Years ago, when I was running an innovation team at the BBC, one of my favourite sites was Half-Bakery*. The idea is that you post a barely-formed but interesting idea (such as a ‘Sarcasm lock‘ or a ‘Guided Missile to make Tunnels‘) and other people decide whether the idea is ‘baked’ or ‘half-baked’. Of course, the voting is merely a MacGuffin for the comments, that range from serious suggestion to wild flights of comic fantasy. I loved Half Bakery because it was an early insight into what the internet does so well. It takes your half-baked ideas and builds on them. Sometimes by ripping them down and putting something else up in its place, but sometimes by intelligently pointing out the flaws in your half-baked ideas and suggesting better versions.
I thought of Half Bakery a few weeks ago, when I read Andrea Phillips’ very intelligent and well-argued response to my post about designing endings in participatory media. She rightly calls out the holes in my half-baked ideas, and points out that often the endings in particpatory media are actually other beginnings, for example when ARGs are used as marketing for a game or film.
I then read an astonishingly good post by Paul Ford on how the never-ending streaming of Facebook and Twitter challenges traditional media’s historical reliance on endings – the full stop at the end of an newspaper article, or a news anchor’s sign off from a TV bulletin are alien concepts in our never-ending, permanently current stream of social media. At the end of it, he suggests that endings will return in some form, but not in the ways that the ‘old guard’ are nostalgically wishing to return to:
“We’ll still need professionals to organize the events of the world into narratives, and our story-craving brains will still need the narrative hooks, the cold opens, the dramatic climaxes, and that all-important “■” to help us make sense of the great glut of recent history that is dumped over us every morning. No matter what comes along streams, feeds, and walls, we will still have need of an ending.”
So with Andrea’s post, Paul Ford’s brilliant article, and Henry Jenkins’ series of posts that first got me thinking about this, I’ve become a bit obsessed with endings. How do we design endings in the context of streams? Does it mean handing the audience over to another cultural product, like a movie or film? Leaving the audience in a place where they can chat or (froth) about the ending with their friends? Is it an epic, synchronous experience, like the theatrical live events at the end of many ARGs? Or can it be a quite, contemplative, personal experience that happen in our own place, in our own time?
I’d love to get some people together to talk about designing endings in the context of streaming social media. Maybe a small, informal workshop where people can talk about how their own projects ended, and what they learned from the ending. Let me know if you’re interested in the comments below, and I’ll organise an event. I’m already organising The Story 2012, so this will be much smaller and more informal. Maybe we can call it The End.
*Amazingly, HalfBakery.com is still going strong, even though it launched in 1999