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How to Encourage Participation in a Shared Storyworld

robert | March 30, 2011  ‐  4 Comments

I was motivated to create this post because of the launch of Scott Walker’s Shared Storyworlds site which I’m keen to see become an important resource. I’ll leave Scott to define what a shared storyworld is and I’ve discussed crowdsoucing and collaborative storyworlds in some detail in Section 4.3 of my book Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling (it’s available for free).

What I wanted to address in this post was the issue of motivating the right participation from the right people. Using words like “amateur”, “professional”, “user-generated” are unhelpful because in today’s creative environment someone’s role is very fluid. For example, if an artist who makes art as a primary source of income decides to contribute to a shared storyworld without immediate financial compensation does that make her an amateur?

For me, a successful Shared Storyworld will seek contributions from people with the right skill level and the right enthusiasm. Where ability and enthusiasm are mismatched the most likely outcome will be contributions that do not meet the desired quality threshold or the owning author will find herself paying for contributions that do. Or continuing to contribute her own content.

Fans, Collaborators and Contract

In the first diagram (above) I make the distinction between a “fan” and a “collaborator” as the ability to be a canonical contribution to the storyworld. (While “collaborator” might not be the word Scott might use I think it’s a helpful word to use in thinking of how to build a shared storyworld – see the second diagram).

The Contribution of Fans, Collaborators and Contractors

This is not to say that fan contributions are not be encouraged but they should be regarded more as a gift – it’s an act of affection. It’s why one woman and her child drove 7 hours to Austin to give Rovio CEO Peter Vesterbacka two homemade Angry Birds ceramics – it’s not a canonical contribution, it a gift. And this is how most user-generated content might be viewed (as a gift to the community): motivating this behavior is quite different from motivating collaboration.

The third diagram illustrates the corrective action you may need to take if contributions are either not forthcoming or are not of the desired quality.

Migrating Fans and Contractors to Collaboration

Finally, here’s my 8 steps to building a shared storyworld from the perspective of motivating someone to contribute to your world:

  1. Inspire – first and foremost you need to capture attention and seek to ignite in the participant a deep routed creative urge to be a part of something amazing
  2. Reassure – with many competing projects and opportunities, participants need to be reassured that their contribution will count. That is, that “something is going to happen”; that the project has momentum or endorsement or credibility or all of these otherwise many may feel their contribution could be a waste of time
  3. Inform – tell the participate how she can contribute and describe the processes for submitting work and having it accepted. The process needs to be fair and transparent as this will help reassure.
  4. Entice – tease collaboration from participants by offering a spectrum of ways in which they can contribute to the storyworld. Don’t just ask for “stories” or “illustrations”, also ask for small specific focused contributions. These are easier to complete and are more likely to be in canon.
  5. Recognize – thank everyone for their participation whether it meets your quality threshold or not
  6. Rally – be supportive of the community and ensure that comments from community members are constructive and not hurtful or spiteful
  7. Reward – find a way to reward participation in addition to any commercial arrangement you may have agreed
  8. Educate – if you find that participation is high but the required quality isn’t, consider ways to improve the ability of your contributors by recommending further reading or courses or even holding your own seminars or online discussions and courses.

Interactive Narratives: Creating Participation

robert | March 14, 2011  ‐  No Comments

Here’s the presentation I gave at SXSW 2011

Here’s a video of the presentation.

Using Twitter for Storytelling

robert | March 10, 2011  ‐  5 Comments

There’s an excellent post on the problems and experiences of Twitter storytelling at Sliverstring Media but while I’m waiting for my comment to be moderated I thought I’d re-blog it here:

The key to success with storytelling in any media is to work with the strengths of the platform. Twitter is a real-time, social, conversational stream that is best used to invite and build participation. Thinking of Twitter as thousands of 140-character “book pages” is the wrong mindset. It’s like thinking that a short story is just a long story with fewer pages or a short film is a 15 min feature film.

The key to Twitter storytelling is:

(a) use it to invite participation. Create scenarios and “exercises” that open the door to followers to contribute. Make it conversational. Allow followers to become advocates by facilitating the spread of the participation, not only the spread of the tweet. That is, it’s not simply a RT of the story tweet but an invitation from one follower to a non-follower to get involved – perhaps using some game mechanics with the storytelling to provoke and reward that.

(b) recognize that Twitter is both a Discovery and an Exploration platform. That is, current & recent story tweets and the participatory tweets are Discovery content – they’re luring audience into the world. At the same time the historical Tweets offer backstory and context – Exploration content – for those in the  audience that want to dig deeper. Hence you’re right that audience should be able to dip in at any time in the life of the story and become immediately engaged without having to read the premise/synopsis etc. The way to achieve this is to finely craft each Tweet so that it works like a Zen koan – it’s a 140 character meditation on the story that is revealing, intriguing and surprising. This is particularly important if the tweet is from the voice of a narrator rather than a character. I have always measured the strength of a short story by whether it leaves me thinking about the premise of the story for longer that it took to read. The same should be true for every Tweet. Remember that twitter is a real-time news stream which means you’re only as good as your last tweet

(c) use it to build & populate the world. As I hinted above, a story might have several Twitter streams from the perspective of different characters or entities. This means that while a “narrator” stream might tell *the* story, other streams might shed new light and different perspectives on the narrator’s voice. As with any transmedia experiences, these new streams should all add value to the core narrative yet at the same time be optionally consumed. One example I’ve been exploring with a storyteller is to have a twitter stream for a fictional Government bureau in much the same way as George Orwell has in 1984 – the  stream sends continual optimistic official news  “production up by 120%”, “inflation static at 1%”, “crop yield the best since records began” – which is directly contradictory to the experience of the narrator! Such a stream builds out the world with a new richness but is timed to impact the through-narrative should someone choose to read both. I appreciate that this may contradict the “Zen koan rule” but then it’s not being used for Discovery, it’s Exploration so I’ll allow myself some latitude 😉

In terms of commercializing the Twitter platform, it’s value is in the social spread of the story and the building of audiences. Revenue should be taken from other platforms.

Calls to participate “case (a)” are much easier to provide examples for than the koan “case (b)” although you’ve listed some good places to research.

Jay Bushman’s Twitter stories are always provoking and inspiring followers to create their own stories. He brings the fictional setup, let’s say the context or the world, but then it’s up to everyone else to bring their imaginations and participation.

For #sxsw we’re running a rather trivial story of the Three Pigs by way of illustrating the mechanism of participation and interactive narrative. Firstly we stage the story as a competitive game between the pigs and the wolf – the battle outcome determining the course of the story – and secondly we’re using tweets from the pigs and wolf to provoke reaction and participation from friends and followers. Using our Conducttr platform we can facilitate some of the invitation to participate using our “3rd party reply” feature which takes a follower’s friend’s Twitter ID and sends it a message from the fictional character. What we’re doing is not meant to be a gold-standard example of this thinking/storytelling in action but a simple eye-opener.