Planet Takeout is an interactive, multiplatform documentary on the role of Chinese takeouts as a vital cultural crossroads in Boston and beyond. The project embedded in four takeouts in diverse neighborhoods in Boston to tell stories from both sides of the takeout counter, as well as soliciting stories and photos from listeners across the country about their local takeouts. It takes the humble, ubiquitous takeout as a space where global migration patterns meet local American neighborhoods of color.

The project incubated at WGBH Radio as part of the nationwide Localore initiative aimed at spurring innovation in public media. Val Wang reported features airing on WGBH Radio 89.7 and worked with developers to design a groundbreaking website.

Our story

Planet Takeout worked with developers Zeega and designers Golden Arrows to design an immersive, interactive website. We wanted to explode the idea of the central, stable homepage of a website and instead take the viewer directly inside a short looped video of one of the four takeouts, randomly chosen, shown from the customer’s point of view. Lucky cat icons would pop up and clicking would take you into short videos and narrated slideshows of customers. You could also swivel 180 degrees into the perspective of the kitchen and hear stories from the restaurant workers’ points of view.

We solicited user-generated photos and stories of local takeouts from around the world, inviting eaters to upload their media to websites with open APIs like Flickr, Soundcloud, Youtube, or Tumblr to tag them #planettakeout, and geolocate them, so our website could automatically pull them in and populate our map and collections. We worked with local community organizations to solicit this content, and in the end collected almost 1,000 photographs and more than 30 audio stories.

After we tagged this Planet Takeout- and user-generated content, the website then offered multiple ways to navigate: a menu that divided the stories into four categories (Running a Takeout, Regulars, Neighborhoods, and Generations), a map where the geolocated media could be found and a set of photo and audio collections collated by tags.

We presented the project at the second annual Tribeca Interactive forum in 2013, the country’s premiere venue for showcasing interactive work. The wild, wondrous internet being what is it, the website is no longer operational, though the blog is still available. Below are some video navigations that demonstrate how it operated.

The website would first load into an immersive scene of the restaurant from the customer’s point of view:

Clicking the cats would take you into short videos and narrated slideshows, here of teenagers at Yum Yum:

You could also switch into the perspective of the restaurant’s workers and hear stories from their point of view:

Here is Mei, who helps out her family at Hong Kong Chef when she’s not working as a nurse:

You could navigate via a menu designed like a Chinese menu:

Or a map populated by all of the geotagged media:

Or a grid of the collections with tags such as menu, dragon, staff, neon: