Looking to the next stage

As we are soon returning to the second half of semester it’s important to start considering a number of things…

Firstly, over the next week it will be important for me to start watching tutorials and playing around with programs such as DreamWeaver, InDesign and Flash. Each of these three software programs could be viable options for this project and therefore some background knowledge in how they operate will be essential.

Also, from my understanding once we return next week it will be time to find some other like-minded students to group with for the final assessment. Hopefully I can find someone with a similar interest in history… because I certainly think that I will be more engaged in this task and will learn more from it if it is about something I find interesting! It will be interesting to see what other people’s ideas are and, hey, if there are some that are better and more intriguing than my own I might actually consider them!

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Proposed concept and layout

The essence of this project is to inform the user of the historical importance of the figure of Rasputin and will achieve this through engaging the user visually appealing, easy to navigate interaction.

Given the complexities of Rasputin’s assassination, the target audience for the project will be highschool-aged students to adults (approx 13+).

Ideally I would like two forms of menus. One in the form of a constant nav bar to ensure simplicity and the other controlled by the user with their mouse – rolling over images and text which then highlight and invite the user to ‘click here’.

Below are some images of some potential layouts I have put together. Obviously these are very draft-like and are just to provide a general idea of things. With Photoshop and Flash things will certainly look a lot prettier.

This could be a possible home page. Preferably, I will use a slightly darker colours scheme with this and, accompanied with the eerie sounds of the gusli this should provide and atmospheric and encapsulating home page for the user. The two paths – ‘Who is Rasputin?’ and ‘Who killed Rasputin?’ – can be selected by the user. I envisage these two options appearing in a ‘dissolving’ style function from the clouds behind them. It kind of reminds me of a Harry Potter-style theme.

First option – Who is Rasputin? Above are some sub-topic ideas which, when selected by the user, will go on to interactive letter-style descriptions, interactive maps etc.

The second option – ‘Who killed Rasputin?’ – takes the user to the whodunnit side of the page. This is one way of laying out this section of the site. Another way I have thought of is to have a map of Moscow with the locations of the Yusupov Palace, the homes of the conspirators including British intelligence officer Oswald Rayner and the river where Rasputin was dumped. The user could be taken on a journey across these locations in a particular order, to guide them through the history and how versions of the story have alternated over time with the revelation of new evidence.


Where the Romanov’s lived.

The Palace of Prince Felix Yusupov where Rasputin was supposedly murdered and dumped into the adjacent river.

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Idea development

I have been trying to consider more seriously what my potential site may look like. The character of Rasputin and the sentiment of the period is encapsulated in doom and gloom, not to mention political tension. In terms of interface design, I want to play to these sentiments using collage-style imagery, combining old photographs with Russian artefacts and patterns and a predominantly dark colour scheme. When the user visits my interactive page, I want them to be engrossed by the images in front of them; I want it to be a representation of the period in which Rasputin lived. This experience could also be enhanced by the use of music, perhaps an eery authentic Russian tune made by that of the kantele, which is inspired by the gusli (the oldest Russian multi-string plucked instrument). The gusli has played an important role in Russian culture and its sound could contribute significantly to the atmosphere of the site.

An example of the kantele/gusli sound.

Considering the depth of research I have found I have also come to the conclusion that an older audience is more suitable to this topic. There are so many complex and diverse perspectives and although the site could be directed at primary school aged children this would involve simplifying a lot of the fascinating information or, dare I say, ‘dumbing it down’.

The fall of the Romanov’s is currently part of the senior modern history syllabus so there is certainly a use for this project in that age group. The site could also attract adults with an interest in history.

The interface design and delivery of information will work hand-in-hand to ensure a successful user experience. The information conveyed will have to be concise, without taking away from its merits. A simple, easy to navigate interface that is not over-done will be necessary in order to hold on to the imagination of the user. I think this will best be achieved with a clear nav bar to return to the ‘home screen’, a mute button for sound and a roll-over mouse function, where objects light up as you move over them. As much as I like Re-enchantment, I am not a fan of its movement. When you are in its ‘little world’ you are never quite sure where you are going. It’s lack of an easy to navigate menu is its downfall, in my opinion. Some people like the idea of going in and having to explore, however I think with my project I would much rather a static page. This would probably make it more technically feasible too, especially given my inexperience in flash.

In my research I came across the following Russian history website called Alexander Palace which has a biography of Rasputin. It has provided me with an example to work from – showing how photographs and scroll bars can be used to enhance user experience.

Looking at this example, I like the use of font and the style of the ‘letter’ on the right-hand side.

However, for my project I would like to use a darker colour scheme with more black, dark greys, blues and greens as I feel this would help to emotionally encapsulate the user into the mysterious nature of Rasputin and his death.

I also found some other interactive history websites to work from which use simple interfaces, although for different purposes:

  • Although it’s designed for kids, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for Kids website exemplifies simple, clear and successfully themed navigation with a menu on the left-hand side as well as an interactive timeline
  • The Greeks: Crucible of Civilisation has very easy navigation which enhances usability but has way too much text with not enough imagery or interactivity – an mundane example to avoid

Perhaps a home page could appear with a central image of Rasputin with a type of mindmap menu structure – ‘Who is Rasputin?’ with sub-topics such as ‘The Romanovs’, ‘The mad monk’, ‘The lover’ and, on the other side, ‘Who killed Rasputin?’ with sub-topics including ‘The scene of the crime’, ‘The culprits’, ‘The weaponry’ and ‘The autopsy’.

Obviously, there are many aspects of this project that need ironing out and this is all very draft-like. At the moment, this process of blogging is about throwing around and recording all the random ideas that come into my head! I am looking forward to putting together more of a solid proposal and collaborating with a partner… it will be helpful to work with some outside perspectives.

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Finding an angle

Over the weekend I have read a lot about Rasputin’s life. But the more and more I read, the more I become intrigued by the story of his death. With conflicting versions and interpretations of the event,  it appears that the murder of Rasputin has been largely cloaked in myth since its occurrence in December 1916.

My initial research into the incident led me to the well-establised, accepted version of events which predominantly reflect the views of Prince Felix Yusupov, convicted guilty at the forefront of Rasputin’s murder.

The story is fascinating.

Enticing Rasputin to visit his palace on the invitation to meet his wife (Irina, niece of Tsar Nicholas II) with a certain innuendo of sexual liason, Yusupov and his co-conspirators, including Grand Duke Dimitri Palovich, Vladimir Purishkevich and Dr. Lazavert, had intentionally set up the basement of the palace as a dining room where Yusupov and Rasputin were to wait until Irina would come down stairs. At the supply of Dr. Lazovertm Yusupov had contaminated both pastries and wine with potassium-cyanide. The potassium-cyanide, administered at a lethal amount, was expected to have an immediate effect. However, Rasputin showed no sign of weakness, let alone dying from poisoning. Impatient with extreme panic, Yusupov shot Rasputin dead with a pistol.

After an hour of celebrations with the conspirators upstairs, Yusupov had an unfathomable desire to go and check on the body; shockingly, Rasputin’s body was warm and he was still alive. It is said that Rasputin crawled up the stairs yelling, then tried to escape as Purishkevich shot him twice with a revolver – first in the back and then in the head. The body was then dumped into the Malaya Nevka River near the Great Petrovsky Bridge where it was discovered three days later. Interestingly, the autopsy results showed that Rasputin was alive as he downed and that hypothermia was the cause of his death.

However, since Yusupov published his book in 1927, entitled Rasputin: His malignant influence and his assassination, many historians have questioned the reliability of this version of events because Yusupov had the opportunity to shape and fabricate it at his disposal.

It was from here that many other conflicting versions of events emerged. In my research, I came across the work of Andrew Cook. His book To Kill Rasputin, published in 2005, was a breakthrough as it revealed evidence from British intelligence reports that suggested the British were highly alarmed by Rasputin’s displacement of pro-British ministers in the Russian Duma and his apparent encouragement of Russian withdrawal from WWI. A re-evaluation of the autopsy sponsored by Cook, found that the third shot (that wounded Rasputin’s head) was fired by a different gun reponsible for the other prominent wounds. Majority of the weapond at the time used hard metal jacketed bullets, however this wound was made by a large, lead non-jacketed bullet of a Webley revolver – the type used by British officers. The only witness to the murder that had a Webley revolver was Lieutenant Oswald Rayner, a British Secret Service officer who had been assigned in St Petersburg. Rayner, upon his return to England, had not only confided to Rose Jones, his cousin, that he was present at the murder of Rasputin but also displayed a bullet from the murder scene. Whilst Cook’s findings are supported by apparent British concern and motive, conclusive evidence is unattainable as Rayner destroyed all of his paperwork before he passed away in 1961.

This all seems like a lot of information to digest. However, one thing is clear – there are ingredients here for an online documentary… This is a real life murder mystery! And I feel like the components of victim, culprit and the whole when/where/how and why could make for some sort of interactive whodunnit. Part entertainment, part educational. It could incorporate real life photographs, copies of letters, autopsies, evidence!

By taking the user on an interactive experience, the online documentary could be used to uncover two questions:

  1. Who is Rasputin? (his many facets, including rumours of his supernatural abilities and his involvement in the Romanov family and the Russian Duma)
  2. Who killed Rasputin? (the conspirators, including the different theories of responsibility and motives)

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Settling on an idea

These past few days I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not going to get anywhere soon unless I settle on an idea. Once I make a decision I can start to dream about, envisage and debate who my audience should be, how I can attract this audience and how I can best enhance their experience. I have been trying to think of this project as a whole but have since realised that it is a methodical process – baby steps!

So, I’ve decided on the fascinating character of Rasputin. After studying the Romanov dynasty is school, I think I would enjoy delving into the life and times of Rasputin and because of this enthusiasm and passion for this period of history I will be able to create a project that is well-planned and successful in its purpose.

“The Mad Monk”

He has always been someone I want to know more about, so hopefully the development of this project will be as beneficial for me as it will be for the user.

This morning I spent some time reading aboutthe life of Rasputin, browsing many internet sites for initial information that will help me develop my understanding of the so-called “mad monk”.

In summary, the sites that I have so far come across describe Rasputin as a creepy, mysterious and egotistical figure that had an unprecedented hold over Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Subsequently, Rasputin is perceived to have played an influential role in Russian politics during one of the most tumultuous periods of its history – the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of communist Russia.

With the fictionalisation of the story of Anastasia, the infamous monk is often overlooked, misrepresented and his personal history taken for granted. The grounds for this project now partially emerge:- to present a view of Rasputin that is more accurate than those previous.

In the past, the character of Rasputin has been sensationalised for the purpose of entertainment, exemplified by the Boney M classic “Rasputin”.

The song and its lyrics provide a short and sweet insight into the life of Rasputin. But just how much of these Boney M lyrics are true? It is no credible historical source… Quite clearly, some more reading and investigation is needed.

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What to do, what to do…

Looking back at the various documentaries we have studied over the past 7 weeks I am trying to think seriously about some viable options for my own project. The sites we have analysed show just how malleable the online medium is – if you have an idea, no matter how wacky or far-fetched, the web and the many platforms it supports can take you there. One concept can be approached from infinite directions, whether by flash, an interactive magazine or even the structure of a simple blog.

Being relatively inexperienced in this field of web developing, I am slightly frightened of exploring these complex platforms. In my previous post I implied that I would use my journalism skills in this task – albeit in my head envisaging a social, location-based project incorporating interviews and profiles. However, I have since had a change of heard/mind and am thinking to pursue something more along the lines of Re-enchantment. Not so much in terms of its fictionality, but in relation to its interactive nature. It is a flash-based project and, as much as it would be a challenge, I think would enjoy learning how to use it. It truly seems like a flexible and creative medium to play with, as well as being a great way to create something entertaining, engaging and perhaps even educational.

The idea of Re-enchantment, with its incorporation of fairytales, has also got me thinking more broadly about the subject matter of my potential documentary. Previously, I have shared on this blog my love of history. I think something history-based would work well with a Re-enchantment style project. Over the past week I have been thinking about some of my favourite historical figures, conflicts and periods as possible avenues.

Some were:

  • Al Capone – his life, times and crimes
  • Henry VII-  his reign, role in the Reformation, his wives, his egotistical character
  • Murder of Rasputin – myths surrounding his life, involvement in the Romanovs and control of the Russian empire and his mysterious death/murder
  • Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII – could incorporate photo journals, profiles of interns

Considering the list above, I think my project will be different to Re-enchantment in that it will not have the same fictional basis and perhaps be more of an educational concept. That said, I wonder who I will aim this project at? It could be an interesting challenge if I were to select primary-aged students as my target audience. Appropriating the issues and forming them into a flash platform that engages and stimulates 8-12 year olds would certainly be a difficult task. Then again, is it a smart idea to restrict my audience to such a degree? Would a high-school student be attracted to a site like this? A university student? An adult with any remote interest in history? It is clear that target audience will play a prominent role in how the site is designed and what interactions it will use to entice the user and enhance the user experience. So many things to think about!

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Assessment 1: Online Analysis into Case Study

“I have a problem I’m sure many other bloggers face; I am perfectly comfortable sharing intimate details about my emotions with complete strangers I meet online but shy away from expressing my true feelings to anyone I know in real life.”

– a woman in Maine

We Feel Fine is a data mining project that collates human feelings from the World Wide Web. Described by its creators as “an exploration of human emotion on a global scale”, the site provides its users with an insight into the human psyche that is so far unseen in the digital world.In short, a data collection engine conducts searches of the web’s latest blogs for incidences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling”. It does this approximately every ten minutes and when it identifies a phrase, the entire sentence is ‘harvested’. The “feelings” can be explored, sorted and analysed by the viewer using the We Feel Fine applet, accessed via clicking on the “Open We Feel Fine” button clearly and conveniently located to the right-hand-side of the home page, seen above.

The engine is able to add up to 20,000 new feelings every day, and as each sentence is stored the system is able to detect the particular “feelings” they express. Any photos that accompany the blog posts are also saved and can be viewed by the user. The intelligence of the system is so developed that it can extract the age, gender and location of the author. It can even identify local weather conditions.

Once the applet is opened, the user is invited to explore “six movements”. These are essentially six different interfaces that allow visitors of the site to uncover stored “feelings” in various ways. The user can quite simply navigate themselves between movements by scrolling over the heart in the bottom left-hand corner of the applet at which point a simple list of the interfaces appears. As well as this, the “feelings” are made easy to distinguish with use of different colours for each.

Madness – mass of particles bouncing around, each representing a single feeling. Designed to mimic the madness of the human world, particles can be clicked at any time to reveal the sentence or photograph inside.

Murmurs – sentences appear letter-by-letter like they are being typed by the author and fade to black as new sentences appear.

Montage - what do feelings look like? By clicking on the thumbnails the user can view photographs from blogs with "I feel" phrases.

Mobs – shows the most common feelings of the sample population.

Metrics – shows the most salient or representative traits of the sample population.

Mounds – measures the frequency of feelings found in the database (the bigger the mound, the higher the frequency)





















































At the crux of this project is the ability to reveal fascinating information and statistics about how people feel from certain countries, cities, age groups on particular days of the year. This is enabled by The Panel located at the top of the applet.

The Panel - this is how the user controls the sample population that is shown on the screen.











When clicked, drop-down type menus appear and the user can constrain the population shown by the following axes:

  • Feeling
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weather
  • Location
  • Date

Hit the “Find Feelings” button in the bottom right corner and you’re on your way!

By utilizing these axes, the project can answer questions such as:

  • Do women feel fat more often than men?
  • Does rainy weather affect how we feel?
  • Which are the happiest cities in the world?

Aside from the trivial, the applet acts as a useful method of recording the human experience. It is, fundamentally, a historical collection unlike any other. Imagine being able to analyse how people in West Germany felt when the Berlin Wall fell? Or how people in New York felt on the day of the 9/11 attacks? The project has only been operating since 2005 but, no doubt, will be a compelling source of information for the momentous historical events of the future.

Although the project is primarily online-based, Harris & Kamvar have also transferred their ‘favourites’ from the collection into a book that is sold on Amazon. The data is, effectively, a story of what it’s like to be human so I can understand how the concept could work as a flip-through, coffee table book.

Created prior to the rise of the iPhone, iPad and the mobile ‘app’ platform, I would be interested to see if project can be transferred to into an application format. With the use of satellite technology, one could receive information about how people in certain areas are feeling. If I am house hunting in an area where people predominantly feel violent, I think I would like to know! Accessibility to data collection along these lines would be extremely useful.

We Feel Fine also has a Facebook and Twitter account, both of which are currently inactive. I believe this is mostly because these were used to promote the launch of the book, not so much the applet itself as there are no links to these pages from the project site. I can envisage, however, that Twitter followers would engage or appreciate quirky statues/tweets about “what most people are feeling today”, as would those on Facebook. Updating the project site with links to such pages, and maintaining statuses/tweets would regenerate visitation to the site and perhaps increase book sales.

Undoubtedly, the web has expanded dramatically over the past decade; there is significantly more content available and the nature of that content is becoming increasingly diverse. It is a larger place than it was in the 90s, it is more immediate and it is more social. There are people on Facebook, people on live messaging, bloggers, professional writers, buyers, sellers, groups, pages, and videos. The list is endless. The web is endless. And this makes it a relatively untouched resource of human interaction. We Feel Fine attempts to capture this and does so in a very successful manner.

Traditionally, data mining and information retrieval has been primarily focused on queries and documents. Alternatively, Jonathan Harris and computer engineer Sep Kamvar have sought to create a program that focuses on the people behind the queries and documents. By merging elements of computer science, anthropology, visual art and storytelling, they have produced a social experiment that entirely re-imagines how humans relate to technology and also to each other.

Inspired by techniques used by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen in their installation project Listening Post, We Feel Fine scans blog posts from a variety of online sources, such as LiveJournal, MySpace and Google amongst other social media outlets. It is because of this that, in essence, We Feel Fine is an artwork made by everyone, for everyone.

According to Harris, We Feel Fine “will grow and change as we grow and change, reflecting what’s on our blogs, what’s in our hearts, what’s in our minds.” As the user views and interacts with the “feelings”, they undergo their own experience of reflection on the world around them, and, consequently, are provoked to reflect on themselves. The project, it seems, is just as much about the user as it is about the data collected. As they explore the site’s interfaces, the user is reassured of the shared human experience; no matter what they feel, it’s likely that there are a number of people around the world that feel the same.

“We hope it makes the world seem a little smaller, and we hope it helps people see beauty in the everyday ups and downs of life.”
– Jonathan Harris

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