Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bursts, Facebook, and Twitter: Social Media Stories

On April 13, 2010 I discovered a fascinating approach to publishing a book. It kept me up late and I intended to revisit it when I had time. Then I forgot about it. This was what I thought of when told to bring in an example of alternative storytelling.

I did not remember the name, though. I did not remember enough to find it on Google. I remembered the experience, that it was a couple years ago in the spring, and that I had posted it on Facebook.
Last October, at the AIGA conference, I attended an affinity session led by Shelley Evenson. At that time, she was the new research manager in design and user experience for Facebook. She seemed excited to share a new feature called Timeline. The first thing I noticed on her profile was “widowed” and instead of hearing her professional opinion on service design, I wanted to know her story. Of course she was there to talk about her experiences at Facebook, but what I really wanted was to read her Timeline. This is the hazard of being a writer, a reader. Stories are more interesting than lectures. Am I the only one who wanted to really explore the stories behind those horrible math problems, instead of solving how fast the train was going?
Today I signed up. Facebook promotes Timeline as a way to “Tell your life story with a new kind of profile.” The feature makes it easy to go back to any point in which one has posted on what used to be called the “Wall.” I have seven days to make my “life story” acceptable before all my Facebook friends can view my Timeline. Not how I expected to use the next week, but worth it to share alternative storytelling.
So, I found Albert László Barabási's innovative BURSTS project. I found the link by skimming through several months of my Facebook history, at which point I saw that Timeline really is a story. The AIGA conference reminded me of this because Mig Reyes was also one of the speakers at the AIGA conference and I had discovered this video when somebody posted it on Facebook.
And Facebook reminded me of Twitter, a realm where I have an address but usually forget to visit. People are writing/publishing novels on Twitter. According to this article, Twitter novels evolved out of the Japanese genre of “keitai shousetus” which are novels written on mobile phones. I have written flash fiction via text messages, but I never found this useful for a finished product. For me, it was a way of drafting on the bus in pre-smart phone days and perhaps a way to share with one trusted friend. Do Twitter novelists think their novel up one tweet at a time? Are they just breaking down things they wrote in more conventional ways?
Whether writing fiction or literary nonfiction, the lines between truth, reality, imagination, and lies are often blurred. Social media blurs these lines even more.
I posted a photo on a writer Facebook friend's wall and noticed that an unknown person liked it; it turned out that the unknown person was one of the writer's characters, from a book I hadn't read yet.
But that, I won't bore you with because soon it will all be in my Timeline. For my life story feel free to friend me and then I will also have access to yours.

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