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Know your competition: Finding time to digest digital storytelling across the web

Great Falls
Great Falls
David Zhou

Back in December, Ryan Gantz wrote an article on the Vox Product Blog about the sheer volume of incredible media being produced by our editorial staffs and video teams. He posed a great question: When am I going to find the time to read all this?

After going to SND Prototypes this past weekend and seeing a lot of the "Best of Digital Design" for the past year, I was asking myself a different question: When am I going to find the time to read the disruptive, innovative work of our peers?

"If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat."
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

At Vox Media, we're very proud of the work we do. That is natural for an expanding company, and our growth has proven that we are doing a lot of things right. At the same time, we aren't delusional - there's a bevy of forward-thinking media organizations shaking things up and building immersive experiences. These competitors are increasing rapidly, and they are gunning for the same audiences we are.

For consumers, this is a great thing. Digital storytelling experiences are getting better and better -- more intuitive, beautiful and functional. For Vox Product, it means we can't rest on our laurels. We need to continually push the envelope on design and user experience. We need to retain what sets us apart as a company while making bold bets on our technology and people.

So yeah, I'll still get my sports coverage from SB Nation and I'll still consider Polygon's review score as my most trustworthy source before I buy a game. But I'll now spend more time exploring the best the web has to offer and use it as motivation to push Vox Media forward.

Here is a short list of great packages outside of the Vox Media organization that I found captivating. I hope this makes you think about how you can continue to push your work in a new direction.

The perils at Great Falls, by The Washington Post: WaPo did a great job of making a dynamic, interactive feature that paired nicely with a meaty exploration of drowning fatalities at one of the region's most beautiful and dangerous natural landmarks. Not only did this drive home the very real dangers associated with rushing water, eddy lines and unpredictable currents, it provided a true storytelling experience. I felt like I was in control of where I went next and I wanted to learn more.

Serengeti Lion, by National Geographic: Stunning visuals, keyboard controls, and the option to read captions or listen to commentary through each section of the piece. The seamless integration of all these elements is elegant and brings a strong connection to anyone who spends time taking the story in. Going full screen is particularly immersive.

Half-Million-Dollar Man, by The Dallas Morning News: This piece went a different direction entirely. Intensely focused on a Texas-specific crowd, this piece explores the rebuilding of Big Tex, a statue and mascot for the annual State Fair of Texas in Dallas. The old statue was destroyed in an electrical fire, and the unique animation style of this feature, accompanied by videos popping out into modals, provides a great look at a cultural icon's restoration on a deep level. It doesn't have to always make sense, but this story just popped to me.

Now, I'd like you to think about features and storytelling experiences that have stuck out to you recently. What made them special? Share with us your thoughts in the comment section!