More thoughts on Endings

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, is still going strong, even though it launched in 1999

The Eastern Columbia Clock, Los Angeles

Working & Talking

Storythings has been up and running as a company for a few months now, so its a good time to talk about the work we’re doing. Alongside numerous interesting conversations and bits of consultancy, Storythings is currently working on three projects:

Wellcome Trust
Storythings has been commissioned to research and develop an online video product, based on an archive of factual TV programmes stretching back 30 years. The first stage focused on attention patterns around online factual content, and looking at ways to transform casual viewing into curating and sharing personal journeys through the archive. We’re now building a team to deliver do more detailed scoping work and build a prototype.

Faber & Faber
Faber have commissioned Storythings to develop digital products for three fiction titles – one by a major UK author, one from a new US author, and one for an anniversary edition of a 20th Century classic. We’re pulling together a group of collaborators to look at social behaviour around fiction and new contexts for reading, and to come up with some innovative new ideas about how fiction works on new devices.

Speak-It Films
Cashback is a new film by Speak-it, the makers of Black Gold and  When China Met Africa. Based on the book Treasure Islands, the film will expose the effect that corporate tax havens are having on the global financial crisis. Storythings has been working with Speak-It to develop an integrated strategy for the project, connecting the film production process with an online content and campaign strategy.

We’re really pleased to have book, film and video projects for our first contracts (with a theatre/game project incoming as well) as each of these genres are facing the challenges and opportunities of digital distribution in different ways. Storythings was created to explore digital storytelling across all genres, so its really exciting to be working on such a variety of commissions, and to be able to make connections and transfer knowledge between projects.

We  will also be talking at a number of events later this year, starting with the Immersive Writing Lab at Ravensbourne on August 20/21st, alongside a fantastic line-up of experts in cross-platform storytelling. And finally, we’re busy planning and booking speakers for next year’s The Story conference, which will be on Friday Feb 17th – tickets will be on sale in September, but book the day in your diary now!

‪Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories‬‏

One of my obsessions at the moment is understanding the patterns of attention we make as we curate our time to make room for content, stories, and other forms of culture. This old Kurt Vonnegut video isn’t quite the same thing, but is a lovely illustration of a similar theme. Its also an illustration of how to give an *astounding* talk without powerpoint or any other fancy schmancy technology – just a blackboard, a piece of chalk, and years and years of experience.