It’s easy to share photos (Flickr, Instagram, Facebook). It’s easy to visit places (Google Street View). It’s easy to tell stories (every blogging platform on earth). So what if you want to give someone a tour of your home town? How do you do that?
Dio is a new site by Linden Lab, who you know best for Second Life. It’s essentially a photo-sharing site with a twist: Rather than simply navigating by thumbnails or next buttons, Dio allows you to link images through a larger, branching narrative. The result? You don’t just have a set of photos; you have an interactive place or story.
If you ever played an old text-based RPG, you’ll know how it works. The viewer starts somewhere–like the main strip of San Francisco’s Chinatown. They can choose simple options (the most common is “look”), which may trigger a new photo or description. As the user explores, they spot more options–hanging lanterns, a souvenir shop, a bench, even a local–all of which can be clicked to do things like “talk” or “rest” or “windowshop.” And with each new sighting, there’s description to add context to the image.
You pause at one of the many souvenir shops on Grant Street. The storefront and bins are packed with all sorts of fun trinkets: bamboo backscratchers, folding paper fans, and fake swords, as well as silk scarves, embroidered silk purses and, of course, a wide selection of San Francisco T-shirts.
No doubt, the current projects up on Dio have an unmistakable RPG tone. But the core idea is that you learn more about a space by exploring it. Already, there are a lot of creative uses for the platform. By linking photos and narrative, Dio can give a tour of Chinatown, power an adventure game with the goal of killing a wasp, put you in the shoes of Alice in Wonderland, or take you on a virtual tour of a house.
Now, it’s a highly imperfect platform–the UI feels at odds with itself, as your options are often hidden behind a layer of clicking, which constantly pulls your eyes from the photos and text you’re on Dio to explore. And ad placement is just horrendous. But I do think Dio is onto something. Despite all of our media-sharing tools, it’s hard to express “this is the feeling of my city.” Despite Street View cars making their way across the globe, it’s not that satisfying to explore places where I’d love to live.
Dio reminds me that we’ve developed a tendency to silo our media, ripping it from human context to look pretty in a lightbox. It’s not that photos don’t look pretty when padded with white space. It’s that our real lives are framed in spills, smears, and smudges.