Part V of FIVE EASY PIECES: Nurturing Holistic Media Ecosystems #transmedia #curation #culture #journalism
The role of transmedial thinking (building stories in open frameworks).
Human metadata as meta-value.
The last four posts examined the rubrics of curation, exploring different functional dynamics that head towards an understanding of how media can affect business. Clearly, there is a powerful notion in using stories to not only change business, but to change or shift cultural perceptions and associated behaviors. Journalism will continue to play a significant hand in this; just today AOL announced its acquisition of The Huffington Post, to which Arianna Huffington stated that the goal was to stay on “... The cutting edge of creating news that is social...”
HuffPo happens to create some pretty engaging content, and uses real journalists and real subject matter experts to generate its stories, but what exactly do we mean when we say news is social? And what about all the other self-proclaimed online “news” outlets? What value do they bring to stories that are culturally relevant or disruptive? Do they provide an economic alternative for businesses of all types?
Rohit Bhargava wrote a terrific piece last month on journalism’s rise as an entrepreneurial practice; his perspective shed light on how this actually creates an emergent marketplace, something that can counteract the cannibalization of media opportunities in which stories and storytellers are caught in a paradigm that blatantly commoditizes their value.
Arguably, the transmedia movement developed as a means for telling stories that would not be confined by paid media systems and could propagate as new or extended narratives: in essence, federated media. (Not to be mistaken, with all great respect, for John Battelle’s company of the same name).
While much debate has ensued over why and how stories can or should be told—not to mention bickering over the definition of narrative uses particularly among game or ARG aficionados – transmedialists around the globe are nonetheless coming together with the understanding that a new way of thinking, and co-creation, is afoot.
One of my favorite examples of “active” transmedia (or to be wordy, “transmedia activism”) is a demonstration over land rights in Bilin, Palestine, using the James Cameron film Avatar as “other world” context:
Naturally, the associated news stories were picked up by a host of mainstream outlets, including AOL News. The most fascinating thing about this form of activism is that it used storytelling as an organic catalyst: the story elements were not so much predetermined, rather they took on life of their own, and by way of consensus.
Transmedia storytelling uses the notion of “other worlds” or “storyworld creation” to provide renewed context, and often to provide a framework for participatory narrative. In the Avatar/Bilin example, not only is the theme of land rights and human greed employed (ironically, one of the reasons why critics panned the storyline – they said it had been told one too many times), but we also see the natural extensions of new stories, narratives that are emergent, relevant, and those from which new meaning is co-created. Transmedia storytelling manifests in a variety of ways, which is entirely the intention; it is literally media that transcends channel, platform and the spoken word.
Now, let’s assume for a moment that the Avatar meta narrative – the theme of land and life rights – applies to a number of different situations and business contexts; conceivably, we could apply or develop narratives around things such as homebuilding, energy usage, environmental sustainability, civil infrastructure, manufacturing, aeronautics, electronics... The list goes on. This ultimately means that any narrative that provides renewed context can be used to redefine what business means to us as a social function or utility.
This way of thinking recognizes that technology, marketing, communications, media, business operations and human interactions are not mutually exclusive. They’re all parts of a greater whole. They always have been.
Brands are also jumping more and more into this conversation and experimenting. For one, as publishers with their own media platforms, they are playing the role of the journalist. Many brands are realizing that they have no choice. The really smart brands realize that there is huge white space opportunity to connect, or reconnect, with audiences and advocates through legacy experiences, or by co-creating assets that can flourish in various media environments. Further, they are also starting to realize the revenue potential of curating stories that have true social value.
Much in the same way social media has transformed communications, what this strongly suggests is that brands must look at their use of media as a hybridized practice that takes into account all aspects of their business, with culture-at-large as the primary contextual lens.
For clarity’s sake, this does not imply that “integrated media” or “ integrated communications” is the same thing as hybridized media. In fact, integrated media strategies still very much reside within the idea of push-pull messaging, or in the best cases, 3-way messaging. Messages are not the same as stories. Nor are they necessarily consensual or hybridized. Hybridized media is the cultivation of stories as collective IP (intellectual property). Big, big difference.
The reason for this is twofold: artificial scarcity exists both in the content we create and the media inventory that we buy and sell as marketers. But the reality is that none of this is done through intelligence that is collective, nor does it intend to protect and support the intentions of those “consuming” the media (and we wonder why privacy is such an issue...). And given that collective ideas or things require thought and refined context, this also forces us to revisit our notions of what participation really is.
Cisco’s recent effort with Juxt Interactive and No Mimes Media illustrates the highly creative ways in which participatory gameplay narrative can improve corporate culture and bolster sales efficiency. Called The Hunt, the experience centers around Isabel Travada, a Cisco System Engineer on a leave of absence to do volunteer work with the Red Cross, and the adventure that ensues when she enlists her colleagues to help piece together clues from her past.
There are numerous examples of corporations using storytelling mechanisms to better connect with their own employees and the end consumer. Some have dubbed this a “rise of the corporate transmedia storyteller” as a new form of marketing, but I would offer up a different perspective: all of us as people are storytellers who have the potential to be storymakers, and stories themselves – through consensual development and through enriched experiences – are the connective tissue between people, brands and markets.
In other words, it’s about creating and supporting stories around the things that matter most to us as people.
Stories equal the markets we play and transact in, which is not marketing or advertising per se, but something much, much bigger.
Practitioners like Lina Srivastava, Simon Pulman, Sasha Chock, Gle Gonzales, Robert Pratten, Christy Dena, Scott Walker, Lucas J.W. Johnson and Simon Staffans have written some great pieces as of late around the movement towards activating intent and action around transmedia properties and the consideration sets we should look for in looking at publishing as a hybridized media practice. Pioneers like Jeff Gomez, Stephen Dinehart, Lance Weiler and Henry Jenkins have jumped into the mix willingly and have openly challenged their own notions of what participatory narrative can look like, particularly with respect to creating new franchise models.
If we look at transmedia storytelling as a form of curation, then we see that we can achieve a new, holistic state of communication, story creation and metadata learning.
As also addressed earlier in this series, when participation & immersion are ever-present throughout the development of stories, the data trails are not only accurate, but wholly mindful of the dynamics around privacy and data sharing. Truly federated media – and the topologies that account for action and intent around media consumption – are part of what enable companies to sell products and services without manipulating the perception of their value.
At the most rudimentary level, this means that commoditized media inventory such as display ad units (especially remnant inventory) can become true publishing units.
The idea of socialized ad units is nothing new. What’s new is the federated approach that is used to develop the content that goes into the units, how they are curated and how those units are served meaningfully across channels.
More important is the possibility that we can actually co-create new media ecosystems. Fathom that.
These ecosystems have already gained momentum with profound effect in the educational space, and are flourishing in world-building features that can translate across “mass” mediums found in entertainment – ABC Kids TV Online is one example.
And of course, what this could do for global business leaves much to the imagination... (My upcoming book, A Literacy of the Imagination: Storytelling Approaches for the Collaborative Economy will address these dynamics in great detail).
So perhaps now we can divorce ourselves from looking at curation as a form of filtering and/or aggregating content, and more as a means for co-creating and delivering experiences of tremendous cultural value.
Precepts for great curation practices.
• Federation (true convergence):
Federation, and specifically knowledge federation, tackles one of the most fundamental yet illogical things about human nature: the search for truth and meaning. As discussed earlier in this series, federation looks at specific instances with or from which ideas and solutions can converge around complex problems. And this, we should hope, is the bedrock for how truth and meaning can evolve.
In order to federate, we must carefully align intent + action + role so that the purity and scalability of meaning is well managed and moderated. Participants in federated media environments have emergent opportunities to self-express on the part of the whole, and in this way, they build renewed context around ideas or themes... What eventually develop as validated stories.
• Translation (language development & storytelling):
My uncle, Ralph McCarthy, in his translation work with Ryu Murakami & Haruki Murakami (no relation) has seen that narrative can literally transcend the written page and change or influence behavior. A big part of this is not just what culminates in experiences, but what actually goes into them. For example, Ralph must immerse himself in specific social environments in order to better understand the context for certain dialects, or to make certain word associations based on behavior – this is particularly important, for example, when translating meaning from a character-based language to a Romance or Germanic language.
The really interesting part is in witnessing the latent effects. Both Murakamis write Japanese pulp fiction, so their material is inherently resonant and influential in shifting certain perceptions around cultural norms, mores or anthropological subtleties. Further, the activation of niche, geolocal movements in Japan culminate in the emergence of new stories that are either complements to the core material, or remixes of it. Once these stories take shape, we find them materializing and building contextual relevance in other cultures.
• Interpretation (experiential value; media as objects):
Interpretation, like translation, has traditionally been thought of as a practice that extracts meaning from language. Yet the physical world (yes, that thing you step into every day, independent of a device or console ;) presents so many amazing opportunities for narrative immersion and participation that are, well, mind-boggling. Ironically, our reliance upon technology and media has rendered us blind to the fact that real-world experiences can be augmented or recreated in such a way that we can actually make real meaning out of technology and media. Media literally become objects, or artifacts, that lead us to new discoveries about who we are in different environments or in different human contexts.
• Interpolation (relational & civil value):
Interpolation brings us to a place where we now can design our lives. Kai Pata’s work at Tallinn University is reflective of the movement towards real human development through things like signal design processing and behavioral community research. Where civil value emerges out of these constructs, we also see an opportunity for new stories to emerge. This is also great impetus for a prescient wave of artistry that can culminate in new forms of physical curation, or in aesthetic or visceral elements that redefine our relationship to the senses. In sum, we are given license to set our imaginations on fire.
[Kai Pata, Professor & Senior Researcher, Institute of Informatics, Tallinn University]
Closing the loop. Final thoughts on how this can all come together.
A recap: we are experiencing an emergent collaborative economy with narrative (or evolving meme) as the medium of exchange, mediated and monetized by an adaptive, socialized search that incentivizes premium value.
That medium of exchange is the predicate to both value co-creation and the lush adaptive data topologies we envision: it's a whole new marketplace... And the likes of Don Tapscott, John Hagel and Dan Mapes think so too. That's the true holism. Where we're headed (and hopefully this series makes explicit) is a whole new media ecosystem, or series of ecosystems, to manage scarcity.
In other words, the (emergent) medium is the (emergent) marketplace, to steal McLuhan's thunder. So what does all of this ultimately mean in the multichannel marketplace?
Human needs are the markets.
Utilities are the solutions.
Shared values define the competitive sets.
Everything we face as businesses and as a collective culture are predicated on the human condition. Industry was designed to fulfill human needs before mass commercialization overtook the business landscape. Now we have no choice but to right what we’ve culpably ignored for far too long.
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
- Henry David Thoreau