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    • Te a c h i n g a n d L e a r n i n g Web 2.0 Storytelling Emergence of a New Genre By Bryan alexander and alan Levine A story has a beginning, a middle, and a cleanly wrapped-up end- ing. Whether told around a campfire, read from a book, or played on a DVD, a story goes from point A to B and then C. It follows a trajectory, a Freytag Pyramid—perhaps the line of a human life or the stages of the hero’s journey. A story is told by one person or by a creative team to an audience that is usually quiet, even receptive. Or at least that’s what a story used to be, and that’s how a story used to be told. Today, with digital net- works and social media, this pattern is changing. Stories now are open-ended, branching, hyperlinked, cross-media, participatory, exploratory, and unpre- dictable. And they are told in new ways: Web 2.0 storytelling picks up these new types of stories and runs with them, accelerating the pace of creation and participation while revealing new directions for narratives to flow. Bryan Alexander is Director of Research at the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE, http:// nitle.org). He blogs at <http://b2e.nitle.org/>. Alan Levine is Vice President, Community, and Chief Technology Officer for the New Media Consortium (NMC). He barks about technology at <http://cogdog blog.com>.40 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008 © 2008 Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine Illustration by David Lesh, © 2008
    • Definitions and Histories such as Dreamweaver, an arcane method connections in between. A blogger posts What is Web 2.0 storytelling? As the phrase of FTP, and local campus web directory a reflection. Another blogger adds a com- suggests, it is the telling of stories using structures, they can now begin telling the ment to that post, with a link to a related Web 2.0 tools, technologies, and strate- world about Mideast politics or biological video. A third writes up a post on his blog gies. Since the name is fairly recent (and processes after spending only five min- (which may automatically send a “ping” to not yet widely used), it may not bear out utes learning how to use Blogger or Wiki- the original blog post as a connection). A as the best term for this trend. Another spaces. The technology thus becomes fourth describes the conversation so far name may emerge, one better suited to more transparent; attention is focused in her podcast, thus adding more com- describing this narrative domain. How- on the content. As a result, the amount of mentary. Such distributed conversations ever, the term seems to have met with rich web media and content has grown in occurred and continue to happen on quiet acknowledgment to date, so it may quantity and diversity. And any student of other web platforms and, arguably, can be serve as a useful one going forward. To history would not be surprised to observe found in other venues (e-mail listservs, further define the term, we should begin that out of those manifold ways of writing Usenet groups). But Web 2.0’s lowered by explaining what we mean by its first and showing have emerged new practices bar to content creation, combined with part: Web 2.0. Tim O’Reilly coined Web 2.0 for telling stories. increased social connectivity, ramps up in 2004,1 but the label remains difficult A second essential component to Web the ease and number of such conversa- to acceptably define. For our present 2.0 is what we used to refer to as “social tions, which are able to extend outside discussion, we will identify two essential software.” Although Web 2.0 tools now the bounds of a single environment. Dis- features that are useful in distinguish- generally offer multiple levels of pri- tributed discussion offers many points of ing Web 2.0 projects and platforms from vacy, and therefore host entry, both for readers the rest of the web: microcontent and social a growing amount of and for co-writers. And media.2 content inaccessible to it offers a new environ- The first feature, microcontent, sug- a broad audience, Web Two essential ment for storytelling. gests that authors create small chunks of 2.0 platforms are often features are useful Another influential content, with each chunk conveying a structured to be orga- in distinguishing factor of Web 2.0 is primary idea or concept.3 These pieces nized around people Web 2.0 projects findability: the use of are smaller than websites in terms of in- rather than the tradi- and platforms from comprehensive search formation architecture and are meant to be reused in multiple ways and places. tional computer hierar- chies of directory trees. the rest of the web: tools that help story creators (and readers) They are also often much smaller than Websites designed in microcontent and quickly locate related websites in terms of the amount of storage the 1990s and later of- social media. micocontent with just that each chunk takes up: blog posts, wiki fered few connecting a few keywords typed edits, YouTube comments, and Picasa points for individu- into a search field. images are usually only a few thousand als, generally speaking, Social bookmarking bytes. Some types of microcontent, ironi- other than perhaps a guestbook or a link and content tagging add more tools to cally, can be quite large from a storage to an e-mail address. But Web 2.0 tools help share or recall what has been found. perspective but are self-contained— are built to combine microcontent from With findability connected to a grow- namely, audio (podcasts), video (for web different users with a shared interest: a ing amount of media content licensed platforms, such as YouTube), or embed- blog post and a comment; a Delicious under Creative Commons (http://creative dable Flash applets. Their uploading to page for a URL with many different users commons.org/), the authoring process the web is a simple matter for the user having bookmarked the same URL; a again becomes both easier and more and does not require anything in the way group of Flickr photos from different fulfilling, with increased access to high- of web design expertise. Even creating a people connected by the common use of quality microcontent. website through Web 2.0 tools is a radi- a descriptive tag; or multiple authors in a Defining the second part of Web 2.0 cally different matter compared with the single wiki page. If readers closely exam- storytelling—that is, storytelling—is an easier days of HTML hand-coding and of mov- ine a Web 2.0 project, they will find that proposition, partly because we have a far, ing files with FTP clients. Creating Web it is often touched by multiple people, far greater tradition of recognizing and re- 2.0 content requires only making a few whether in the content creation or via as- flecting on it. Storytelling is a rare human selections from menus, choosing from sociated comments or discussion areas. If universal, present and recognizable across a variety of well-designed templates, or they participate actively, by contributing cultures and epochs. We can refer to it as adding a page name to another, already- content, we have what many call social the “art of conveying events in words, established wiki page. One outcome of media. images, and sounds often by improvisa- this authoring approach is a drastically Combining social media with micro- tion or embellishment.”4 Annette Sim- lower bar for participation and publish- content yields a series of synergistic ef- mons sees the storyteller’s empathy and ing. Although some faculty members fects, including conversations that occur sensory detail as crucial to “the unique might hesitate to learn a website editor across multiple sites and with multiple capability to tap into a complex situation42 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008
    • we have all experienced and which we all sential to any discussion of ethics; the Linked lexia (individual hypertext pieces) recognize.”5 A leading teacher of writing use of storytelling for surfacing implicit offered new forms of co-creation, in emphasizes the importance of characters’ information in knowledge-management which a reader would help form the story desires in a story: “Without a mobilized practice. As popularized in education, by shaping a path through it. For example, desire or fear, characters in a story—or the familiar form of digital storytelling Espen Aarseth coined the term “ergodic life—won’t be willing to is a narrated personal literature,” with ergodic being a neologism do much of anything in story of overcoming from the Greek words for “work” and the service of their great obstacles, achieving “path.”8 The spread of urban legends by longings.”6 Storytelling a dream, honoring a newsgroup posts and e-mail messages may also be seen as the deceased family mem- constitutes something akin to a body of set of cultural practices ber, or describing an folklore, building up within the Internet. for representing events event.7 Web 2.0 stories Once hypertext became prominent and chronologically. Or for are often broader: they familiar with the explosive growth of the the purposes of this ar- can represent history, web, storytelling by web pages developed ticle, we can simply re- fantasy, a presentation, a large, if underappreciated, record. This purpose U.S. Supreme a puzzle, a message, or occurred both before and alongside the Court Justice Potter something that blurs rise of Web 2.0. On one level, web users Stewart’s classic line: the boundaries of real- experienced a great deal of digital narra- “It’s hard to define, but I ity and fiction. tives created in non-web venues but pub- know it when I see it.” Storytelling with digital tools dates lished in HTML, such as embedded audio Story can refer to either fiction or back to the early days of personal com- clips, streaming video, and animation nonfiction, depending on the context. puters and the first networks. Early work through the Flash plug-in. On another It’s easy to think of nonfiction storytell- on hypertext explored new ways of cre- level, they experienced stories using web ing examples: marketing used to sell a ating and experiencing narrative, often pages as hypertext lexia, chunks of con- product’s story; the mini-stories so es- nonlinear and increasingly media-rich. tent connected by hyperlinks. Tutorials44 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008
    • work in this way, telling the story of some (http://www.dreamingmethods.com/) has video projects from the 1970s. This peda- process or object through a series of even produced a series of multilinear stories gogical method was developed in Berke- static HTML documents—for example, more like environments than classic tales, ley by a group of community theater Writing HTML (http://www.mcli.dist using Flash to deepen the atmosphere activists who wanted to link performance .maricopa.edu/tut/). An example in cre- and tone. Web-based narratives grew in with digital tools. The result was a peda- ative fiction is Ted’s Caving Journal (http:// number through the 1990s and into the gogy far more narrow than what the term www.angelfire.com/trek/caver/page1 twenty-first century, with “net.art” and digital storytelling encompasses: a three- .html), a series of web pages leading for- the field of electronic literature develop- day, intensive event in which participants ward and backward in one sequence. And ing rapidly.9 learn enough technological skills to cre- as the web grew, storytelling approaches While HTML narratives continued to ate a personal story in short video form.10 combined hypertext with rich media. For be produced, digital storytelling by video Instructors and participants found that example, the Dreaming Methods project also began, drawing on groundbreaking the combination of digital tools with per- sonal story was an energizing and power- ful form of expression for both the cre- ator and the audience. Learners lost some nervousness about the technology when they saw it in the service of a far more recognizable cause: their own story or the stories of others. In turn, the expressive capabilities of the technology produced personal and community knowledge. By the time of the emergence of blogs and YouTube as cultural media outlets, Tim O’Reilly’s naming of Web 2.0, and the advent of social media, storytelling with digital tools had been at work for nearly a generation. Principles and Practices To claim that there is now such a thing as “Web 2.0 storytelling” invites risks. For one, some media reports suggest that this type of storytelling could be either hype or a danger. In addition, trying to pin down such a moving target can result in creating terminology that becomes ob- solete in short order. Moreover, claiming that storytelling is happening online and is developing in interesting ways con- tradicts some current assertions about a decline in reading. Accepting these risks, we suggest there is most certainly a new form of expression that is compelling to educa- tors. Starting from our definitions, we should expect Web 2.0 storytelling to consist of Web 2.0 practices. And indeed, social microcontent is clearly present in projects like Postmodern Sass (http://www .postmodernsass.com/blogger/), where many posts have attached comments from people who are (presumably) not the author. The interplay of Sass’s de- scriptions and her commentators’ reac- tions forms a key layer of the overall story, apart from the series of posts. That inter-46 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008
    • play is common to the blogosphere andis different from the experience of static, Oral storytelling“Web 1.0” pages. The interwoven char-acters, relationships, settings, and scenesthat result are the stuff of stories, regard- Multimedia millennia Web 2.0less of how closely mapped onto realitythey might be; this also distinguishes a Fan culturesWeb 2.0 story from other blogging forms,such as political or project sites (except as Web 1.0: Web 3.0satire or criticism!). The Million Penguinswiki novel project consisted (and consists, storytelling and publication Web 2.0 semanticsalthough no longer in editable form) of Digital Storytellingmyriad edits to many wiki pages, rapidly storytellingaltered by a large number of users.11 Lone- Hypertextlygirl15 (http://www.lonelygirl15.com/), Mobile deviceswhich started as a series of short videoson YouTube, grew to include a large num- Serial print culture: novels, magazines Gamingber of comments, blog posts, wiki pages,parody videos, response videos, and abody of criticism. In each of these cases, Serial broadcast Socialthe relative ease of creating web content culture: radio, TV ARGs gamingenabled social connections around and tostory materials. Such connections can occur in anynumber of directions, in sharp contrast page, commenting on a post, replying in content would either be off-web (via e-to the singular flow of digital storytelling. a Twitter feed, posting a video response mail) or housed in other, clearly separatedIn the latter form, authors create linear in YouTube. Those interactions fold into web locations. This last point returns usnarratives, bound to the clear, unitary, the experience of the overall story from to the distributed nature of Web 2.0 story-and unidirectional timeline of the video the perspective of subsequent readers. telling. Not all Web 2.0 stories are distrib-format and the traditional story arc. Web Web 2.0 stories tend to be accretions over uted across multiple sites, but the combi-2.0 narratives can follow that timeline, time, imbricated layers of content on top nation of social media and microcontentand podcasts in particular must do so. But of an original core. It would be difficult, makes it likely that many can be. Creatorsthey can also link in multiple directions. for example, for viewers to experience can stage content from different sites. ForConsider the possibilities facing a reader only the videos published by Lonely- instance, characters can have their own(or a viewer or a listener) who approaches girl15’s creative team: there are also the blogs in which they describe their parts inPostmodern Sass. One timeline follows blog torrents of comments, video responses, the larger story—as done, for example, inposts in chronological order. Another tag-sets. A web search World Without Oil (http://follows comments to a single post. A reveals numerous other worldwithoutoil.org).third follows links between posts, such strata of other-authored A reader can add Moreover, those sitesas when the author refers to an earlier story pieces, covering a content into story can be different types ofsituation or references an old joke. Web wide range of registers, platforms directly: Web 2.0 platforms. Play-2.0 creators have many options about the from satire to tribute. ing for Keeps (http://wwwpaths to set before their users. Web 2.0 On a less complex level, editing a wiki page, .playingforkeepsnovelstorytelling can be fully hypertextual in consider the 9th Btn Y & commenting on a .com/) includes blogits multilinearity. At any time, the audi- L War Diaries blog proj- post, replying in a posts (with comments),ence can go out of the bounds of the story ect, which posts diary Twitter feed, posting podcasts (each blogged,to research information (e.g., checking entries from a World War a video response in with those posts com-names in Google searches or looking for I veteran. A June 2008 YouTube. mentable), PDF down-background information in Wikipedia). post (http://yldiaries.blog loads, a MySpace page, Often, the paths do not necessarily spot.com/2008_06_01_ and additional blogfollow routes and destinations entirely archive.html) contains a full wartime posts from various content contribu-generated by the story’s creator. User- document, but the set of comments from tors, with these posts housed at theirgenerated content is a key element of others (seven, as of this writing) offer fore- own locations. Likewise, Serial BloggerWeb 2.0 and can often enter into these shadowing, explication of terms, and con- involves a series of blogs and videostories. A reader can add content into text. Compare these cases with pre–Web files accessed online but comple-story platforms directly: editing a wiki 2.0, static, Web 1.0 pages. User-generated mented by offline interactions in North November/december 2008 E d u c a u s E r e v i e w 47
    • Melbourne’s Arts House (http://2008 Found a Digital Camera in the Woods (http:// volume of information. Reminiscent of I .nextwave.org.au/festival/projects/ community.codemasters.com/forum/ Found a Digital Camera in the Woods, the artist 59-serial-blogger). showthread.php?t=42825) helps make it Jonathan Harris collects stories as found At times, this distributed art form can believable, as did its original placement objects from other people (http://www range beyond the immediate control of in a common web discussion forum. The .ted.com/index .php/talks/jonathan a creator. For example, when bloggers story consists solely of a series of images, _harris_collects_stories.html), sto- create their own takes on a podcast story’s and the interpretation ries that offer “a partial plot resolution, web searchers can find is played out as people glimpse into someone’s both “versions.” Or consider Hamlet comment on and try life rather than knowing by Facebook, a comic retelling of Shake- to interpret the im- the whole story.” Harris speare’s tragedy by rewriting in Face- ages. The Flickr stories and Sep Kamvar built book’s interface language (http:// pool (http://www.flickr a tool that continually img.photobucket.com/albums/v116/ .com/groups/visual scans new blog posts dalziel_86/hamlet.png).12 This sort of story/) offers a similar for occurrences of the content repurposing, redesign, and mix of simplicity and words “I feel” or “I am republication can open up problems “tricky truth” status. feeling”; the software of version or content control, yet in re- As with the rest of Web grabs a full sentence as a turn, it offers the possible harvesting of 2.0, it is up to readers “microstory” along with the storytelling energies of the creative and viewers to analyze any embedded photo, world. In addition, some Web 2.0 stories and interpret such con- plus associated demo- hit the control problem deliberately: tent and usually to do so collaboratively. graphic information about the author often the stories are not clearly labeled Other forms leverage the Web 2.0 (geolocation and weather). The We Feel as stories. This puts a responsibility on strategies of aggregating large amounts Fine website (http://www.wefeelfine.org/) the reader/viewer to determine if the sto- of microcontent and creatively selecting presents a dynamic visual representation ries are “real” or not. The simplicity of I patterns out of an almost unfathomable of the intersection of geography, climate,48 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008
    • and how “we” are feeling—representing line (posted to Twitter) of James Joyce’s voice, the creator produces a differ- 15,000–20,000 sentences a day (11.5 Ulysses every fifteen minutes, taking ent story. Examples include The Shin- million “feelings” as of July 2008). In eight months to finish. The Booktwo.org ing Recut (http://www.thetrailermash a similar vein, Twistori (http://twistori website states: “Running over a period of .com/shining-romantic-comedy), which .com/) provides a real-time display of several months, Swotter will test the per- turns the original horror movie into a people’s Twitter posts manence of the elec- family-bonding love story, and Scary that use the words tronic medium against Mary (http://www.thetrailermash.com/ “feel,” “love,” “hate,” that of the traditional mary-poppins-horror/), featuring Mary “believe,” “think,” or book. It also poses sev- Poppins as the main character in a horror “wish”—revealing, in eral challenges: to what story.13 This method of storytelling has an instant, a mashup extent can we fragment been promoted since 2007 at the Weigle of tiny stories tied by (or ‘microchunk,’ in the Information Commons (University of common action words. latest parlance) litera- Pennsylvania) student video mashup The Twitter content ture before it becomes contest (http://wic.library.upenn.edu/ form (14 0 -character incoherent? How many mashup/). Even farther out on the ex- microstories) permits media can literature be treme end are ideas like Why Some Dolls stories to be told in forced into—if, indeed, Are Bad (http://www.cornerdata.org/ serialized p or tions there is any limit?” dolls/), a Facebook application that re- spread over time. In Even more varied mixes photos drawn from Flickr (based Zombie Attack (http://twitter.com/zombie forms include movie trailer recuts, on tags) with a set of texts that generate a attack), a science fiction narrative unfolds in which the story creator edits clips dynamic graphic novel. After adding the over a period of weeks (though never from a well-known Hollywood movie application to a Facebook account, a user finished). Taking a different approach, to make a preview that tells a different can save the generated pages from this Booktwo (http://twitter.com/booktwo) story. By simply reordering these bits novel and arrange them into a new story used a web script, Swotter, to “read” one and overlaying a movie announcer’s that can then be shared.50 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008
    • At a different—perhaps meta—level, 50+ Ways be embedded into another site. Currently,the boundaries of Web 2.0 stories are not Web 2.0 productivity tools are approach- The Fifty Tools website (http://cogdogroonecessarily clear. A story’s boundaries are ing mainstream use. For example, we .wikispaces.com/StoryTools) featuresclear when it is self-contained, say in a wrote this article in Google Docs (http:// examples of stories created in fifty-sevenDVD or XBox360 game. But can we know docs.google.com), simultaneously editing tools, and the number is likely, as newfor sure that all the followers of a story’s the copy from different parts of the coun- tools continue to emerge, to top seventyTwitter feed, for example, are people who try. Indeed, some have even suggested soon. The point of the project was notare not involved directly in the project? that Google Spreadsheets constitute a to rank the tools but to demonstrate theTurning this question around, how do virtual world.16 For rich-media content breadth and rapid growth of creativewe know that we’ve taken the right mea- creation, Web 2.0 tools have lowered the outlets that are easily accessible. In addi-sure of just how far a story goes, when we barriers by moving the process of (expen- tion, the project served as an illustrativecould be missing one character’s blog or a sive) desktop video-editing software to example of the fact that no one can knowsetting description carefully maintained (free) web-based applications17 and at the about all of the possible web tools that areby the author on Wikipedia? Artistic re- same time ostensibly moving the focus available.sponses to this problem vary. On the one from using the tool to telling the story Some of these tools have been aroundhand, some projects, such as alternate re- with the tool. long enough to present us with a varietyality games (ARGs), work carefully on this In the summer of 2007, one of us (Alan of well-developed forms. Within the blo-blurry boundary.14 On the other hand, Levine) was tracking a number of web tools gosphere, for instance, blog fiction can besome creators use Web 2.0 tools to pub- that enable the easy creation of image slide characterized within a typology,19 consist-lish while making formal moves to more shows paired with audio tracks. These ing of a wide range of materials: writtenclearly draw a boundary, blocking some included VoiceThread (http://www.voice works published in journal format, suchof that social media. For example, Bruce thread.com/), a tool in which images are as the Orwell Diaries (http://orwelldiariesSterling’s Harvey Feldspar’s Geoblog (http:// sequenced and authors can record audio .wordpress.com/); chronologically iden-www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/ associated with each slide. The compelling tified documents, such as Draculablog15-07/local) looks like many posts but is feature of this tool is that once a slide show (http://infocult.typepad.com/dracula/);actually only one microcontent chunk— is published, other people can add narra- stories hosted entirely in a blog frame-one that limits the number of points for tion via text or audio (and now video), so work, such as The Glass House (http://webcommentary. that shows can easily have multiple voices .archive.org/web/20050518013842/www Perhaps the most developed forms of or commentary. At the same time, Slide- .invisiblejames.com/2004/12/08/youWeb 2.0 storytelling are represented by Share (http://www.slideshare.com/), a site -dont-have-to-believe-it/); and examplesARGs, popularized mostly by efforts to that provides a YouTube-like interface for in which the blog is a partial piece of acreate interest (or “buzz”) in new video PowerPoint (uploaded story played out in othergames (e.g., I Love Bees) or movies. Some files are converted to Internet spaces (role-have described The Beast (http://www Flash, and content can playing between blogs)..flickr.com/photos/lynetter/761222536/) be embedded in exter- The test was to tell Perhaps the oldest andas the prototype of web-based storytell- nal websites), added the same story—a best-known form of aing. Developed to generate interest in the SlideCast feature, simple story of a blog is that of characterSteven Spielberg’s A.I. (2001) before the whereby a presentation lost dog—in each of self-presentation: themovie was released, The Beast was de- can by synchronized the fifty-plus tools personal blog, the diary,scribed by its developer, Sean Stewart:“We would tell a story that was not bound with an mp3 audio file, essentially creating an in similar, but also the story of the strands of one’s life over monthsby communication platform: it would audio-narrated slide subtly different, or years. In that sense,come at you over the web, by email, via show. ways. personal bloggers havefax and phone and billboard and TV This led to the de- been Web 2.0 storytell-and newspaper, SMS and skywriting and velopment of a project ers for years.smoke signals too if we could figure out to see if there were fifty different Web Wikis date back even farther than blogshow. The story would be fundamentally 2.0 tool sites that allowed the mixing of and are in wide use for many knowledge-interactive, made of little bits that players, multiple forms of media (text, images, management and information-accretionlike detectives or archaeologists, would audio, or video) to publish content. The purposes. Wikipedia, the most famousdiscover and fit together. We would use test was to tell the same story—a simple (or notorious) wiki-based project, haspolitical pamphlets, business brochures, story of a lost dog—in each of the fifty- hosted “stories,” if encyclopedia articlesanswering phone messages, surveillance plus tools in similar, but also subtly dif- can be considered to be mini-narratives;camera video, stolen diary pages . . . in ferent, ways.18 To be included, the tools in another, more negative sense, it hasshort, instead of telling a story, we would had to be free, completely web-based, published “stories,” as in not-quite-truepresent the evidence of that story, and let and able to produce a final product that accounts. But wikis have emerged asthe players tell it to themselves.”15 could be viewed via a link and/or could storytelling tools in a much broader November/december 2008 E d u c a u s E r e v i e w 51
    • sense as well. First, wikis are sometimes for content, now available in a growing young woman participating in that year’s used as simple notepads for collabora- number of other Web 2.0 platforms, from chaotic Democratic Party national con- tion, as shared writing spaces for authors SlideShare to Google Maps (http://maps vention in Chicago. The two voices can be separated by space and time. Second, .google.com). Indeed, of the current list of read separately (http://www.project1968 the accretive function of wikis, whereby fifty-seven Web 2.0 tools that can be used .com/amy/ and http://www.project1968 content piles up over time, is well suited for storytelling, three-quarters offer con- .com/janines-journal/) or can be followed for world-building exercises, from fan tent that can be embedded elsewhere.20 together from the main site. In addition fiction such as Lostpedia (http://www Embeds allow content created on a site there is a page containing explanatory .lostpedia.com/wiki/Main_Page) to the to be viewable intermingled with other text, historical resources (both off-line world of Latin in Vicipaedia Latina (http:// web content. Thus stories built from and online), and links to news accounts la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagina_prima). microcontent (images, audio, video) are from that year, arranged by date (http:// Third, wikis can be platforms for a new assembled into a new form that is itself www.project19 6 8.com/visiting-for form of writing, a kind of social microcon- re-usable microcontent. -the-first-ti.html). There is also a page tent round-robin, as in the Million Penguins describing the characters (http://www project, noted earlier. Applications in Higher Education .project1968.com/cast-of-project-1968 Although we discussed digital storytell- From public intellectual podcasts to .html). There’s even a MySpace site ing by video above, it’s important to also classroom blogs, from Wikipedia assign- (http://www.myspace.com/project1968), identify web video storytelling, primarily ments to student projects in Twitter feeds, in the Web 2.0 storytelling mode of trans- through YouTube. This Google-owned Web 2.0 platforms have been utilized in media, cross-platform publication. platform hosts a huge number of stories, higher education because of their ease The main blog structure is similar to starting with the reposting of content of use, ready availability, individual af- diary accounts, or newscasts, with short published elsewhere (e.g., television, fordances, and network effects. Should reflections on time-sensitive events un- DVD, VHS). It has also Web 2.0 storytelling be folding over time. Each character’s voice become the base for considered for educa- affords a different perspective, comple- webcam culture, where tional purposes as well? mentary to the other’s. Here’s the opening single narrators tell their After all, not every art of one Project 1968 post: camera (and viewers) form needs to be used stories on just about in academia. We be- August 28, 1968 any topic, from break- lieve that the answer is by Amy fast to atheism. Telling “yes” and that Web 2.0 12:10 a.m. - Lincoln Park a convincing story in storytelling offers two They were beaten. We watched that format requires a main applications for them from afar. They beat the priests set of skills drawn from colleges and universi- who gathered to protect us. Coleman basic videography to ties: as composition asked Glasses if the priests knew what public speaking and platform and as cur- was about to happen. Glasses assured even performance art ricular object. him that they did. They sent him away, and stand-up comedy. All of this may be First, Web 2.0 storytelling is a useful and they stayed. considered to be communication in a composition platform whenever story- more general sense, but stories are easy telling is appropriate. The most obvious The reader is immediately engaged by to find, whichever definition of “story” example is a creative writing class. Stu- this dramatic voice. Who is being beaten, we use. One example is 2009: A True dents can use blogs as character studies. and why? Who is Coleman? Is “Glasses” Story, a series of video episodes on its own Twitter’s 140-character limit is a bracing a code name or a pseudonym? What will YouTube channel (http://www.youtube one, drawing on the long tradition of Amy (the writer) do, or what will be done .com/2009atruestory). More content is fruitful restrictions in art. Fine art, music, to her? The reader is driven to read more, available on a traditional website (http:// and other media composition classes not only within the rest of that post but www.2009atruestory.com/), which em- can follow this approach as well. Other also across the other sites of the story: the phasizes background information, and examples can be found in the need to archive of posts so far, the MySpace page, still more content appears on a MySpace relate a series of events (physics, history) the resources copied and pointed to. Per- page (http://profile.myspace.com/index or describe a complex object (geography, haps the reader ranges beyond the site, to .cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile& music). These are situations in which the rest of the research world—maybe he friendid=28390194 0), suggesting a an instructor or student can use a story or she even composes a response in some character-based approach to the tale. Even form—not always, but sometimes—to bet- Web 2.0 venue. more content is likely to accrue in the form ter communicate an important subject. To some extent, the power of such a of comments, posts, and fan fiction. For an example, consider Project 1968 post is due to the dramatic subject matter YouTube is also notable for hav- (http://www.project1968.com/). This blog (a wrenching political event) and also to ing pioneered the “embed” concept consists of two voices, belonging to two the writer’s skill. Yet the blog form, which52 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008
    • accentuates this narrative, is accessible remembering that using Web 2.0 story- ment; the ending of a topic before its full to anyone with a browser. Examples like telling for these purposes is partly a mat- resolution, to produce a cliffhanger; vocal Project 1968 offer ready models for aspir- ter of scale. Some projects can be Web intonation, pacing, and pitch; sound ing writers to learn from. Even though the 2.0 stories, while others integrate Web effects and music. A familiar speaker be- purpose of Project 1968 is not immediately 2.0 storytelling practices. Larger topics comes a character, much as do announc- tied to a class, it is a fine example for all within a course might be suited to larger ers or television news anchors, building sorts of curricular instances, from history platforms. Consider podcasting. There a connection with the audience. Other to political science, creative writing to are many ways to build the storytelling platforms can be integrated to enhance gender studies, sociology to economics. power of an audio narrative: pauses, to let the podcast. For example, a podcast series Although the idea of imitating proj- the audience think or to indicate a change on a major historical topic can use blog ects like this can be daunting, it’s worth in topic; interruptions, to indicate excite- posts to add contextual information, as done in The Missing Link (http://missing linkpodcast.wordpress.com/). Blog posts can deepen the impression made by one podcast, enriching the experience and ex- panding the topical world, as evidenced in Open Source (http://www.radioopensource .org/) and Napoleon 101 (http://napoleon .thepodcastnetwork.com/). Yet storytelling approaches can work on a smaller scale also. A single course blog, for instance, tells the class “story.” Considering the course blog as a narrative project, an instructor thinks not in terms of producing static content but instead in terms of capturing an audience, of add- ing an emotional hook to the content. Lecturers are familiar with telling stories as examples, as a way to get a subject across. They end discussions with a chal- lenging question and create characters to embody parts of content (political actors, scientists, composite types). Imagine ap- plying those habits to a class Twitter feed or Facebook group. The second possible application for Web 2.0 storytelling in higher education is its use as curricular object. For media studies, this emergent genre embodies a range of digital media topics. For narrative studies, Web 2.0 stories offer an unusual blend of formal features, from the blurry boundaries around each story to ques- tions of chronology. For information sci- ence, addressing the issues of how best to preserve and access these digital stories in the future may be a useful exercise. In ad- dition, archival or documentary programs can be enhanced through Web 2.0 story- telling projects. For example, reading, commenting on, or republishing texts in a temporally-structured document such as a blog can open up the time dimension of such texts. Pauses and delays, silences and gaps, as well as flurries of activity, appear to the interactive reader in a live,54 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008
    • almost synchronous way. An epistolary ing in pace with the creativity of the Learning, and Creativity (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: novel, trial documents, a lab experiment, human mind. We anticipate that new Corwin Press, 2008). 8. Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic or a soldier’s diaries—for example, WW1: storytelling forms will emerge from Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Experiences of an English Soldier (http:// today’s tools for microblogging, social Press, 1997). wwar1.blogspot.com/)—come to life in networking, web-based presentations, 9. See N. Katherine Hayles, Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary (Notre Dame: University of this new format. and microblog-like videos (http://seesmic Notre Dame Press, 2008). Microblogging offers a similar ex- .com/). We expect to see new forms de- 10. Joe Lambert, Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, periental advance. The size limitations velop from older ones as this narrative Creating Community (Berkeley: Digital Diner Press, 2002); Lambert, Digital Storytelling Cookbook; EDU- of microblogging tools, such as Twitter world grows—even e-mail might become CAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), “7 Things You or Friend Feed, force a new storytelling tool.22 Should Know about Digital Storytelling,” January the reader’s attention Moreover, these story- 2007, <http://connect.educause.edu/Library/ELI/ 7ThingsYouShouldKnowAbout/39398>. into discrete chunks telling strategies could be distributed in time. For Web 2.0 storytelling supplanted completely 11. Bruce Mason and Sue Thomas, “A Million Pen- guins Research Report,” Institute of Creative example, epigrams are is a rapidly evolving by some semantic plat- Technologies, De Montfort University, Leicester, well suited to being genre, developing form currently under de- United Kingdom, April 24, 2008, <http://www .ioct.dmu.ac.uk/projects/amillionpenguinsreport republished or pub- as new platforms velopment. Large-scale .pdf>. lished by microblog- emerge and moving gaming might become a 12. Original text from Sarah Schmelling, “Hamlet (Facebook News Feed Edition),” McSweeney’s, ging tools, which focus the reader’s attention in pace with the more popular engine for content creation. And August 20 08, <http://www.mcsweeneys.net/ on these compressed creativity of the mobile devices could 2008/7/30schmelling.html>. Thanks to “Bill” for pointing out the source: August 10, 2008, phases. An example is human mind. make microcontent the comment at <http://infocult.typepad.com/ infocult/2008/08/retelling-hamlet-via-facebook the posting of Oscar preferred way to experi- .html#comment-125956268>. Wilde’s Phrases and Phi- ence digital stories. 13. See more examples at The Trailer Mash: <http:// www.thetrailermash.com/>. losophies for the Use of the Young (1894), on For now, perhaps the best approach 14. See International Game Developers Association Twitter (http://twitter.com/oscarwilde). for educators is simply to give Web 2.0 (IGDA), “2006 Alternate Reality Games White Other compressed forms of writing storytelling a try and see what happens. Paper,” <http://www.igda.org/arg/whitepaper .html>, and Christy Dena, “Emerging Participatory can be microblogged also, such as Félix We invite you to jump down the rabbit Culture Practices: Player-Created Tiers in Alter- Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines (1906), also hole. Add a photo to Flickr and use that nate Reality Games,” Convergence: The International on Twitter (http://twitter.com/novels as a writing prompt. Flesh out a character Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, vol. 14, no. 1 (February 2008), online augmented ver- in3lines). As Dan Visel observed of the in Twitter. Follow a drama unfolding on sion available at <http://www.christydena.com/ latter project: “Fénéon . . . was secretly a YouTube. See how a wiki supports the research/Convergence20 08/TieringandARGs master of miniaturized text. . . . Fénéon’s gradual development of a setting. Then .html>. See also John Gosney, Beyond Reality: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming (Boston: Thomson hypercompression lends itself to Twitter. share with all of us what you have learned Course Technology, 2005). In a book, these pieces don’t quite have about this new way of telling, and listen- 15. Bruce Sterling, “Dispatches from the Hyperlocal space to breathe; they’re crowded by each ing to, stories. e Future,” Wired Magazine, vol. 15, no. 7 (June 26, 2007), <http://www.seanstewart.org/interactive/ other, and it’s more difficult for the reader args/>. Notes to savor them individually. As Twitter 1. Tim O’Reilly, “What Is Web 2.0,” oreilly.com, Sep- 16. Tony Walsh, “Google Spreadsheet as Virtual posts, they’re perfectly self-contained, tember 30, 2005, <http://www.oreillynet.com/ World,” Clickable Culture, March 28, 2008, <http:// pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/20 05/09/30/what-is www.secretlair.com/index.php?/clickableculture/ as they would have been when they ap- -web-20.html>. entry/google_spreadsheet_as_virtual_world/>. peared as feuilleton.”21 2. See Bryan Alexander, “Web 2.0: A New Wave 17. For example, JayCut (http://www.jaycut.com/) and These two applications of Web 2.0 of Innovation for Teaching and Learning?” Jumpcut (http://www.jumpcut.com/), web-based EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 41, no. 2 (March/April video editors, have most of the features that one storytelling for colleges and universities— 2006), pp. 32–44, <http://connect.educause.edu/ would find in desktop software such as iMovie or as composition platform and as cur- Library/EDUCAUSE+Review/Web20ANewWaveof Movie Maker. ricular object—can also blend over time. Innovation/ 40615>. 18. Alan Levine, “50 Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story,” 3. Anil Dash, “Introducing the Microcontent Cli- <http://cogdogroo.wikispaces.com/50+Ways>, A publicly shared Web 2.0 story, created ent,” Magazine, November 13, 2002, <http://www and “50 Ways to Tell the Dominoe Story,” <http:// by students for a class, afterward becomes .anildash.com/magazine/ 2002/11/introducing cogdogroo.wikispaces.com/Dominoe+50+Ways>. something that other students can ex- _the.html>. 19. Angela Thomas, “Fictional Blogs,” in Axel Bruns 4. As defined on Wikipedia, August 15, 2008, <http:// and Joanne Jacobs, eds., Uses of Blogs (New York: plore. Put another way, this learning tool en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storytelling>. Peter Lang, 2006). can produce materials that subsequently 5. Annette Simmons, The Story Factor: Secrets of Influ- 20. Alan Levine, “The Fifty Tools,” <http://cogdogroo will be available as learning objects. ence from the Art of Storytelling, 2d ed. (New York: .wikispaces.com/StoryTools>. Basic Books, 2006), p. 34 (see also pp. 45, 94). 21. Dan Visel, “Twittering from the Past,” if:book, Au- Our enthusiasm, however, should 6. Charles Baxter, The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot (Saint gust 11, 2008, <http://www.futureofthebook.org/ not be taken as a blanket endorsement Paul: Graywolf Press, 2007), p. 37. blog/archives/2008/08/twittering_from_the_past of using Web 2.0 storytelling for all edu- 7. See Joe Lambert (Center for Digital Storytell- .html>. ing), Digital Storytelling Cookbook (Berkeley: Digital 22. Nathan Yau, “21 Ways to Visualize and Explore cational purposes. Web 2.0 storytelling Diner Press, 2006), <http://www.storycenter.org/ Your Email Inbox,” FlowingData, March 19, 2008, is a rapidly evolving genre, developing cookbook.html>, and Jason Ohler, Digital Storytell- <http://flowingdata.com/2008/03/19/21-ways-to as new platforms emerge and mov- ing in the Classoom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, -visualize-and-explore-your-email-inbox/>.56 EducausE r e v i e w  November/december 2008