“Interactive” has been a buzzword associated with online entertainment since Al Gore invented the medium.

After the first original online series, The Spot hit broadband waves in 1995 – offering audiences the opportunity to chat with characters via “electronic messages known as e-mail” – a number of programs have used the unprecedented connectivity and instant feedback inherent to the web to craft stories in unique ways.

The Emmy Award-winning, sci-fi thriller Satacracy 88 gave audiences an opportunity to make a binary, choose-your-own-adventure selection about what would happen next. Where are the Joneses? brought viewers directly into writers meetings and gave them a seat on the casting couch to help decide how Dawn would find her 27 product-of-a-sperm-donor siblings. In iChannel, YouTube comments and video responses directly influenced the life of a young man who undergoes a modern day Metamorphisis to find himself under constant camera surveillance.

Take180 takes the concept of interactivity to the next level.

Conceived by the same team that pioneered participation for The L Word: You Write It! event under the banner of the now defunct FanLib, Take180 is a “community where people come together to make awesome web shows.” The emphasis is on the together. Produced by T180 Studios (a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company), the site’s original series offer an almost unprecedented level of audience participation.

Here’s how it works:

1) Viewers are asked by the producers of Take180’s online originals – including My Alibi (a high school comedy), In2ition (a metaphysical mystery), and The Juice Box (a celebrity/pop-culture spoof) – to participate in contests dubbed Challenges.

2) Willing participants are asked to submit a wide variety of material, including everything from photographs at the beach, webcam recordings of how you once met that famous celbrity, or the dialogue from your most embarrassing break up.

3) For each Challenge, Take180 producers select the finalists whose entries they like the best, and…

4) the community votes on a winner.

5) The individual that submitted the winning story/video/photo/artwork wins a prize (like portable DVD players, American Express Gift Cards, etc.) and…

6) the submission gets incorporated into a future episode of the series.

I recently met up with In2ition writer/director Chandler Evans and My Alibi writer Julie Restivo to learn more about Take180 and figure out the challenges and benefits of creating a weekly show when you’re not sure what’s going to happen next.

If extended distribution on a television network’s website is a marker of success, Take180 seems to be doing pretty well. Restivo’s My Alibi – about high school seniors Cy, Marley, Jonah, Scarlet, and Rebecca who are in trouble, into gossip, and in principal Gabrielle Carteris‘ office – was recently picked up to run on ABCFamily.com.

Yes, both sites are part of Disney, but perhaps creating a new media studio with a highly interactive community to incubate, contribute to, and test the palatability of original web series for larger audiences is the point. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Take180 shows pop up on Disney and ABC destinations (including television) in the future.

Check it out at Take180.com.

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