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Locke: New narratives defined by context

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Social media has changed how we tell stories. And not necessarily because the technology itself gives you new tricks. So I think a lot of storytellers when they first come across a new media all think: how do I tell stories in the same way using this new medium? And you get what I call the kind of cd-rom DVD extras effect. Everyone thinks: I can tell my own story but I can tell it in a slightly different way. So they think interactive storytelling is about, you know, having multiple choices for the ending or, you know, you can look at two viewpoints, whatever. That’s not taking the web to its’... you know, taking these new social technologies, whether it’s SMS or IM or the web or Facebook, whatever. There’s not really usually an advantage to that. The advantage is now really that when you’re online you are... The web is not one place and these new technologies are not about one type of activity. I wrote this piece on my blog called ‘The six spaces of social media’, because I wanted the people we were working with to understand that because the web is about social relationships, when we go and use a digital service, we often have in our head an understanding of the kind of register that you’re in.So there are certain contexts where the register is very intimate. It’s like, you know, it’s you and one other person. And in your head you know you’re talking to another person. When you send an SMS, you assume that that’s private, that it’s going to go to only the person you sent it too. That person knows you and is expecting, you know, to have some kind of connection with you. It’s really weird when you get an SMS from a total stranger, it feels wrong. So those intimate spaces create a certain kind of context for storytelling, you know. And it’s not the technology that’s doing that, it’s the role that that technology plays in your kind of social network. So if you’re doing something from mobile, you’re targeting somebody in a really intimate space. They’re expecting to talk to people they know. They’re probably expecting to use slang, some vernaculars and shortcuts and abbreviations because you have a shared vocabulary with the person you’re talking to. And you’re expecting that to be private. You’re very shocked... if somebody took an SMS and sent it to 1000 people, that would be a transgression, that would feel like it’s a real risk. So there are those private spaces.And there are group spaces like mailing lists, like Facebook Groups, like, you know, kind of... eBay profiles and things like that to a certain extent where you are with a group of people who you feel all share the same interests. So you might all be fans of a TV programme or a football club or you might all be, you know, have been to school together or whatever. You’ve all got that kind of link, you might all work in the same place. And when you talk to people in that group, then your assumption is that you all kind of know what you share in common and a lot of the behaviours will be about, you know, working out your position in that group, you know. Are you the first person that brings new information to that group, you know. If you’re all fans of a band, there’ll be certain kinds of activity that you’ll do in that space. I’m the first person that’s got the new single or I’ve heard about the gigs first or whatever. And so a lot of behaviours in group spaces are all about kind of positioning. It’s like, you know, who’s got the information and who’s bringing it to the others? And lots of stroking, you constantly reaffirm all the other members of the group that you all share the same thing and that you’re all in this together. And so again if you’re targeting storytelling in those spaces, you’ve got to understand that and you want to create tools which will let that group form around your story and become really a big fan of it. So, you know, ‘Skins’, a Channel 4 programme that aims at teens really does this well. It’s a drama project, but on MySpace we really worked hard to build a fan community, a group who really saw themselves as ‘Skins’ fans. And we do ‘Skins’ music nights where, you know, we put on bands and it’s all about ‘Skins’. We have competitions for them to design parts of the show. The whole point is to make you feel like you’re part of that group and you’re part of that group identity. So the storytelling really understands that, that we’re really targeting people in that group space.And then there are other places like publishing spaces, like Flickr and YouTube and stuff like that where you’re talking to a bunch of people including people you don’t know, including strangers. And that’s really for a lot of people... when you talk about storytelling that involves user-generated content, that’s a barrier which a lot of people won’t cross. They’ll feel really comfortable sharing their own stories and their own content with friends, but as soon as you ask them essentially to stand on a platform and talk to strangers they kind of back away and they won’t do it. So you have to kind of be really careful how you do that.And then there are things like games, like Performing Spaces, where you’re playing a story that has very set rules and your role is to play a certain role in that, you know, that certain part of that story. So for me storytelling now is not so much about technology as it is about those registers. You know, when you go online, you kind of know where you are. If you go online and you’re hanging out with friends, you know you act differently to if you go to a public forum to if you’re playing World Of Warcraft to... or if you’re watching something on, you know, iPlayer or 4OD.You in your head feel like you’re in a different space and as storytellers we need to understand the kind of... almost like the psychology of those spaces and design spaces that make you confident in, you know, whatever we want you to do. So if you are telling a story and you want people to get involved, doing it in a really public way where as soon as you upload a picture millions of people can see it is probably a really bad idea. You might want to design that so that people do it within their Facebook friends first and then as soon as they got confident then they upload it to a public space. So, you know, how you tell stories and how you involve the audience really changes depending on what register you think people are in.

Added on 15 Apr 2017