The Art of Multichannel Web Storytelling

Last week, I witnessed a fun and touching piece of performance art. Its impact didn’t hit me at the time, and it might have had I participated in it more. But since that day, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I had the satisfaction of watching a magic trick which, even though I have a vague idea of the preplanning behind the scene—or especially because I do—I have an even bigger appreciation of its execution.

Early in the morning of Friday, October 17, Laura Fitton, a power-user on Twitter going by the name of Pistachio, read the following short bio of another user, whose name is probably Ben K. Weller:

I write songs, record them and sing them for people. I love music and Bass fishing. Most of all I love my wife Liz and my son Dorian.

This inspired Laura to post the following “tweet”:

@benkweller’s Twitter bio inspired this morning’s “Finish This Tweet” (#FTT) “Most of all I love ______”

Some things you should know before we proceed, if you’re new to Twitter:

  • “#FTT” is a Twitter code Laura also made up on the spot. It starts with a hashmark (#), making it a hashtag, which makes searching more tightly focused. When you put a hashtag code into search.twitter.com, you get only those tweets with the code. (She clarified herself a little in some other tweets.)
  • Laura follows many people via Twitter. But that Friday demonstrated how many people follow her—listening, going to sites she recommends, looking up people she may be conversing with who we ourselves may not yet be following. Yes, I’m among them.

As the morning progressed, I saw some retweets of Laura’s invitation. (A definition here: when I read a tweet from Laura, I’m aware of people who follow me who may not follow her; if I retweet her message, the readerships of two members are made aware: hers and mine. Yes, there’s some overlap, but folks understand. Worthwhile messages get retweeted over and over, to an ever wider audience. This one was, as I could see from my stream of messages. Retweeters make sure they label them as such.)

Then, an update from Laura herself, as she reveled in the responses:

Your #ftt answers are lovely. anyone may watch them come in right here: http://tinyurl.com/5ky49e

That “tinyURL” (compressed to better fit into the 140-character limit of Twitter) brought you (probably not any more; try this) to a page showing all the people who answered Laura’s question.

Scores of people. about 90 in all, counting many retweets and Laura’s reminders, over that day and most of the next.

Such a range of people, from all walks of life. And the responses ranged from self-promoting and businesslike to unashamedly altruistic, from snarky to deeply moving. Each singing a verse of a worldwide song.

  • hearing my boys giggle
  • a cool and sunny day
  • proper Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut
  • a hot shower
  • splurging when shopping
  • serenity
  • Fridays
  • sleep
  • intellect, sense and geniuses
  • laughing so hard I snort
  • turtles
  • sharing information with other professionals in my business
  • my kitties, who still crack me up every day
  • my luck in living at this time in history
  • friends who tell me my links are broken
  • iGoogle, TGIF, Red Sox, Plumber, Obama
  • bacon cheeseburgers
  • my support team
  • my grandma
  • sunshine in the fall
  • organ donors
  • believing in people and watching them do things they themselves didn’t think possible
  • Krispy Kreme donuts
  • puppies and cupcakes

By far the most popular answer was family—spouse, kids, parents. Variations thereof.

As I paged through the responses, I realized that they, and potentially hundreds of others, were seeing the same variety. The snarky responders were reading the moving responses. The altruistic were reading the businesslike responses. Each got an idea of their position in the cosmos that is Laura’s “followship” (my word; feel free to steal). And all the participants had a link to their bios, their stream of updates—their little corner of the world, which anyone was free to visit, get to know, maybe start to follow themselves. There’s no way to measure how much of that was spurred by this one notion.

There are precedents for these memes, which flare up over a few days, satisfy a popular urge, then die off. Still, Laura had another shoe to drop.

Then, later that day, we were treated to the answer from the questioner herself:

Most of all, I love… (reunion with my babies!!!) #ftt http://seesmic.com/videos/4…

(That above code definitely won’t take you there; try this.) Connected to the other side was a treat: not another 140 characters. But a video. Recorded on a service called Seesmic. With her laptop out in an adjoining hallway, we see Laura taking a seat, waiting for a few seconds. Then three figures enter the picture, two of them children.

Her children.

They run up to her, she scoops them up, there are hugs and kisses, and talk about the absence.

We’re witnessing what I can only assume is some formal visit, or revisit. A bit of her reality, made even more touching if you’ve been able to assemble her unofficial biography from little 140-character glimpses, easily missed admissions of vulnerability, as the weeks and seasons unfold.

And just like that, we’re swept in. The fifth person in the room is us. And all five of us are beaming.

Laura has spent a few minutes, dispersed through the morning, telling us a story. In one sense, it covers the moments of a visitation transition, culminating in the video, played out with a cast of three or four. In another sense, just as real, it’s a drama that unfolded over two days, involving a cast of hundreds and hundreds: the original responders, plus subsequent connections, as people saw each other across a crowded search result page. Like a story told or sung by someone standing by a fire, surrounded by a ring of listeners, all of whom are visible across the circle to exchange a smile, or a shrug, or a finger-down-the-throat barf gesture.

The story had a beginning, a middle, and an end. she had the end in mind all along, and the wifi all checked, even as she told us about the bio that gave her the idea. We were the middle. The part of the story that introduced us to each other may not have ended yet. And this is just the first “FTT” day. Laura would never claim ownership to it. Who’s next?

As far as the social media or business or networking implications of Twitter, I’m still a student, though because of my circumstances of late, I’m learning fast. What I think I know when I see it, is art. I’m not privy to the lightning bolts she and the rest of the Twitter pantheon are hurling far above my head. But I can tell you that Laura is a successful and talented multimedia artist. And if it turns out that the marvel of the happening is lost in my telling, well then, you just had to be there. Join Twitter, follow Pistachio, and watch your updates.

And follow me too. I could use the followship!

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9 responses to “The Art of Multichannel Web Storytelling

  1. What a great post, written with awe and wonder at the impact of this new world we live in. The combination of these media services provide a powerful platform for expression and communication. But, always at the core are the people who share their stories. It makes the world a smaller place. And it opens doors to other peoples lives. I’m so happy to have gotten to know both you and Laura through these new channels. Don’t think for a moment that that doesn’t impact my life too. It’s an amazing time in which we live.

  2. well written sir. I saw all this, especially Laura’s seesmic video, when she did it. Great stuff.

  3. But I wouldn’t call this performance art. This is real life.

  4. Oh, and as I said on Twitter, these episodes of “multimedia performance art” are happening around us all the time. We are lucky to see them only by happenstance. More often, though, we are participants without ever knowing.

  5. Adele, what I think was clever (and frankly gives me all kinds of ideas) is that when the narrative needed to “jump media”, she just took us there, and we followed if we cared to. This brings to mind all kinds of treasure hunt-style happenings. Provided the reward is worth it. The thought is independent of the medium. Or media.
    I should have finished the post with this: I’d love to see examples of other things like this in action. I’d love to at least observe them, preferably as they’re happening.

  6. Oh, also, in May, someone named Tim Walker (@twalk) posted the following: “Biggest reform I need to make now: Fewer Things Total — call it #FTT — so I can master/finish what’s ON my plate before putting more on.” There were no takers for that searchmeme. It would seem “Finish This Tweet” has won.

  7. Rick, your writing is so lovely. Thanks for pulling together these threads in such a poetic way.

    What amuses me most of all, is that this narrative arc, if planned, was planned by someone deep down inside of me or perhaps channeling through me. There was NO intention or foresight at play whatsoever.

    When I saw Ben’s bio I was, candidly, sad. I wanted to be what someone loves most. Don’t we all? But I thought of the things I love and I am grateful for, and took it there instead. And I took so much joy in how others defined what they love most.

    That Friday at lunch was the first I’d seen the girls since Wednesday morning. I was on my laptop nearby when I heard them come onto the porch. I realized they didn’t know I was home. So I hopped up, plopped my MacBook on the entry table, and waited for them on the bench.

    That it happened to tie into the #FTT theme so perfectly… That was the life pixies at work, methinks.

    Psyched for your #FTT today, it is a good one… http://twitter.com/RickWolff/status/977336385

  8. And yes, this time I researched the #hashtag to see if it was unused and saw Tim’s nifty “Fewer Things Total.” I’d love it if he revved that back up, but it looked pretty quiet for now.

    Last time I accidentally #hashtag stepped on #CTT (for Complete this Tweet) without knowing it was in active use as “Clutter Tweet Tip.” Got a great Twitter for Business case studyout of that, though, so I am not complaining! :-)

  9. It will be interesting to see if http://heekya.com can properly integrate twitter into it’s new storytelling module

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