Tag: collaboration

The Future of Content: Immersive and Expansive

This post is part of The Future of Digital Content series, which discusses six traits I believe will be at the heart what content will look like in the coming years. These traits form a roadmap that lies at the heart of my research and experiments. The traits also work together, mixing and meshing, to paint a picture of how our future selves may read, watch, learn, and listen.

Read the rest of the series.

Let’s recap real fast. We are talking about what content may look like in the future. How is the line between books, television, internet, apps, and other content forms blurring? With shortening attention spans, how will content evolve?

So far, we’ve touched on five:

  1. Mulit-access – we want our content delivered in many different ways.
  2. Multi-modal – we want content that includes several forms of communication (video, text, sound, etc)
  3. Interactive – We want to take control of our destiny (or content). It should respond to us. Personalized.
  4. Collaborative – Working together with readers and other creators to build something more than we could ourselves.
  5. Social – In real live and in cyberspace, social between authors, characters, and readers.

Now, at the end, we reach immersive and expansive. My personal favorite.

Stories have universes, and we want to explore more than just the small part we see in a video or read in a book. Immersive means that we will be able to surround ourselves and explore content on our own terms. Expansive means that content will link together with other content.

To be honest, the inspiration for these traits come from Comicpalooza and other awesome scifi/comic conventions. For those who don’t know how they work, you basically shove thousands of (comic book, sci-fi, anime, and associated awesomeness) fans into a convention center for a weekend. Let the madness begin. The fans bring their favorite stories to life in really interesting ways: dressing as their favorite characters, creating new characters, writing their own stories based in the world, and creating a myriad of art, games, and other materials. This “fanverse” is not canon (not part of the official story), but often becomes just as important to the fans.

It may sound a little weird, but its a lot of fun. And this growing phenomenon can teach us about the future of content.

Expansive Content

This centers around the concept of a “storyverse,” another feature of my research into narrative identity. A storyverse is usually seen in two different ways, as the universe the story happens in and as the universe of story-related stuff in the real world. For clarification sake, I’m going to break these into two different terms.

The Storyverse

This is the world, the galaxy, the universe of the content itself. This is best seen in fiction, where you have characters playing out in a setting. The reader/audience only sees a small part of that universe — whatever the storyteller wants them to see. But, we can imagine that a character has extended family we never meet, lives in a city with unknown streets, and has lived a life beyond the 400 pages of our book. We don’t get to see everything. Most often, the feeling of a story being just part of a universe is what makes a story shine. You’ve heard of three-dimensional characters and internally-consistent worlds? This is the storyverse.

Increasingly, we are seeing storytellers let the reader into more of the storyverse through bonus features, short stories, and connected series.  In this way, we get to choose our own path as we discover the storyverse. There are extra storybits “out there” for us to play around with. For the moment, let’s stick with “cannon” or official bits of the storyverse.

These extra bits don’t have to be bits at all. Look at Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere or the new Marvel movies. In both cases, there are many stories weaving in and out of each other, connecting with  one another, and building a more complete storyverse than a single, linear story can provide. There are many points of entry and many paths through the narrative.

We can see an expansive trait easily in fiction, but it can be just as powerful in non-fiction content. Think of news articles that relate together, articles connected, and bonus features around social media. We are already seeing this everywhere and it is only going to get stronger.

The Metaverse

If the storyverse is all the official stuff of the story or content, then the metaverse is all the other stuff, the stuff outside cannon. For fiction, these are fan stories, cosplay, licensed artwork, and (most) video games just to name a few. It can (and should) be much more though. What about discussions happening around the story? I mean actually embedded in the page. What about comments and markup? These things ring even more true for non-fiction.

The metaverse is where your readers engage with the storyverse.

This is going to happen, regardless of what you do. What will make content successful in the future is an intentional plan to facilitate this metaverse. How can we encourage this interaction, this creation, this collaboration? Those are the content pieces that will win.

 

Immersive Content

Immersive content surrounds the audience, engaging more than one or two senses. It makes the content part of their world, part of their life. We can see this clearly already with virtual and augmented reality.

Virtual Reality, we will define as engrossing reality. Something that completely surrounds and captivates your audience. The VR headsets are the best example of this so far. Augmented Reality is the accepted term for something that adds to but doesn’t replace the audience’s perception. Things like Google Glasses, which overlay a screen onto the real world would fit here. I would add Engaging Reality in which content engages as many senses as possible, not just sight and sound. Think of interactive theatre or those wonderful scratch-and-sniff stickers.

This may all seem out there, but we are already seeing a lot of this happen. As the future becomes the present, these traits will creep into our content. The most successful — the most memorable, powerful, and effective — content will be intentional about how it is immersive and expansive.

The Path Ahead

This leaves us at the end of our Six Traits of the Future of Content. We have seen how the content of the future (and increasingly of the present) will be multi-access, multimodal, interactive, social, collaborative, and immersive and expansive. The winners of the war for attention will use these traits and create some truly mind-blowing content.

This isn’t the end of the discussion, though. These are my predictions, but no one has the crystal ball, and the future will unravel as it does. I will continue my research and my writing and we will see what happens. How the world will surprise us.

This isn’t even the end of this series! We’ve introduced some basic concepts, but how do we make them work? How do these elements fit together? What is the workflow to create these bits of awesome? Stay tuned, Bat Friends.

This is just the start and the future will be awesome!

The Future of Content: Social

This post is part of The Future of Digital Content series, which discusses six traits I believe will be at the heart what content will look like in the coming years. These traits form a roadmap that lies at the heart of my research and experiments. The traits also work together, mixing and meshing, to paint a picture of how our future selves may read, watch, learn, and listen.

Read the rest of the series.

This may seem obvious to most people, after all Facebook and Twitter and all the rest have basically taken over the world. Of course our content will be promoted on social media. Of course authors will use twitter. Of course readers will review books online.

Obviously content will be social.

But is that all? What could social really mean?

Beyond content that is shared, tweeted, digged, forked, thrown, liked, hated and reviewed, content will be integrated into life. The content we love will be a hub of our social lives, almost like the centers of tiny universes. You see, social is about a lot more than sharing, posting, and sending. It’s about trust, exploration, and human nature.

Narrative Identity

On the research part of my site, I talk a lot about the concept of “Narrative Identity“. In a quick review, here’s how the idea plays out. We each tell stories about ourselves, to ourselves. I may tell the story of a dashing man with an awesome wife who is an avid reader, innovator, storyteller, and researcher. He likes Star Trek, vintage video games, and cats. I have an entire history, and entire story built up of me. My wife’s story is different: football, thrillers, technology, running, and creative art. These elements, these attributes, form our personal identity narrative.

Without realize it, we try to tell this story to others through our speech, actions, clothing, and all manner of “performances.” My performative identity looks like Star Trek quotes, video game t-shirts, and jokes about cats. My wife wears running gear, colorful things she makes, and talks like a geek. We let people know who we are by the things we do, say, and wear. Others can figure out what we are trying to say because of shared cultural resources. T-shirts with Atari symbols are hints to others who know the symbol that “hey, that guy must be into classic games.”

I have written a lot on the topic, but a good place to start is by exploring Anime Fans.

In any case, it is the “shared cultural resources” that we are interested in. These resources are often content that people interact with. They build friendships around, and define themselves through, this content.

Virtual and Real Life

So, content is already social, even if we didn’t think of it that way. But, technology is allowing us to make content really social in cool ways. Virtual sociality allows people to tweet about their stories, ask questions about that new article, find others who are into Advanced Basket Weaving, or whatever floats our boat. We can connect with people around content, using this cultural resource to share ideas, laughs, and tears.

Non-Virtual Sociality brings these things into the real world. Every time you talk with a co-worker about the new Star Wars movie (I originally wrote this as Star Wars VII premiered), you are being social around content.

Social doesn’t just mean social media, it means “integrated into life and others.”

How Will Content Be Social?

Onto the fun stuff! What could social content look like?

Shared

Successful content in the future won’t just hope people tweet, but will be actively sharable. A campaign strategy, quotes and quips, images, and evocative topics will drive people to share with their virtual world. Even more important is a two-way discussion. People like to engage with each other and the content creators.

Curated

Reviews, bumps, boosts, dislikes, and favorites — all will be vital as the internet continues to change the way we consume content. Readers want to know what their friends, trusted experts, and even total stranger have to say about content.

Reader to Reader

Readers (or audiences) want to connect with other readers around content. Many times, an interest in a particular piece of content means shared interests in other areas. Any content that provides people with a way to be social beyond just the content itself will have a serious leg up.

Author and Reader

More than just “behind the scenes,” this means that the content creator(s) are part of the community targeted by the content. They live where the readers live (even if not geographically). When readers can be social with the author, magic happens.

Reader and Characters

This is my favorite. The idea that readers can interact with fictional characters is exciting. And, this doesn’t have to stay in the realm of fiction. Interacting with historical figures, experts in whatever field, and “guides” through a certain topic can bring content to an entirely new level.

And More Than We Can Imagine

This is just the start. The future is going to be awesome.

That wraps up five out of the six traits of “The Future of Content.”

  1. Mulit-access – We want our content delivered in many different ways.
  2. Multi-modal – We want content that includes several forms of communication (video, text, sound, etc)
  3. Interactive – We want to take control of our destiny (or content). It should respond to us. Personalized.
  4. Collaborative – Working together with readers and other creators to build something more than we could ourselves.
  5. Social – In real live and in cyberspace, social between authors, characters, and readers.

Next is the last up on the list, Immersive and Expansive.

Series: The Future of Content

I am a researcher, storyteller, and technologist. Nowhere does that all come together more than in the exploration of how content is evolving. I research how people interact with content and education. I tell stories that are mixed-media and interactive. I build tools and apps that help authors and geeks work together to make awesome content experiences.

the lines are blurring between different kinds of content. Books are becoming websites. Music is meshing with film. Websites and apps are taking over.

Not only is content presentation changing, but the content itself is evolving. Stories are interactive. Articles include videos. Everything is online and part of a conversation between reader and maker.

My research and experiments are about pushing these trends into new places. Those involved in the revolution want to erase the lines that divide presentations (books, movies, websites) so that the content itself gets the show it deserves.

This series explores what the future of digital content might look like. How will books and websites evolve together? Where to games fit in? How will we read, watch, learn, relax, and engage with all the stuff we love in 5, 10, or 20 years?

I focus six traits of content in the future. These traits are my roadmap in most of my research, stories, and experiments. I would like to share them with you and get feedback on how you think content will evolve.

1. Multi-Access

You want your content your way. And you want to access your content in multiple ways.

2. Mixed Media and Multimodal

Content will not just be one thing. A story will alternate between pictures, text, and audio. Articles will include videos. And they will engage more than just one or two senses.

3. Interactive

Bonus features and behind-the-scenes videos are interactive, but what about letting the reader actually change the story as it goes. Or movies where the audience talks with the characters. Oh, and personalized, too.

4. Collaborative

Maker and Audience are distinctions that are starting to fade. We can all work together to build content that is something unlike any one person could have planned.

5. Social

Yes, content will be shared, tweeted, digged, forked, thrown, liked, hated, reviewed, and even more. Content will be integrated into life.

6. Immersive and Expansive

Stories have universes, and we want to explore more than just the small part we see in a video or read in a book. Immersive means that we will be able to surround ourselves and explore content on our own terms. Expansive means that content will link together with other content.

Stick with me as I explore what each of these mean and we discuss how to push digital content forward into the future.

The Future of Content: Collaborative

This post is part of The Future of Digital Content series, which discusses six traits I believe will be at the heart what content will look like in the coming years. These traits form a roadmap that lies at the heart of my research and experiments. The traits also work together, mixing and meshing, to paint a picture of how our future selves may read, watch, learn, and listen.

Read the rest of the series.

Let’s recap real fast. We are talking about what content may look like in the future. How is the line between books, television, internet, apps, and other content forms blurring? With shortening attention spans, how will content evolve?

So far, we’ve touched on three:

  1. Mulit-access – we want our content delivered in many different ways.
  2. Multi-modal – we want content that includes several forms of communication (video, text, sound, etc)
  3. Interactive – We want to take control of our destiny (or content). It should respond to us. Personalized.

Half way through and we reach collaborative. Simply put, “maker and audience are distinctions are starting to fade. We can all work together to build content that is something unlike any one person could have planned.

What Does Collaborative Content Mean?

noun: collaboration; plural noun: collaborations
  1. the action of working with someone to produce or create something.

All content is collaborative in some way, even those created by a single author. The author was influenced by others, likely received some feedback, and (since human cannot create something from nothing) mixed existing elements in a new way — all collaboration with unseen individuals. More than that, words on a page serve little purpose without someone to read them, someone with their own ideas, interpretation, views, and colored lenses. The audience will undoubtedly interpret what was written in a slightly (or wildly) different way than the author intended. (A bite-sized philosophy). So, the maker and audience are collaborating, each bringing something to the experience.

That’s all the philosophy we can stomach. lol.

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(Five-ish) Steps to a Creative, Mixed Media, Interactive Story

I talk a lot about different ideas for mixed-media, interactive stories, but how do we actually create something. What are the steps? What does the  process look like? Is this really something I can do?

Yes. Let me show you.

From step one.

1. Inspiration

The most common question at any book signing is “where do you get your ideas?” That is a subject for about a thousand books on its own, and to begin this walk through of telling mixed-media, interactive stories, it may be a bit beyond our scope. We will start with one of the most time-honored launching pads: the writing prompt.

I have a copy of The Amazing Story Generator which I have used to concoct the following three scenes.

  • Penniless after a failed business venture, an old lady with twenty cats solves a ten-year-old murder
  • After a monthlong fast, a North Korean scientist forgets to mail an important letter
  • While on a second honeymoon, a small town mayor is initiated into a secret cult

And from here, we construct a story.

2. Story

I chose those three, bizarrely disconnected plot lines on purpose. My stories always begin with scenes, characters, or emotional moments. Interesting bits of news or questions that I connect to personally. Then, I ask question to connect these bits into a functioning story. The above prompts are not really connected at all, but we can create connections and birth a beautiful story.

Story Fundamentals

Let’s begin by understanding what a story is and has, at least for our purposes. At its most basic level, a hero’s life is at balance in their world, ordinary as it is for them. Something happens to knock that balance out of whack and sends that hero on some sort of quest to set the world to rights again. Along the way, lots of things try to stop the hero, and a few things (like mentors) will be the hero’s aid. Even more important, our hero grows. They begin with a want (to set the world right again), a wound (something bad that keeps them from growing), and a need (to be get past the wound). The story takes the hero through the growth. They are not the same at the end, and neither is the world, but this new world is in balance, at least for the hero.

Yes, that’s all from my treatment on the Hero’s Journey, and (to me) the simplest structure to create powerful stories. I’m using it here as a sort-of-formula. Normally, I’m not that rigid, but this is a blog post, after all.

Questions to Construct Stories

Now that we know what we’re aiming for, how can we connect those above prompts? Well, in a virtually infinite number of ways. Here is how my questioning path led to a story outline.

  • Is the important letter connected to the murder? Yes, the letter was an last minute cancellation of a contract assassination.
  • Why was the scientist wanting to assassinate someone in the first place? Obviously because they were rivals in some secret government research.  He changed his mind when, after his fast, he believed his god spoke to him in a vision. Now, I’m changing my prompt from “forgets to mail” to “fails to mail”.
  • So, what stops the scientist from mailing the letter? The secret cult also wants the rival dead, so they dispose of the scientist and let the hit man take care of the rival.
  • Why does the secret cult care? They are an old order that believes they must protect the world from abomination of medicine. Both scientists were working on advanced genetics.
  • The secret cult uses mind control serum to indoctrinate their members.
  • That means that the small town-mayor is going to be the villian of our story. He is recruited by the cult to dispatch of the cat lady, because the cat-lady is stumbling upon the truth.
  • What is the cat-lady’s wound and growth? She is scared of being independent and has been relying on others to get her through. She learns that she can take care of herself — and others. The wound, her son passed away from an infection years ago. She couldn’t save him. She isn’t capable. Not great, but it’ll work.

And I can keep going. Suffice it to say, that works out enough plot for this post.

The Treatment

Now that I have the connections, lets fashion it into a short description of the story for our purposes. Remember the story fundamentals. Our hero will be the cat lady and our villain will be the secret cult that is manipulating the small-town mayor.

Beth spends her days at home, dreaming of ways to become independent. Of ways to stop needing to rely on others. Of taking care of herself as she once had. But, she is too afraid. What if she can’t? What if others rely on her? What if she lets them down? Her latest hopes were dashed when a business venture — that she invested everything she had into — fell through. Not just fell through: the CEO of the company died suddenly and the headquarters were destroyed, taking all of the research with it and bankrupting the entire process. The genetics lab was promising to enhance vision, reflexes, and memory. Now, it’s all gone.

Normally Beth would just wallow in her misery. But she’s through wallowing. She does some more digging and finds that there have been lots of similar incidents from around the world. Then she remembers the story her father told her. Of when he was a boy and his father (a North Korean Scientist) was murdered. She still has the last letter her grandfather meant to send. It’s never been opened. Now is the time.

The letter describes a secret cult that will stop at nothing to “preserve the human race from medicine.” Fascinated, Beth digs some more. The cult, every watching for those who may know its secrets, discovers her and recruits a small-town mayor who is sympathetic to their cause and on a second honeymoon nearby. They drug him and brainwash him to go after Beth.

A lot of stuff happens in the middle. You know: mystery, intrigue, blah, blah, blah.

In the end, Beth and the Mayor (who we will call Roger) must rely on each other to defeat and expose the cult. Beth’s growth is complete when (in the final climax) she surrenders any control and relies totally on Roger. That doesn’t make her weak, or helpless, or a loser. And, she realizes that she is capable.

Of course, they save the world.

Wow, what a weird story, right? In any case, its enough to start splitting it into mixed-media and interactive bits.

3-4. Mixed-Media, Interactive Awesomeness

Our mantra is “don’t do anything for novelty sake.” That said, what parts of this story would best be told in which mediums? Well, you could definitely have a journal from the North Korean scientist with all his clues and suspicions. Images, sketches, very visual. For that matter, a few audio recordings would be great two.

Beth’s story would best be done in narrative prose so we can get inside her mind and really grow with her. Ditto with Roger’s storyline, but maybe a touch less.

What about the person Roger is on a second-honeymoon with? If Roger is sneaking away to get at Beth, that would make Roger’s wife pretty suspicious. Let’s give her a smartphone and have her do her own investigation, snapping pictures and taking videos to tell that part of the story. That isn’t just a gimmick. Images in that way produce great suspense as the audience must decide what in the image is important and what is not. The author can do amazing things with misdirection

As far as interactivity goes, I like the idea of making the journal interactive. Let’s give the audience the ability to explore the journal and piece the mystery together herself.

That leaves us with a novel that alternates between photographs, novel prose, and printed journal entries alongside an interactive journal. And, for the fun of it, a hidden track where one of Beth’s cats narrate the story through a feline POV.

5. Collaboration and Awesomeness

That’s a lot. More than I could do myself, admittedly. I would start, as I have, with a fleshed out draft all in text. In it, I would break the scenes into photos, prose, or journal and describe what the photos show and the journal says. Once I have my story more-less perfect, I can approach others to help flesh it out. Working together, we are stronger.

I will talk more about my format experiments in a later post.

For now, I hope you were able to follow this and see that, even from bizarre beginnings, a mixed-media, interactive story is possible. Think what you could do with an actually good idea.

Comments, please. What’s your process?

Storytelling With WordPress

In trolling the vast interwebs for research, I found several great resources to create storytelling websites using the popular (and free) web-software, WordPress. For those that don’t know, WordPress is a mini-content-management system that runs about 20% of all the websites in the internet. It’s totally free, made by community volunteers, open source (so you can modify it), and very easy to use. Usually, it makes websites, but the links below give tips on transforming that website into an interactive story. Enjoy!


WordPress Storytelling – A great introduction with examples of how people are using WordPress to tell stories.

Storytelling in WordPress – Another showcase of WordPress stories.

Immersive Storytelling – The next step, how to get started.

A DIY Guide to WordPress Storytelling – Another step by step guide. Very readable. Great people over at WPMU.

The Aesop Story Engine – A great tool to get you started. Does a lot of the technical stuff for you. Easy to use.

Building Stories Using a Multimedia Storyteller – Another tool that gives you more control, but is a little more tech-y.

Enjoy!

(Seven) Interactive Story Ideas Aided by Technology

I talk a lot about mixed-media stories, writing, and story craft. But this blog is about more than just multimodal stories. Interactive stories are part of the revolution.  There are a lot of different ideas about interactivity, though. So, for my blog, I say interactive stories are stories that adapt to the will of the reader. There are diverging roads, bonus features, and extra tidbits for the reader to explore, making no two reading experiences the same. None of this is for novelty. None is “just because it’s cool.” Every aspect is crafted to be what is best for the story; what the story deserves. One of my favorite posts from Around the Web is Inkle’s 10 Types of Interactive Stories which shows some different ways of adding interactivity to your stories.

But what do these look like? What are some concrete ways to make a story interactive? How can technology help us? Well I’ve put together a list of some brainstorm ideas for interactive stories. These are not story ideas about characters, but method ideas about adding interactivity.

Each of these would need to utilize technology in some way, which would make it difficult for many writers. That is going to change. Keep an eye out on this blog or my research blog for a new endeavor called Phoenix Labs. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

So, without further jibber-jabber. Here are some starting points to get creative juices flowing.

1. Giant Madlib

What about a story that knows your reader? Not your target audience, but your specific reader. Before the story started, the reader input several details about their life: favorite color, vacation, fears, etc. And the story, like the world’s best madlib, put these details in the right spot, making each experience different. Unique to the reader.

2. Bonus Features

Blue-ray discs have them, why not books? Deleted chapters, character interviews, behind the scenes commentary. You get the idea.

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Secrets of the Writer’s Circle

Last week, we talked about critique groups. This week, I wanted to share some keys to creating an effective critique group. Let me paint a picture of what I mean when I say “writer’s circle”: A group of upwards to 10 (more than that gets difficult) that meet regularly (weekly or twice a month at least) to read aloud and critique each other’s work. They write as much feedback as they can, and then take turns giving oral feedback where appropriate. Afterwards, they may stay and chat about other writer-related topics. The group is for serious writers who want to publish (traditionally or self-publish), and (hopefully) open to all skill levels.

Giving credit where credit is due, a lot of this comes from my writer’s guild: The Houston Writer’s Guild.

Trust and Encouragement

Any good writer’s circle must be a place where everyone trusts the other members. This is difficult. There is always that one person who seems to know everything and bleed others dry.

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