The video was announced today on the Official Google Blog, which details exactly what elements went into its creation. Dubbed “The Wilderness Downtown” (an undertaking created by writer/director Chris Milk) the video is a new kind of musical experience, reminiscent of — but much more advanced than — hypertext storytelling of old.
Basically, you surf over to “The Wilderness Downtown” page using Google Chrome (don’t use Safari, the program will murder your browser), and type in the address of your childhood home when prompted. If Google Maps has enough footage of home sweet home, you’ll be pulled into a multi-browser movie of your own making.
The experience of watching this highly personalized video is not easily described, but basically the story of childhood ending as time rapidly slips away becomes your own as trees shoot up out of nowhere on your old street, culminating in an opportunity to write a letter to a younger you. Check it out when you have a moment to really watch the whole thing, sans any other browsers.
HTML5 + Music = Awesomeness
Mashable’s own Christina Warren and I chatted a bit about the technical aspects of the “The Wilderness Downtown,” and she pointed out that it really shows off the capabilities offered by HTML5. As the Chrome Experiments page details, the new audio, video and canvas tags in HTML5 are used to full effect.
“In addition to timed-playback, synchronized effects and custom windows sizes for the video and animated content, this video also features custom rendered maps directly from the Google Maps API,” Christina told me. “Using SVG, the drawing application, for the postcard aspect of the video adds an interactive and personal touch.”
“More than just a one-off proof of concept, the end project (the video) shows just what is possible with HTML5 and emerging web standards,” she added.
Using Social Media to Score a Number-One Album
Not only is the video a hit in terms of technology, it also marks yet another interesting venture on Arcade Fire’s part with regard to the release of their third album. Arcade Fire — which has been around since 2004 — has really set the precedent for online promotions and fan experience this time around.
After the album dropped on August 3, the band teamed up with Vevo, YouTube and American Express to put on a live-streamed show at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The stream attracted 3.7 million viewers, according to Google, and boasted a ton of interactive features: “Choose Your Cam,” which will let the audience control their viewing experience by switching between the director’s stream and the second camera, as well as a projection of fan-provided images, all depicting childhood suburbs. Also, bonus, Terry Gilliam — of Brazilfame — directed the live stream.
In addition to this show, Amazon also partnered with Merge records — the band’s indie, North Carolina-based label — to offer The Suburbs at a discounted price of $3.99 during the week of release, helping the band sell 156,000 copies in the U.S. by August 11, and score the number-one spot on Billboard’s album chart, according to The New York Times. (The album is currently at number seven on the Billboard chart.)
The live stream — as well as all the buzz around the album — soon attracted the attention of Twitter, who reached out to Merge and the band to ask if they’d like to participate in the micro-blogging service’s new@earlybird program, a Twitter account designed to tweet out special deals from selected advertisers. Twitter launched the deal — a CD discounted to $7.99 — on August 12 to coincide with the band’s appearance on The Daily Show.
“We knew that Arcade Fire had a big Twitter following already and we’re always trying to get new followers, and Arcade Fire is one of our biggest bands, so we thought this was a great time to try to branch out our fan base and the band’s fan base,” says Lindsey Kronmiller, who does online/radio/video promotions for Merge.
Although the band (curiously enough) did not tweet about it, the record label garnered a pretty good amount of attention for the deal, which was Twitter’s first @EarlyBird promotion around a band. (Some criticized Merge for hawking CDs rather than records or MP3s, but given Merge’s free domestic shipping policy, records would have been extremely expensive to ship, and since Amazon had already had a digital deal, it seemed best to go with a physical product.)
Like The National before them — who, despite the leak of their new album High Violet, nabbed the number three spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart after one week of sales, thanks in part to a Vevo live stream — Arcade Fire has managed to catapult themselves into the public eye via the web.
Yes, they’re not exactly underground when it comes to popularity, but on a scale of your cousin’s ironic polka band to Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire are not exactly fameballs, either. Yes, the album has gained this level of attention because it was hotly anticipated and, well, good, but the band has managed to attract much more praise by tapping into relevant channels — channels where fans both new and old reside. Much like the now-fabled Old Spice Guy campaign, Arcade Fire and Merge’s use of social media is sure to be a model for album releases to come.
Now, enough business talk — check out “The Wilderness Downtown” post haste.