August 24, 2010


There's a new application called Storify that's in private user testing right now, and it promises to be an interesting way of assembling stories online. That's right: assemble, not necessarily write.

According to the demo, Storify allows users to curate social media posts, such as tweets, YouTube videos, and other links, to create a narrative about a current event or conference.

Here's the video:

Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.

It's easy to see immediate applications, especially when trying to filter content from noise on a specific hash tag.

But let's step away from intended use for a moment and think about new narrative possibilities. Imagine this as a tool for fiction. You could extract a story told through tweets and easily share it with those who aren't on Twitter, so this becomes a new method of publication or distribution for a short work. You could assemble a digital dérive, combining tweets with images and video. Even more radical, you could put together an entire story without writing a single line of it by piecing together items found on the web and then publishing the compilation. The interface is simple enough to permit a gap between intention and openness, so there's ample room for appropriation and play.

If you try out Storify for fiction, let me know. I'd love to see what you create.

August 18, 2010

WriteOnCon Post Mortem

Last week a group of kidlit writers put together an online conference that was honestly one of the best applications of technology I've ever seen for writers.

Most writers work alone at home. Conferences cost money between travel, hotel, food, and registration fees. Attending conferences can also be inconvenient -- they happen during the weekend, which is when writers usually relinquish their solitude and interact with the rest of the world.

So the organizers of WriteOnCon did the logical thing: they put together a midweek conference that was free and online. Writers wouldn't have to interrupt their usual work schedules (or change into business attire!) and could still connect with one another.

The organizers put together a mix of static and live content. Every hour during the work day they published either a blog or vlog post. In the evening they scheduled moderated chats. Over the course of the conference, there was also a forum where people could post work and provide critiques.

There was only one big glitch (inevitable with any event involving tech): the site went down on Day 1. I'm guessing WriteOnCon was hit with more traffic than they were ready to handle. A few hundred people pre-registered for the conference (in other words these registrants created accounts to participate in the forum and chat). Once the event began and individual posts were announced on Twitter and retweeted, thousands joined, many of whom followed the static content either on the website or through feed readers and never created accounts.

The site eventually returned, and in the meantime, organizers cross-posted static content to their own blogs to keep the momentum going and to stick to the schedule they'd created -- a simple solution while they got the site back up -- and the rest of the conference went on as planned.

The best part of this event? All of the static events are archived on the WriteOnCon website. There's a treasure trove of panels, talks, and essays on a wide range of topics from industry professionals. This is worth exploring and one of the biggest advantages of an online conference. Even if you didn't attend or didn't hear about the event until it ended, you can still access the presentations.

Will this sort of event replace in person conferences? Of course not. Nor should they. There's a great deal to be said for meeting writers in person, to dedicating a weekend to developing craft, and to having the opportunity to interact with presenters. However, WriteOnCon was accessible to an enormous cross-section of people -- both geographically and economically -- providing complementary learning and networking opportunities.

I'm looking forward to more online events such as these. Kudos to the organizers!

August 14, 2010

SxSW proposals

I wasn't going to list all of the fabulous SxSW Interactive proposals by people I like, and now I don't have to, because Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic has done it for me!

PanelPicker is down right now (go figure, right?), but Andrew's proposal and Deb's are both listed in the Atlantic's Top 15 panel picks (woo hoo!), along with some fabulous proposals by book people.

Boston bookfuturist Joanne McNeil proposed a panel on caring for your online introvert -- important for many writers. Rural librarian Jessamyn West would like to talk about the digital divide. I didn't realize that 22% of Americans aren't online, and this is a huge topic to discuss. IO9 editors Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders are part of a group that proposed a talk on science fiction, social networking, and the future. I'm particularly excited about Richard Nash's panel proposal on the future of the book. I expect it to be a challenging, insightful talk, and really hope it's selected.

Although SxSW Interactive is a "tech" conference, I wish more writers would attend. Instead of fearing the death of publishing and waiting to see what happens, we should engage with publishers and start ups and creators of systems to help define and implement new models of publication and distribution.

I attended SxSWi for the first time this past March and live tweeted panels on storytelling, teens, and race/gender. I plan to attend similar strands in the spring, along with any panels on publishing, and hope to continue the conversation. Think about attending, as well. The conference is in Austin, where there's a tight knit and extraordinarily welcoming kidlit community, so it's a chance to get to know wonderful writers as well as people researching and creating future media.

Edited to add: GalleyCat posted a list of SxSW publishing panels. Check them out, and vote! You don't have to attend the conference to help select panels. All you need is a free account.