Author Archives: Imran Ali

The Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange labs ended yesterday with a launch event and the first public reveal of our contribution, Pararchive, a storytelling tool for archival media.

Cultural & Creative Industries Exchange launch event

Joining the other teams at the reception, we got the chance to talk thought the principles and philosophies of Pararchive with interested parties, as well as share our concept designs and scenarios.

Two visitors to our stand included Andrew Wilson – of Blink Media and the Hannah Mitchell Foundation – as well as Dinah Clark, Leeds City Council’s programme manager for culture. Dinah in particular was interested in the implications on intellectual property, ownership and openness in what became a thrilling conversation on the changing nature of work and value.

Pararchive - "Stories about Zak"


Though our intention was only to formulate a ‘concept car’, Pararchive looks like there might be resources available for further development. Just today a funding application was made to begin developing a working prototype… watch this space 🙂

In our exploration of storytelling services, apps and communities at the previous meeting, we were conscious that Simon’s research had begun with media archives related to the Miner’s Strike.

Rather than attempting to create a generic storytelling platform for all possible stories, we understood quickly that a boundary or constraint would surface more interesting possibilities and perspectives…

  • The recent publication of the Hillsborough report provided a set of perspectives, controversies, fractions and accounts that might make for interesting narratives to explore.
  • The breaking Jimmy Savile case also offered a landscape of current and historical narratives that coupled with archival material offer immediate evidence in criminal activity.

We eventually settled on the London Riots as a potent multi-dimensional set of narratives that could be explored in both time and space from multiple perspectives – rioters, police, victims, observers. Also, a rich range of public, social and civic data was readily available from multiple archives.

So, in a somewhat over-caffeinated state inside Mrs. Atha’s hipstery coffee shop, we began to explore stories from the Guardian’s Reading the Riots site to pick out interesting characters that might provide us with archetypal personas and scenarios for the design process.

We settled on four real personalities…

  • Zak, a cafe owner who lost his premises to rioters.
  • Carla, a musician who is still paying a mortgage on a residence destroyed in the riots.
  • Peter, a opportunistic rioter whom also wants to share the frustrations of young people.
  • Angela, a senior police officer deployed to Hackney to protect civilians and paramedics.

Using their real-world experiences during the riots, we began to hypothesise about their motivations for using our service; what would be the stories they needed to tell. From this we began to break down their journeys into tasks which would later inform the user flow and interactions.


Something we began to consider was whether the veracity of stories could be modelled – was truth something we needed to account for, or simply to offer the maximal range of voices and perspectives?

We discussed the possibilities, strengths and weaknesses of modelling an eBay-style reputation, where users in the same place, time or situation as each other could ‘vouch’ for a story’s veracity, commentary or other people’s recollections. This would translate into ‘currency’ that helped user’s ‘earn’ the right to contribute or comment elsewhere.

We also speculated about a ‘conversational’ first experience for new users. Answering simple dialogues such as where they live, their age, where were they, how were they affected could also help you earn currency, but also locate you within the archive’s media objects, temporally, conceptually and geographically.

The week between the introductory briefings and our first group meeting allowed the team some time to lay down a few basic principles and share some of our respective influences and observations with each other.

We decided early on that with the composition of the group’s skills being largely design and product focussed, that we shouldn’t aim for a working prototype but orient our time around fully exploring the possibility and problem space and arriving at a proof-of-concept. A ‘concept car’ that would point the way towards future development.

Simon’s research interests in media archives and storytelling immediately aligned with the tastes and influences the rest of the group had been exploring in recent years, so we began to assemble these influences into reference points we could later deconstruct and remix.

These included…

By exploring archives, apps, styles and communities, we were confident we could synthesise a best-of-breed storytelling concept from this landscape…

So our first week ended somewhat excitedly North Bar, with a loose set of principles and language, beginning to coalesce into a starting point for the project.

Between metadata, scrapbooks, shoeboxes, climate, people, place, time, tags, narratives, dormant iTunes metadata, personal media archives, our own narrative was beginning to emerge!