A few weeks ago, I wrote a post for Lean Back 2.0 on how publishers might rethink long-form reading on the desktop computer. I had been blown away by an ESPN.com feature called “The Long Strange Trip of Dock Ellis” about a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who threw a no-hitter while on LSD. The piece, with a beautiful layout and compelling multimedia features, opened my eyes to the possibilities of storytelling on a desktop computer, a platform not usually associated with innovative design.
Now, the New York Times has joined ESPN as a leader in online storytelling with the multimedia project “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek“. John Branch’s article about a devastating avalanche in Washington’s Cascade Mountains has been turned into a beautiful reading experience through the use of a clean layout, interactive maps, inlaid videos and graphics that move as your scroll. The result is an online reading experience like no other. I was almost giddy with awe and excitement as I read it.
The response around the web has been equally as glowing. Wired‘s Steve Silberman tweeted “Let’s face it: NYT just pulled off Best Web Design of 2012 with this”. Chris O’Shea of Fishbowl NY wrote that the “New York Times’ ‘Snow Fall’ Article is Newspaper Web Design at Its Best.” And the Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson wrote on Twitter that “The Times’ multi-multi-multi-media story on a powerful avalanche is spell-binding”.
Of course, as I pointed out in my earlier article about ESPN.com’s Dock Ellis story, it’s much easier to transform an article into a beautiful, interactive desktop experience when you forego advertising. In its current preview version, “Snow Fall” is free of notoriously noisy banner ads. However, a spokesperson for the New York Times did tell me that the non-preview version will indeed include advertising. So stay tuned to see if the Times can successfully marry a beautiful interactive story with much-needed advertising dollars.
Update: “Snow Fall” has gone live and advertising is now embedded within the article. It looks like this: