Story: Define

What are some of the constraints and conventions of your chosen storytelling platform? How can you find the freedom within the form?

Define your constraints and situations. Think of storytelling platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube) as designed apparatuses or networks. They come in different shapes and sizes; some have specific goals and features (i.e. constraints), while others are more general and flexible. Knowing these conditions can help you better develop a storytelling strategy and know which platforms best suit your story and audience.

It is important to know the appropriate tactics for each platform; each one has a unique means to form, tell, and deliver stories. This is known as storifying. As a digital storyteller, knowing these conventions helps to storify (to form or tell stories). For example, Twitter is primarily text-based. Short, text-based entries of 140 characters or less are the culture of the platform. Facebook has a culture of sharing videos and images. Going with the flow, according to the culture of the platform, can help to engage audiences.

Long-form storytelling platforms enable introspection and meaningful storytelling that creates impact (Jonathan Harris, July 2011). A medium or environment that houses, distributes, and facilitates stories that help individuals learn, reflect, and empathize is “long-form.” This differs from platforms like Twitter, where information, more ephemeral and short-form, accumulates, trends, and eventually disappears.

A long-form example would be Jonathan Harris’ website and storytelling platform, Cowbird (2011), an online “community for storytellers focused on a deeper, longer-lasting, more personal kind of storytelling.” Cowbird works as a social network and digital archive of photographs, timelines, sound maps and text; here, users post stories that help shape and share the human narrative to tell their collective story.

The design of Cowbird promotes this and forces the user to contemplate via their connections. The homepage of the site invites visitors to explore; stories, indicated by a central photograph, cluster on the page like Polaroids scattered on the floor. You can navigate them through people - a tagged audience - and how they identify with others, as opposed to a feed (or stream of information) that devalues long term content.

Screenshot from Cowbird, December 15, 2014

Defining the constraints of a medium helps to develop a storytelling strategy (i.e. which media platforms best suit your story and engage your audience). Breaking with conventions, however, can make for a unique effect that stirs things up; interesting and unexpected things can happen when you go against the culture of a platform.