Worknote #8: Helix, American Interior and a new Brighton Office

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The end of April saw a couple of really interesting Storythings projects come to fruition, and a couple more kick off. First of all, we’ve been building an app for Penguin as part of Gruff Rhys’ epic ‘investigative tour’ project American Interior. If you were at The Story conference in Feb you would have seen Gruff give an excerpt of his journey across America uncovering the story of John Evans, an 18th Century Welsh pioneer who searched for a mythical tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans.

The American Interior project is truly multi-platform, including an album, a book, a *gorgeous* film, a tour, and our app (available from early May on iOS and Android). We’ve based the app on one of the key songs from the project – 100 Unread Messages – and so the app tells the story of Gruff’s journey through 100 messages, mixing up video, audio, animated gifs and excerpts from the book.

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Its a great way to tell a story, but we wanted to open up the app so it wasn’t just a hermetically sealed app sitting on your phone. So we’ve made all 100 messages shareable on social networks, and used Twitter’s deep-linking card format so that if you share the card on Twitter to a friend with the app installed, the link will take you directly to that message.

This is something we’re experimenting with on a couple of projects, and we’re really interested to see how we can use new behaviours and metaphors like Mobile Cards as part of our storytelling projects. We’re currently working with our partners Pulse Films on a new music-related product that takes this card structure even further. If you’d like to talk to us about these ideas, and how they might work for your projects, then please get in touch – we’d love to talk to you.

 

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The second project we’ve just finished is Helix – a short web animation project for Lighthouse in Brighton. Helix came out of a residency at Lighthouse with artist David Blandy, illustrator Daniel Locke (no relation to Storythings’ Matt Locke!) and scientist Adam Rutherford. During the residency, David researched the history of DNA and genetics, and linked this to his personal interest in remixing culture, from the myths and legends of the past to contemporary hip-hop and manga. The result is a four-act story that uses the character of a 500 yr old man to reflect on how the core idea of remixing continually resurfaces through culture and science.

We started building the project as an ipad prototype for the launch of the project exhibition last year, then worked with Lighthouse to make a web version. It’s enabled us to develop more of the ideas we’ve had about episodic storytelling that we developed in earlier projects like Pepys Road and Diesel Days To Live. David and Daniel are currently appearing at science festivals across the country talking about the project, so if you get a chance, go and see them – they’re a great double act!

Finally – we’ve opened a second office in Brighton, alongside the space we share with our partners Pulse Films in Shoreditch. We’re very lucky to have a space at Lighthouse in the centre of Brighton, were there is an awesome mix of creative companies and delicious lunch venues. We’re working a lot more with local Brighton talent at the moment, so it made sense to open an office there, but we’ll continue to be in London every week as well. At the moment we’re working on a major new cross-platform TV format with Pulse Films for Channel 4, the new mobile music product we mentioned earlier, and new work for a couple of very big London-based media companies, so we needed more space to house our teams as we grow. Its all very exciting – if you’re in Brighton and want to talk about working with us, then please get in touch!

 

Worknote #7: Launching Uneditions, and Developing Project Follow Me

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2014 is kicking off as a busy one for all of us at Storythings. We were very excited to end 2013 by launching our Uneditions, our project with Unlimited Theatre and the Product Research Studio at Dundee University. Uneditions is a new platform for publishing play scripts on mobile devices, using light and sound cues from the play to create a unique and immersive reading experience.

We developed the product over summer using a co-design process funded by the ACE/NESTA R&D programme. The first play published on the platform is The Noise by Unlimited Theatre, and we’re talking to Third Angel and the RSC about future editions in the next few months. We’re really keen to talk to anyone interested in helping us build out the platform, so please get in touch if you’re interested.

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We’re also kicking off four new projects at the start of 2014, which is always a great way to start the year.

We’re working with our partners Pulse Films on Follow Me – a new cross-platform format for Channel 4. The project is looking at how the web helps us develop crazy ideas and creative projects using our networks. We’re currently looking for interesting creative people to work with us on the project, so if you’re interested, please sign up on the project Tumblr. We’re also developing a new mobile/social product with Pulse for bands on major tours, but we’ll share more details about that in the future.

We’ve got a team of iOS and Android coders working on our project for Penguin, building a new mobile/social app for a really interesting book/film/album project that is launching in the spring. It’s a fantastic project, working with an amazing artist who has been a bit of a hero for us for a while, so we’re really excited to start building and working with them.

The last of the new projects is also working with someone we’ve admired for a long time. We’re working with Graham Linehan to develop some prototype tools to help the writing and production process for TV comedy projects. We’re working with Unlimited Theatre and the Dundee Product research Studio again, further developing the co-design process we used on Uneditions. The project is funded by the TSB as part of a call to develop new software design methodologies, so we’ll be publishing more details and insights into the design process as the project develops.

Finally – The Story is just over a month away, and there’s only 40 tickets left! We announced the final speakers just before Xmas, including Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, who will be talking about his experience of publishing the Edward Snowden NSA revelations. It’ll be the first time he’s spoken candidly about the whole story, so we can’t wait till Feb 21st. See you there!

 

Worknote #6 – The Noise, The Story & the Future Of Storytelling

thenoise1Storythings is in New York again this week, attending the second Future of Storytelling conference, run by Charles Melcher at the beautiful Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Last year’s event was incredibly inspiring, and the line-up this year is just as good, with speakers including Kenyatta Cheese, Lisa Donovan from Maker Studios, Chris Milk and Alexis Lloyd, Creative Director of New York Times’ R&D Lab. We’ll share our thoughts and links after the event, and if you’re lucky enough to be there – come and say hello!

Our R&D project with Unlimited Theatre is reaching its final stages, and will launch with the production of their play The Noise in Newcastle in November. We’ve been working with Unlimited and Dundee University’s Product Research Studio to develop new ways to publish playscripts and other media to audiences on mobile devices. The R&D project involved a series of co-design labs with a user group based in Leeds, and this blog post from Leila Johnston on the NESTA/ACE R&D blog is a great account of how the design process developed from these co-design labs. Silvia Novak from Storythings will be writing up more details about the design process and the final product at the end of the project.

We’re also very happy to be working with Lighthouse in Brighton on Helix – an online animation project that has developed out of their collaboration with artist David Blandy and science writer Adam Rutherford. The site will feature new illustrations from illustrator Daniel Locke, and will trace the connections between mythology, remix culture and the history of DNA through a series of beautiful online animations. We’ll be launching the beta site later in October as part of London Science Festival, so will post more details as soon as they’re confirmed.

Other work underway at Storythings include social strategy work for the fashion artists’ agency CLM and the BBC/Arts Council project The Space, creative development work for a major UK publisher on a new film/book/music project, and continuing our partnership with Pulse Films on a new music feature film project and developments for a TV format for a UK broadcaster.

And finally – our annual conference The Story is five years old next year! Speakers announced so far include artists Iain Forsyth & Jayne Pollard, illustrator and model maker Kyle Bean and foley artist Barnaby Smyth. The Early Bird tickets have already sold out, but you can get a ticket from our Eventbrite site now – get yours before they sell out! Thanks also to Ozy.com for listing The Story amongst other great events like Do Lectures and PopTech – its great to be in such esteemed company.

The Stacks, The Patterns & The Money

Adam Westbrook commissioned Storythings’ Matt Locke to write an essay for the excellent Inside The Story. Thanks to Adam for the commission, and for allowing us to republish it here.

The Stacks, The Patterns & The Money
Why genre will drive the next stage of the content industries

In his closing speech at the 2012 SXSW festival, Bruce Sterling made a subtle, but very important distinction in how we discuss digital culture. He suggested that we should no longer discuss ‘the internet’ as if it was one thing, but instead we needed to discuss ‘the stacks’ – the emerging ecosystems that frame our engagement with digital culture from back-end cloud storage, through devices and platforms, to the apps and content itself:

“In 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about “the Internet,” “the PC business,” “telephones,” “Silicon Valley,” or “the media,” and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.  These big five American vertically organized silos are re-making the world in their image.”

Less than a year later, this subtle distinction has become glaringly obvious. Our experience of ‘the internet’ is almost wholly contained within these new ‘stacks’, and their strategies are beginning to focus on hardening the walls between each stack, removing our ability to move content and profiles between them. Its going to get harder and harder for new businesses to disrupt these ‘stacks’, and more likely that the next wave of innovation will be layers of products or services that live in and around these ecosystems. The focus is moving from technology to content, from infrastructure to formats

The next wave of innovation will emerge from understanding the new patterns of attention on the ‘stacks’, and designing business models that support cultural production in these new ecosystems.   At Digital Shoreditch earlier this year, I talked about the emerging patterns of audience behaviour, and how these seem to be different based on genre, not platform. Drama is increasingly viewed as multi-episode binges, whilst big Saturday-night entertainment shows have to be live, creating trending topics on Twitter that drive new viewers to tune in. News is now consumed as a constant stream of live blogs, updates, tweets, photos and videos that are only later curated into stories.

We’re starting to see the emergence of new formats and business models based on these patterns, and the next 5-10 years will see the rise of genre-specific content business models, replacing the all-genre schedules of broadcast TV. We’ve seen signs of this already – premium live sporting events and movies moved to subscription cable/satellite platforms in most markets in the 90s, as cable and satellite companies recognised their value in driving subscriptions. Similarly, most investment in high-end drama is coming from platforms that have direct transaction or subscription models, as these platforms can make more money out of the binge-viewing behaviour around drama than platforms using traditional display advertising.

For example, Netflix are making a feature out of their binge-viewing in their drama commissioning model, giving directors and writers the space to experiment with new forms of storytelling. The makers of House of Cards said they approached the project as a ’13 hour movie’, rather than a traditional series, with a different narrative structure that was less reliant on cliff-hangers at the end of the episode and other hangovers from the broadcast era. Understanding audience ‘bingeing’ and how this affects storytelling looks like a much more productive route for innovation in drama formats than the over-hyped ‘transmedia’ concepts of the last few years.

Outside of drama, the emerging patterns around other genres are harder to spot, but there are signs that new formats are beginning to work based on deep understanding of patterns of audience behaviour. UK broadcaster ITV understood that mobile and social media has driven consumption of news into a ‘stream’ pattern, with audiences looking for the most recent content, then reading on to complete a wider picture of the story. Their new digital news product, developed with UK agency Made by Many, moves radically away from the traditional editorial or brand taxonomies to present the news as a constantly updated stream of different content elements. Designing around new patterns of audience attention has been a huge success, driving a six-fold increase in traffic and a 456% increase in uniques.

One of the most interesting genres at the moment is also one of the most confused. There is a crossover emerging between the TV/Film genres of documentary and current affairs, and the newspaper genres of features and long-form journalism. All these genres are struggling to find the business models that will support them long-term, and as a result we’re seeing a huge amount of new ideas, products and business models emerging.

There are many issues that long-form factual content has to solve, from funding journalistic research to discovering new economic models to fund distribution. But the most interesting new ideas are starting with the most fundamental problem – how will audiences find the time to read or watch long-form content? What will be the most sustainable attention patterns for long-form journalism and documentaries?

Farhad Manjoo’s recently post for Slate, titled ‘You Won’t Finish This Article’, pointed out that around 50% of audiences don’t make it past the half-way point of feature articles online. Documentaries were the joint-second most common genre of film releases in the UK in 2011, but generated only 1.4% of box office revenue, compared to the 21.8% of revenue generated by the same number of Comedy releases. If these traditional formats of long-form content are no longer aligned to audiences’ patterns of attention, what kinds of new patterns are emerging around factual content? And what new formats can we develop around them?

Earlier this year I was on the innovation jury for the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, and there was a clear distinction between the shortlisted projects. Half the projects were experimenting with technological innovation – presenting factual content in complex 3D environments; or in 360 cinemas; or creating tools for audiences to curate and re-present their own collages of content. The other half experimented with patterns of attention – presenting a story as an scrollable stream of audio, text and video; or telling a story through 5 sec film clips automatically taken every 10 minutes like visual Facebook updates; or presenting a simple but dream-like combination of two linear video streams.

These projects felt like they understood the way we watch video now and pushed those patterns a bit further, rather than asking the audience to learn a new pattern from scratch. More importantly, these projects felt like they were creating formats that could be built on and extended by other projects, whereas the technologically-innovative projects felt like one-offs. They’re part of a burst of interesting innovation around long-form factual content, including Medium, started by Ev Williams, the founder of Twitter; Matter, started via Kickstarter and acquired by Medium within 4 months; and Wibbitz, a fascinating app that takes feeds of factual content and automatically produces a short mobile video.

Watching what’s happening around long-form factual and documentary will teach us a lot about how to build a business model around culture in the 21st century. The focus is on designing new formats based on new patterns of attention, and then finding the best way to make these sustainable. We’ve moved on from the first era of technological innovation that build the ‘stacks’, and we’re now into the second era of innovation, based around formats and genres.

The content industries will continue to fracture, not around platforms, but around their ability to sustainably produce different genres of content as new audience patterns emerge around them. Some traditional media outlets will end up making less and less content in certain genres, and new companies will emerge specialising in formats developed for specific genres. This is how the next era of the content industry will play out – first we build the stacks, then we understand the patterns, and then we can make some money.

Digital Shoreditch Talk – After the Like and After the Spike

These notes are from a talk by Storythings’ Matt Locke at the Digital Shoreditch conference today. Thanks to Helen Bagnall from The Salon for the invitation to talk, and to Ogilvy Change for sponsoring the day

Before starting Storythings, I worked for just over a decade in broadcasting, at the BBC and C4. As a digital person in a TV world, I learnt a lot about how to tell stories, and learnt, to my surprise, how little people in broadcast really understood about their audiences. In fact, many of us ‘digital’ people used to talk about ‘the former audience’ to emphasise how audience behaviour had changed, and to mock how much broadcasters had treated audiences as passive receivers for their content.

It wasn’t until I left broadcasting that I realised how complex and controversial the words ‘story’ and ‘audience’ really were. I called my company ‘Storythings’ for two reasons – one was because I’d been running a conference called The Story for a few years that was pretty much the genesis of the company, and the second was because I was more interested in stories than I was in technology. I’m fascinated by how we tell stories now, and the new relationships we can have with audiences across all sorts of interesting contexts and platforms.

But when I started talking to clients, I was surprised by how those two words – Story and Audience – meant completely different things to different people. Stories seemed to be the hot new idea in marketing, and every brand wanted to know how to tell their story, or to hear their customers’ stories. Transmedia gurus were trying to convince us that stories were many-tentacled hydras, performing complexly choreographed dances to lure fans into their narratives.

But no-one outside of broadcasting really used the word ‘audience’. There were customers, fans, users, subscribers, followers, networks, communities and participants. Audiences were points in a cloud of big data, or a constantly updated Chartbeat report. Audiences were presented as infographics, or studied as psychological experiments.

So I started to research the history of how we’ve talked about stories and audiences over the last few hundred years, and its made me love the word audience again, and to really focus on understanding audience behaviour. There is an assumed contract, almost an etiquette, between storytellers and their audiences. Audiences are not passive – they make choices about what stories they want to listen to, turn up to listen (which is not a passive act), and fold the emotional impact of good stories back into their lives. Many years ago, audiences were as noisy as Twitter is now, and the call and response between the stage and the crowd was an integral part of the show. It’s only been in the last few 50 years or so that audiences have been quiet. So quiet, that they became almost invisible to the people telling the stories.

In fact, the last 50-60 years have been a blip – a time in which the relationship between storytellers and audiences was effectively broken. We’re coming to the end of that blip now, and we’re seeing a transition as interesting and profound as the beginning of the 20th century, when storytelling moved from the live performance circuits of music hall and variety to the new mass mediums of cinema and broadcasting.

When transitions like this occur, the driving force is human behaviour – the patterns of audiences’ attention change as technology creates new ways to tell stories to audiences, and new business models develop around these new patterns of attention. In the early twentieth century, the balance of power in the entertainment industry shifted from the variety bosses who controlled the distribution of performers around national theatre circuits, to the new entrepreneurs of cinema and later, broadcasting. Very few businesses and moguls managed to make the transition as the patterns of attention changed.

But in the middle of these transitions, there’s often a pattern of attention which dominates – one which bridges the gap between the old patterns of attention and the new. In cinema and radio, early formats borrowed their shape, duration and structure from music hall, and it took many decades for mass media to find forms more suited to their specific qualities.

Right now, we’re seeing a similar pattern dominate the transition from broadcast to digital, and its best described as “The Spike and The Like’.

The ‘Spike’ is a huge rush of simultaneous attention, that giant uptick you see when you manage to choreograph many different sources of attention to look at your story at pretty much exactly the same time. Its a throwback to the simultaneous attention patterns of broadcast television, and in fact, broadcasters are realising how digital, and particularly social, media is amplifying this pattern of simultaneous attention.

In my last few years at Channel 4, I saw a trend of ‘live’ versions of formats that previously were never live – like The Million Pound Drop game show. This is because broadcasters get lots more money for advertising around live, scheduled viewing than they do for on-demand viewing, so they’re developing formats that make it hard to watch the show outside of the live broadcast (there are exceptions for certain genres -we’ll come back to this later). Looking at Broadcast Magazine’s Greenlight commissioning index this morning, there were 71 shows with ‘Live’ in their title, from ‘Lambing Live’ and ‘Bedtime Live’ to ‘Paranormal Investigations Live’ and ‘Deathwish: Live’. The spike also reflects the traditional 30-sec ad campaign launch that was reliant on this scheduled broadcast attention.

The ‘Like’ is also an artefact of an earlier era. ‘Likeability’ has been a metric used in advertising for decades, from the USA Today Superbowl ad ratings to ‘The Worm’ – a live audience rating device first used in the Australian presidential elections in 1993. It’s an abstraction – a single measure for a complex range of behaviours and emotions, and its become incresaingly irrelevant through overuse in our current Facebook Era.

So if the Spike and the Like are the bridge between traditional broadcast patterns and measurement, what will come after them? What new audience behaviours are emerging, and how will we measure them?

Audience behaviours have always been complex, it’s the tools we’ve used to measure them that have been crude. We’re now moving out of the era of ‘One Big Number’ into a dizzying range of ways to tell stories and see the reaction from our audiences.

Here’s four emerging patterns that I think are worth looking at when planning a story. All of them are here now, in various stages of adoption in different communities. There are weaker signals for other emerging patterns of attention, but these ones feel like they’re going to be important over the next few decades, and will allow all sorts of interesting stories, products and business models to develop around them.

The Binge is probably the strongest pattern of them all. Its been emerging over about 5-6 years, since the emergence of box-sets and PVRs. Its pretty much restricted to two genres of story – comedy and drama – and as such it was the first sign that the broadcast industry was as likely to fracture around genres and attention patterns as it was around business models and technology. We first started noticing bingeing behaviour around cult dramas like Skins and Misfits at C4 about 5/6 years ago, with over 50% of the audience watching outside of scheduled broadcasts.

It raises really interesting problems for broadcasters trying to sell premium ad space in peak schedules, but if you are less reliant on display advertising – if you have a subscription model like Netflix, for example – you are in a perfect position to build services and commission stories based on this new pattern of attention. The makers of House of Cards for Netflix said they approached the storytelling as a 13-hour movie, not as 13 hour-long episodes, so there is less reliance on traditional end-of-episode cliff-hangers to keep audiences thinking about the story until next week’s episode.

Mitch Hurwitz, creator of the comedy Arrested Development, has gone even further, and written the 15 new episodes commissioned by Netflix as the same moment in time, seen from a different perspective each episode. He originally suggested that audiences could dive in and view them in any order, but now suggests that certain jokes wouldn’t ‘pay off’ unless you view them in the order they were created. This is just the beginning of the kinds of experimentation we’ll see as online platforms commission stories designed around bingeing behaviours.

The second new pattern of attention is The Pledge, a spectrum of activity ranging from celebrity-led Kickstarter campaigns like Zach Braff’s follow-up to Garden State, through broadcast campaigns by TV personalities like Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall or Jamie Oliver, down to individual sponsorship for marathons and fun runs. Campaigns are an interesting structure for story-telling, as they have a specific goal, and are usually time-bound. What’s changed recently is the use of campaigns, not for a specific political or social goal, but as a way for storytellers to build a relationship with the audience before the production of the story itself.

This is fascinating, as it flips the traditional power relationship in commissioning. Making and distributing stories is a risky business, with nobody really knowing what stories will find an audience, or how they will be received when they do. So up until now, someone has had to make an investment in time and money before knowing what the potential audience response would be. This has led to hedging strategies, from consolidating production and distribution into huge global companies, to specific tactics to ‘game’ the metrics of attention and increase your chances of success (eg Payola or the 19th century Claque).Kickstarter and similar sites create another way to hedge risk – to build a relationship and commitment from your audience in advance of production.

As well as hedging risk, this also has a really interesting side-effect. Building an audience of patrons before production means that you now have a commitment to an audience, and the need to talk to the audience during the process of production. The structure of rewards, updates to the pledgers and providing access to production as it happens is as much a part of the story – and the contract with the audience – as the story itself. This is a fascinating problem for people running campaign-structured stories – what do you do with your audience once you’ve achieved your goal? Even President Obama’s first election campaign – held up as a ground-breaking online campaign structure – faltered when they couldn’t translate the passion of the campaign to other, post-goal stories.

I think we’re only just beginning to see the effect this will have on storytelling – pledging is not just an alternative route to funding, its a completely different approach to storytelling with your audience, with as many risks and opportunities as traditional production and distribution.

The third pattern is The Long Live Event. This appears at first glance to be yet another manifestation of ‘The Spike’, but it’s more interesting than that. Long Live Events have two patterns – an ambient story that unfolds over long periods of time, and intermittent spikes, often developing randomly, that cause audiences to ‘flock’ to the story. The ambient story normally has a bounding format or direction, but within this format, individual stories can emerge, develop, and subside at will.

Big Brother was the first story that developed in this way, with live streams augmented by nightly ‘catchup’ programmes. More recently, The Olympics was a perfect example of a Long Live Event, and Channel 4 has been using the structure in some very innovative factual projects, including Hippo: Nature’s Wild Feast, Foxes Live and Easter Eggs Live.

Long Live Events are a pattern of attention that is much better suited to digital, as its easier to produce and distribute many streams of ambient content, and its easier to respond quicker to audiences ‘flocking’ to intermittent spikes.

There is a friction in Long Live Events which is a real challenge for broadcasters – the friction between the organic pace of a real-life story, and the stricter demands of a broadcast format. Factual programming has dealt with this in many ways in the last 50 years, from the periodic documentaries of Michael Apted’s Up series, through the ‘conflict‘ genre pioneered by Faking It & Wife Swap to the current ‘constructed reality’ shows like The Only Way Is Essex. Each of these formats has tried to solve the same problem – how to make sure unpredictable real life stories deliver the right ‘story beats’ –  the cliff-hangers and resolutions expected for scheduled broadcast television formats. Their tactics range from extremely long production cycles (the Up Series) to deliberate manipulation of events to create drama (constructed reality).

Long Live Events are a different take on this problem of how to cover long stories. The new behaviours of following and streaming content means that audiences can now dip in and out of long stories over days, weeks or months, and are more likely to be alerted to developing story points by others in their social streams flocking to the story. We’re only just beginning to understand how to tell Long Live Event stories in this way, but its something that Google seem to be pushing for as they try and understand the story-telling potential of Youtube combined with Google+ Hangouts.

The last pattern is The Report. This is a pattern that reveals a story over time based on events and data that is unique to each member of the audience. It’s best illustrated by data-monitoring services like the Nike+ Fuel Band, and mobile apps like Run Keeper, but it has huge potential for other kinds of storytelling. The Report is a story that starts from a germ of data or other contribution from the audience, and then plays out over time as regular updates, or alerts as key points are reached.

The Report is a pattern that will become more and more important as we leave longer and longer trails on the public web. Services like Timehop and OhLife use report formats to tell the story of your past online, and most social media services are now using emailed reports of your friends’ activities to try and lure you back to their services.

We used this structure for Pepysrd.com, a 10-day online storytelling project for Faber & Faber around John Lanchester’s book Capital. Using audiences’ date and place of birth, we told them the story of their lives over the next ten years, using data from public sources across the web combined with new stories written by John Lanchester.

As we have more and more services set up to monitor and track data about us across digital networks, there is a huge need to create compelling narrative formats for their reports. These will be as playful and rich as traditional story-telling formats – for example, Tom Coates from San Francisco-based Product Club has created a twitter feed for his house, and someone else has created Haunted House of Coates, an uncanny replica of the stories Coates’ devices are telling about his house and activities.

All these patterns are signs that we’re in the transition from one era of storytelling to another. As in the early part of the twentieth century, this transition will be driven by changes in audience behaviour as much as technology and business models. These new patterns are asking us, as storytellers, to face new questions – how will bingeing change the way we structure stories? How does Pledging change our attitude to risk and the involvement of audiences in our stories? How do Long Live Events change the relationship between organic stories and the formats we use to tell them? And how can we use Reports to help our audiences tell their stories?

This is why we need to focus on stories and audiences again. The last 50-60 years of mass media reduced the feedback loop between storytellers and audiences to a quiet signal, represented mainly by one big number. The early era of digital has adopted some of these old patterns, and focused mainly on the Spike and the Like, but we’re moving away from that now, and seeing the emergence of interesting new patterns that are based on more complex relationships between the audience and the storyteller.

We’re still only in the beginning, and the next couple of decades will see content industries rise and fall based on their ability to adapt and build businesses around these new patterns. There’s never been a better time to tell stories, and never a better time to be in the audience.

Notes from my Shoreditch House talk

Last week was the third in a series of lectures I’m doing at Shoreditch House on where ideas come from. The session was based around what happens inside the brain and what happens outside the brain to produce moments of insight. As usual the questions and conversations that took place after were really interesting.

So I thought it might be an idea to start ‘showing my working out’. Author, journalist and top tech braodcaster Aleks Krotoski is brilliant at publishing her thinking and research as works. I’ve blogged a lot about creativity over the years but not been great at giving more background. So here are a few articles that might shed more light on the many issues I talked about last night.

A good place to start is Roo Reynolds Collections. Roo is a former BBC colleague currently working at GDS (that just won design of the year). I invited him to talk at the first event because most collectors I know are really creative people. This is because collecting excercises your creative muscle. It powers your curiosity, imagination and appreciation. It teaches you about aesthsetics, sharpens your powers of observation, helps you understand patterns and recognise what is missing.

We build narratives around our collections as well as human connections. We strive for perfection with our collections and in doing so achieve Flow. We experiment and tinker with our collections and most importantly everything we do with them forms a pool of inspiration for future projects.

The second session was on combinatorial creativity. For years at the BBC I would hear people in creative sessions talking about how wrong it was to ‘steal’ other people’s ideas. My answer was always “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to”. I stole that line from Jim Jarmusch.

Faris Yakob talks alot about this on “Talent Imitates, Genius Steals“, which is a reworking of the Picasso quote “Good artists copy, great artists steal”, a slightly different version of TS Elliot’s “Immature poets copy, mature poets steal”, a twist on Wilde’s “Talent borrows, genius steals”. All of which are stolen from the Bible’s “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun”. Try reading the brilliant Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, watch Kirby Ferguson’s amazing series Everything is a Remix and take comfort from the fact that one of our generation’s greatest film directors has stolen from every movie ever made.

In last week’s session I talked about focusing on creativity for the individual rather than the organisation. Yes, I run workshops and help organisations get the best out of their employees, but personally I think it’s better for organisations to help every member of staff to develop their own creative abilities. If you do this people will think creatively every waking moment rather than saving it for a 1 hour brainstorm. It’s a great investment inspired by, believe it or not, Pret A Manger only hiring happy people - happiness it the hard bit, teaching them to make sandwiches is the easy bit. So for more on what happens inside your head you might want to watch this excellent BBC Horizon film on the brain and creativity. John Cleese does a brilliant talk on creativity and why allowing the mind to wonder is so important. Despite being criticised for making up a Dylan Quote Jonah Lehrer is still a great writer on the subject. Try not to let the negativity surrounding him cloud the fact that Imagine is still a great read.

If you are interested in why coffee shops are important to the creative process and their role in the Enlightenment then you must read The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg, which Steven Johnson refers to in his brilliant book Where Good Ideas Come From. On the importance of making connections Steve Jobs knew that when people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen. And so he designed his buildings to ensure these connections became part of regular daily proceedures such as going to the toilet. Richard Florida talks a lot about why you should build out and not up to build creative cities and if you want to understand how the creative face of Manchester changed as a result of simple serendipity then you must watch 24 Hour Party People.

I also talked about the importance just having cups of tea with people. So, if you fancy a brew find me on Twitter. I’m also happy to talk to organisations about workshops, away days and how to get the best out of moments set aside for generating ideas.

The Beginning, The Middle and The End

Simpler, Clearer, Faster by Russell Davies

Simpler, Clearer, Faster by Russell Davies

On May 30th we kick off the first of a series of events called The Beginning, The Middle and The End.

We’ve long been fascinated with how people tell stories on different platforms, an in particular what it feels like to be running a project and talking to the audience whilst a project is live.

We’re particularly fascinated by what we learn in different stages of a project – what works when you’re starting a project and trying to build a team and an audience? What does it feel like to be in the middle of a project, dealing with issues that you couldn’t have predicted at the start? And how on earth do you elegantly end projects and bring them to a satisfying resolution?

The Beginning, The Middle and The End is an opportunity to hear war stories, tips and design patterns from some of the most creative and innovative projects around. It will have a simple format – one speaker talking about how they started a project, one reflecting on what it feels like to be in the middle of a project, and one talking about something they’ve just finished. Each talk will last about 20mins, and there will be beer.

Beginning: Alex Fleetwood from Hide and Seek talks about being at the beginning of the excellent Tiny Games project.

Middle: Russell Davies talks about what life’s like at GDS which is in the middle of rethinking how the public engage with the Government via its digital services.

End: Nigel Smith, Digital Editor at Radio 4, talks about the difficulty of closing The Archers messageboards earlier this year.

Join us from 6.30 at our office at 17 Hanbury Street. Tickets are £10 and limited to just 40 – you can buy them now on Eventbrite. The ticket price will cover the costs (drinks for everyone attending/sound system) with the rest split between charities chosen by the speakers.

Do join us…

Storythings Newsletter #9: Applause, Recommendations and Breakthrough Technology

If you’ve not signed up to the Storythings newsletter here’s what you’re missing. Sign up now and get carefully curated stories from the Storythings team delivered to you inbox every Wednesday.

The Short Story

5. Russell Davies on what GDS is (4 minute read)

Storythings is a company that experiments with new ways of telling stories. If you’d like to talk to us about working on your next project, get in touch: Matt@Storythings.com

The Full Story

A short yet brilliantly observed piece by David Hepworth on the problem with music recommendation services such as Twitter’s new #music. (via @lloydshep)

Brief History of Applause, The Big Data of The Ancient World
A really interesting read on how applause has been more than just a show of appreciation through the years. From the the seventh century right though to the current times applause has been used not just as a show of appreciation but as a political tool too.

This is painful to watch but very funny. Jimmy Kimmel makes up a load of band names and asks visitors to Coachella their opinions on the made up bands.

What’s the difference between ‘design’ and ‘invention’? The New York Times looks at the birth of the Kalashnikov and the Post-It note to understand the difference.

So what is GDS and how has it managed to attract some of the most talented people in London. This excellent post from Russell make it all perfectly clear.

In the three years since it first provided images of the sun in the spring of 2010, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has had virtually unbroken coverage of the sun’s rise toward solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle. NASA captures a shot of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths.

Just think back to when you were young. You’re 19 years old. You have enough money to do whatever you want, girls throwing themselves at you everywhere you turn. You have the world at your feet. On a visit to Amsterdam what would you be doing on a Friday night? Going to a museum? Find out why Justin Bieber wrote THAT comment. 

A maverick neuroscientist believes he has deciphered the code by which the brain forms long-term memories. He’s now building a prosthetic implant that will help restore the ability to build long term memories in victims of stroke and Alzheimers. This is just one of the ten breaktrough tecnologies outlined by the excellent MIT Technology Review in 2013.

Something nice from Google Creative Lab. Alexander Chen creates a song by layering short video loops, improvising melodies and filming it on Google Glass.

The excellent Iain Forsythe and Jane Pollard team up with comedian Stewart Lee to create an audio experience based on Schwitters’ poem London Onion (1946).

Storythings Newsletter #8: Bundling, Rebuilding and Rejecting

Every Wednesday we pull together some of the most interesting stories we’ve stumbled upon this week and send them out in our newsletter. You can get these stories delivered direct to your inbox by signing up. Here’s a taster of this week’s Newsletter.

The Short Story

1. Death of the Bundle: A TV Foundation Under Threat From All Angles (5 minute read)
2. The Best (non) Rejection Slip. EVER!!! (2 minute read)
3. The Amazing Story of Apocalypse Now’s Surfing Legacy (3 minute listen)
4. Brendan Dawes Messing Around with Leap Motion (6 second Vine videos)
5. How a Community of Entrepreneurs is Rebuilding Detroit (20 minute read)
6. Starbucks CEO Tells Anti-Gay Marriage Shareholder Where To Go (1 minute video)
7. In Disaster Social Media and Digital Tools Show Their Strength (2 minute read)
8. The Four Stages of Writing a Story (10 minute read)
9. Jonah Berger Explains How a $50,000 Salary is More Desirable Than a $100,000 Salary (5 minute read)
10. Obey The Giant – The Story of Shepard Fairey Short Film (20 minute watch)

Storythings is a company that experiments with new ways of telling stories. If you’d like to talk to us about working on your next project, get in touch: Matt@Storythings.com

The Full Story
Death of the Bundle: A TV Foundation Under Threat From All Angles 

For some time the concept of the bundle has been foundational in the media. Ads are bundled with editorial content in print, commercials bundled with programming on television, channels you don’t want bundled in your TV package, even the concept of the LP was a way of charging more for a bundle of tunes rather than a single. But now ‘The Bundle’ is under attack from all angles.

The Best (non) Rejection Slip. EVER!!!

We love Letters of Note. Especially when they unearth gems like this. After his work was rejected by every publisher out there cartoonist Tom Hudson decided to bring his career to a close. He wrote to MAD asking them to complete his collection of rejection slips by rejecting his work. Read the brilliant chain of letters that followed.

The Amazing Story of Apocalypse Now’s Surfing Legacy

When Francis Ford Coppola packed up his helicopters and left the Philippines following the filming of ‘Apocalypse Now’ he left behind a few old surfboards on the beach. Little did he know those boards would change a country forever.

Brendan Dawes Messing Around with Leap Motion

We really like newsletters at Storythings. One of our current favourites is The Dawesome Digest from maker Brendan Dawes. Sign up and get his monthly “messing about with…” projects delivered direct to your inbox.

How a Community of Entrepreneurs is Rebuilding Detroit

Where everything is broken, anything is possible. A long and interesting read about entrepreneurs making a go of it in Detroit, a city that has been sliding for decades. “I did one project, where I looked back at the 1951 Yellow Pages. There were 120 movie theaters in Detroit; now there are 2, I think. There were 120 bowling alleys; now there are 3 or 4. There were 3,000 bars; now there are 800. In every statistical way, it’s gotten worse”.

Starbucks CEO Tells Anti-Gay Marriage Shareholder Where To Go

They’re not the most ethical brand on the planet but I have to say it was nice seeing this response from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz when questioned about the company’s support of gay marriage by a shareholder.

In Disaster Social Media and Digital Tools Show Their Strength

As we’ve come to expect in times of disaster the digital response to the Boston terrorist attack was rapid. Here’s a brief roundup.

The Four Stages of Writing a Story

Some brilliant tips on the creative process courtesy of James Webb Young, Maira Kalman, Rod Sterling, Malcolm Cowley and more. “There would seem to be four stages in the composition of a story. First comes the germ of the story, then a period of more or less conscious meditation, then the first draft, and finally the revision, which may be simply ‘pencil work’ as John O’Hara calls it — that is, minor changes in wording — or may lead to writing several drafts and what amounts to a new work”.

Jonah Berger Explains How a $50,000 Salary is More Desirable Than a $100,000 Salary

Jonah’s book ‘Contagious‘ has made its way around the Storythings office like a virus. If you are interested in how things spread then you really should give it a read.

Obey The Giant – The Story of Shepard Fairey Short Film

A short film that dramatises the early days of Shepard Fairey.

 

 

 

Storythings Newsletter #7: Lost Cats, Disco Musicals and Payphones

Every Wednesday we pull together some of the most interesting stories we’ve stumbled upon this week and send them out in our newsletter. You can get these stories delivered direct to your inbox by signing up. Here’s a taster of this week’s Newsletter.

The Short Story

1. You Think You’re Following @BarackObama. Think Again (15 minute read)

2. Recalling 1993 – The Story of Manhattan told via Pay Phone (2 minute watch)

3. The Secret To 17-Year-Old Nick D’Aloisio’s $30 Million Success: Amazing Hustle (2 minute read)

4. A Preview of the Apple Pop-Up Museum (2 minute read)

5. Douglas Rushkoff is Right — traditional media are caught between the stream and the reservoir (5 minute read)

6. Pi’s Epic Journey – The Story of ‘The Making of Life of Pie’ (10 minute play)

7. David Byrne Making an Imelda Marcos ‘Disco Musical’ with Fatboy Slim (3 minute watch)

8. RadioLab – 3 Stories on Doubt and Certainty (1 hour listen)

9. Iain Tait: Less is More (3 minute read)

10. Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation and GPS Technology (5 minute read)

Storythings is a company that experiments with new ways of telling stories. If you’d like to talk to us about working on your next project, get in touch: Matt@Storythings.com

The Full Story

The 29,503,030 people who follow Barack Obama’s Twitter account might see his picture, see his name, see that little blue verified account badge and think they’re following the President — but it’s not him. All of the president’s named social media accounts, in fact, have been handed over to a non-partisan, not-for-profit group that isn’t overly concerned if you didn’t notice the transition.

We love this. Recalling 1993 uses 500 New York pay phones to tell the story of 1993, a pivotal year for the city. Each phone has a unique dial code, and when it connects, it tells you a story about that exact neighbourhood.

“While this appears to be the ramblings of crazy person, it shows someone with dedication, focus & energy to succeed”.

After being promised a favourable review of his app the 15 year old entrepreneur bombarded Gizmodo with emails. Annoyed by this Gizmodo then decided to name the app “worst app of the week”. In a moment of guilt they pulled it completely. D’Aloisio went into complete meltdown. The subsequent email to Gizmodo begging for the review to be returned is at times difficult to read yet revealing about the tenacity of the boy. (via @Abscond)

A nice sneak peek for all those Apple fans unable to get to the pop-up museum in Atlanta.

The idea of ‘Stock’ (semi-permanent content) and ‘Flow’ (constantly changing streams of content) as a way of describing online content was first introduced by Robin Sloan, but Doug Rushkoff uses it to explain the problem newspapers like the NYT have in positioning themselves in an online era – should they be a ‘reservoir’ of high-quality content, or a ‘stream’ of constantly changing news?

The UX on this is really nice. Go on. Have a play. (via @neilperkins)

It’s hard to imagine this being anything less than wonderful. Especially when you read this: “Imelda, who was this flamboyant, notorious kind of person on the scene, loved going to discos,” he says. “She loved going to Studio 54. She turned the top floor of the palace in Manila into a club. She had a mirror ball installed in her New York townhouse.”

We’re big fans of RadioLab. They never let you down. Brilliant stories around a theme told by amazing storytellers. This current episode on the theme of ‘doubt’ meets a geologist whose life is rocked by a crisis of faith, a gambler who’s made a name (and millions) by embracing what she can’t know, and they relive a series of decisions and convictions that turn one woman’s certainty into a deeply troubling question about just how certain is certain enough.

Iain Tait from Google Creative Labs NYC on why digital agencies need to understand web/hack culture better, and not just create useless content – “Be respectful of the network. And do as much as possible with as little as possible.”

I often enjoy reading Maria Popova’s book reviews as much as I enjoy reading the books themselves. This is no exception: “This heartwarming and heartbreaking tale is really about what it means to be human — about the osmosis of hollowing loneliness and profound attachment, the oscillation between boundless affection and paralyzing fear of abandonment, the unfair promise of loss implicit to every possibility of love.”