking video content

Talking with some students recently about their own multimedia projects, however, I realised a weakness with the approach: we tend to assume that everyone comes to the story through the same interface.

And this is wrong.

While the practice of chunking multimedia was becoming semi-conventional, another convention was forming: every page is a homepage.

But in multimedia interactives, there’s only one homepage: the interface.

Rethinking the interface

When most multimedia interactives were Flash-based, this wasn’t a problem, because Flash doesn’t allow you to go ‘back’ or ‘forward’ between URLs so there was no need to consider the possibility of a user entering the interactive at different points (unless you split it into separate movies on different webpages). The whole movie sits on one URL, and you start at… the start.

With more and more interactive work using HTML5 or Javascript, however, that becomes a problem. Or rather: an opportunity.

As I’ve worked with students on investigations which were ‘chunked’ into different elements (data; multimedia; explainers; case studies) I’ve noticed the same opportunity: each ‘chunk’ is its own homepage: a possible entry point for users into the investigation as a whole.

And that means being clear about the angle on each chunk – not just the product as a whole.

So if your multimedia interactive allows users to browse through a series of interviews, ask: what’s most newsworthy about each? What’s my headline to this, if I assume they haven’t seen any of the other related material? What other material might they want to see next? Will they want to share this individual element? Indeed, should it be published elsewhere too, if it isn’t already? How can it be best optimised for search engines?

In short, the interface is just our choice of arrangement for a set of multimedia elements. Our homepage: not, necessarily, everyone else’s.


4 thoughts on “‘Chunking’ online content? Don’t assume we start at the same point

  1. Andy Dickinson

    Good points Paul.

    I think the key thing about chunking is that there are several motivations for doing it: needs and interests of user, opportunities for different types of content and taking advantage of the medium.

    I think the advent of multiplatform has pushed that last one to the fore and given rise to your thinking.

    But it’s great that a lot still stands since people like Amy and Mindy where talking about this stuff years ago

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  3. Mindy McAdams

    Good stuff, Paul. Another thing to consider is how entry points (to the larger project) are configured on each page. There’s a lot to be said for a standard navigation item that appears on each page (or segment) of a big package, rather than trying to change it up for each segment.

    In the context of the full package, the idea of a home page, or landing page (or launching pad, perhaps) still has value. If I come in from an entry point that is not the launching pad, and I feel a strong interest in the content, I might want to find that starting place.

    First, is the launching pad (or anchor page) easy to find?

    Second, when I go there, does that place provide appealing entry points for me — or is it a crowded mismash, everything and the kitchen sink? (Or worse, is it a useless splash page?)

    I feel really unhappy with packages that are just big collections of videos, because I’m not ready to commit to watching a video, most of the time, until I have decided the package is worth my time.

  4. Pingback: ‘Chunking’ online content? Don’t assume we start at the same point | Newsballs

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