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So What is Web 2.0 Storytelling?

If I am not President, I sure am on the Board of Directors of the Bryan Alexander Fan Club. So it becomes even more amazing when he wants to dine with me before his workshop and get feedback on his plans for the session he did at the EDUCAUSE ELI conference on Web 2.0 Storytelling.

Web 2.0 Story Master

Bryan has such range in his expertise and real literary and knowledge depth, while my last read might have been a lame Stephen King retread. But that’s beside the point.

Somehow I was able to get myself in the door of Bryan’s session as a helper, so I was an interloper. Despite my rants of a need to change the lecture mode in conference sessions, Bryan is one I can easily sit back and listen to because he brings such original ideas, out of the norm examples, and a thoughtful framework, that it is a great lecture– bit better than that, he is always drawing in the participants individually or as a group.

And he provides all his notes, resources, and links on a wiki, so one does need to be a monk-like scribe in the sessions. In fact, he encouraged a lot of wiki mucking up, which you can see has been modified with notes, comments from participants workshop. Can you imagine some slick presenter allowing their audience to annotate hos powerpoint as he/she presents?

Bryan and I talked both before and after his workshop in ideas about what we *mean* when we talk about web storytelling, and what we can best communicate to such audiences, and am hoping to here, outline what I thought we might have said.

What Mean Ye, “Storytelling”

I imagine we carry different internal ideas as to what the concept even means to us. It might translate as “that touchy feely personal stuff”, and i think more often, to the personal digital storytelling genre done so well by the Center for Digital Storytelling and others around the world. I love this stuff! I love the process, I love that people learn to find a voice and to create a rich media performance.

But the mode is pure linearity and we are free from that in a hypertextual net environment.

And my guess is there is a large leap to consider how one can use this approach in learning, beyond the obvious areas of teaching communication, composition, media skills, personal growth etc. I bet the Math folks, electrical engineers, and others are glazed over. Too soft? Not directly applicable? I can try a counter argument like “all history is biography” and the story of Kekulé’s dream of a snake eating its tail inspired him to deduce the ring structure of benzene. That’s a story, eh?

So Bryan and have talked, as did participants in th workshop, on this question, and more so in the same vein of curiosity rather than a need to have a committee definition. He even called on a participant to edit his own wiki to write her definition, and Susan added:

Conveying a thought, a moment, an emotional response to event that has taken place. It can be told verbally, physically, electronically.

Does that help? Does it encompass all the range?

So for me, web 2.0 tools blow all the doors off of the rules, the need to stay on a story arc. Linear paths are not the norm. But is it a new form, or just pretty *stuff*? Trying to wrap what I know of Web 2.0 and what it affords content creation to the concept of digital storytelling as video personal narrative just seems like trying to use a Phillips head screw driver on a Torx screwhead (ugh, that was a horrible analogy, think apples and oranges, pigs that fly, whatever).

To me we are talking about different story constructs.

Or not even “stories”

So What is the Web 2.0 Angle?

I loved how Bryan gracefully tap danced around the Web 2.0 definition. Nice steps!

My perspective is framed by being on the web like all the time, and the experiences last summer pulling together the 50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story. To me it is less about a story arc, the Freytag Pyramid, or some “hero” meeting “his” challenger and more about just simple ways for people to express a concept, thought, or a tale using combinations of text and/or images and/or audio and/our video. I can be enthralled by a provocative flickr photo with a intriguing text caption, not just descriptive, but the ones that draw you in, or make you wonder, or link elsewhere.

That becomes more fuzzy, but to me, it is ay least helping people discover they are not limited to text for creative expression (not that there is anything wrong with a well written story; the best conjure up images in the mind). But I am more interested in finding ways to have people discover new ways to express in text and/or images and/or audio and/or video. Something as simple as a provocative photo and a few paragraphs of text that go beyond description to “flicktion“, intrigue, mystery,or making a strong stand.

One of the tools I recall my audiences really responding to is one I really pitched as a silly throwaway, Blabberize. No, it is not going to be a work of literary merit and really more of a joke, but people just fell off their chair. Not that there is a grand us (does there have to be all the time?).

So here I flail in words, and connect with what I really love about flickr is the whole notion of communicating in images. More than the trite 1000 words equivalence phrase, I find that images open up my writing, and my writing enhances a simple image– they become more than a sum of their parts.

And as I think about some future “50 Ways” presentations, I like to remind myself that the whole exercise was a realization of the web lesson- the web is too big for any one person to know or act like they do, that it will always unfold more than you are aware of, and that it is as close to experiencing infinity as I may get.

See the Stuff

In Bryan’s workshop, he made table groups do some simple, but telling, exercises using wikis, twitter, flickr, voicethread.

It seemed like the flickr ones had the most legs — just going into writing mode in a blank wiki is a challenge, but our folks went with it. I think it make have taken more head scratching to take on tales by twitter, but its new form that is yet to be written completely, be it multiple person narrative or serializing stories over time or using it as a conversational piece around linked media elsewhere.

What i liked about Bryan’s approach was doing a second round of exercises, except the tasks were rotated, so now the groups were building on each other. That seemed to propel them a bit farther, but as all things in a fixed time workshop, one never has too much time.

What Next

I’m still fuzzy if there is a “Web 2.0 storytelling concept”– there are tons of nes that Bryan often blogs about, so I am not saying they don’t exist, but am leery of trying to draw fences around what it is versus not. Heck, since the workshop, Bryan has added a string of new ones.

But I do think it is more open to people to find a meaningful place to explore and express, and maybe we dont need rules and lists and characteristics. Create, embed, and share??

And I am thinking of Bryan’s challenge to perhaps create a story that runs through a tag cloud. Brian Lamb reminded me later that we had done something like that for a presentation we did for Northern Arizona University in 2006, and we had tried a bit of it by creating tag paths for our “Fish Tacos” presentation at ELI in 2006… but now I am toying with how this might work more in a story or narrative form, and it could easily bridge across multiple web 2.0 tools, not just be contained in one.

Hmm. Time to stop blogging text and jump in the web 2.0 deep end….

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Great post. I sure wish I had been at this workshop.

    FWIW, I think all narratives have two arcs, corresponding to the way in which our own self-narrated existence takes shape in our own minds. One arc is the chronological one, since cause-and-effect require chronological order, and without cause-and-effect we have chaos. The second arc exists in memory and imagination, where lines/arcs are being drawn and redrawn very rapidly, not to signal cause-and-effect but to intuit larger patterns of relation, of meaning. In this way, metaphor becomes a narrative, I think. Every time we perceive (meaningful) relation, we are storytellers.

    Obviously I need to think all of this through, and of course I could be full of beans–but I think that narratives are always and never simply linear, no matter what the medium. It’s just that storytelling in things other than words foregrounds other ways of imagining sequence and arc, and makes the dual nature of narrative (in-time and out-of-time) more apparent. We’ve used language to tell stories for so long that we’ve become forgetful of the dual arc-making….

    I REALLY wish I’d been in that workshop. Between Bryan and you, I’ve got a bad case of jumpy neurons. Or a good case. Time will tell. :)

  2. I too wish Dr Glu could have been there- your poetic description of the two (or more) arcs so clearly expresses what I have as a vague, internal notion. That’s what I enjoy about working with both you and Bryan is you can put this ideas into powerful words and mental images.

    Have no “fear”– Bryan and I have long wishes to do more effort in this area, be it more workshops online stuff, writing, who knows. It may become a non-linear web 2.0 ARG story about non-linear web 2.0 ARG stories (uh oh, entering the realm of recursion with Harry Mudd…)

  3. That sounds like that was an interesting presentation and conversation. I am in the process of getting my masters. Through my experience I have learned that people are starting to understand how images can talk. With me being a visual learner, and continue to work other ways to learn it was hard for me to understand concepts that didn’t necessary have any visuals.

    In this day an age students need to have visuals to help explain a concept or express one’s thought. I am glad to see software and research help push this method out to educators. I would like to see this software in action. Thanks for the info.


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