Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Twitter and the collective storytelling

Along with Google and Facebook, Twitter has been an icon of the new Web. To learn from its success, in this post I take a look at the relationship between Twitter and the collective storytelling.

As we know, an essential character of Web 2.0 is the embodiment of collectivism on the Web. Besides the often-mentioned collective intelligence, however, there are many other types of the embodiment of collectivism. One of them is collective storytelling---a particular joint between collective intelligence and collective behavior. As its name tells, storytelling is the combination of "story" and "telling". Apply it to the associative law, the collective storytelling is therefore the combination of the collective story and the collective telling. The collective story is a particular form of the collective intelligence. The collective telling is a special embodiment of the collective behavior.

According to Frank Rose, we tell stories so that we may make sense of our world and share the understanding with others. Therefore, the collective storytelling is a collective way of making sense of the world we live and sharing the understanding with each other. By this mean, we see the compelling value of the collective storytelling. Through it, we actually are able to get touch to each individual's reasoning about the portion of the world and the society he lives. Such a reasoning is the essence of many modern time business models such as advertisement, retail, and the news business. Twitter's success of implementing the collective storytelling, therefore, forms the foundation of its business success.

There are a few bright spots of how Twitter has implemented the collective storytelling. The understanding of these spots may help many of us know how to create our own solutions in the new Web.

The first bright spot is the 140-character length limit. This brilliant innovation must be laid upon a very deep understanding about the nature of the collective storytelling. To be effectively empowered by the collectiveness, we need to break a barrier that the collective outcome is biased by few over-weighted messages. The enforcement of the 140-character length limit breaks the messages into small pieces so that the system may compose stories collectively with rich content and concise structure. It, therefore, enables us to see the objective realities of the collective stories created without be trapped too much into individual biases.

The second bright spot is the embedded tags. In each tweet one can embed one or more arbitrary tags by adding the symbol "#" in front of the tag word. This little invention is a great leap forward in the history of storytelling. This simple but effective method enables the storytellers (i.e. the Twitter users such as you and me) to subjectively direct his or her own small pieces into multiple grand story plots. This method is a great example of how a small piece of information can be creatively and at the same time automatically reused in the Web. By this mechanism, the collective storytelling is no longer a traditional many-to-one process but a novel many-to-many process. Therefore, creatively Twitter has improved the production rate of the collective story creation. As we all know, the improvement of the production rate of the key product is a cornerstone to any business success.

The last but not the least, the third bright spot I share about Twitter is the embedded links among the storytellers. A hardness to tell a story collectively is the sequence arrangement of the many storytellers. When a story is contributed by many people, it is really difficult to sort the people in an order that is best for the storytelling. Twitter has not totally solved the problem either. But, at least, it has invented a way so that there is an order of the storytellers that is reasonably well for the thoughtful storytelling. The method is again fairly simple. Any Tweet writers can embed the next or previous storytellers in their own small pieces of story by adding the symbol "@" in front of the name of the designated storytellers. Through this simple mechanism, the small pieces can be linked by the storytellers based on the volunteered election of their peer tellers. This type of election must not be the perfect solution for the order of the storytelling. But it is a reasonably well and so far the best solution we can achieve.

I believe, however, that if Twitter can invest more of its human resources in studying the concept of storytelling and applying it to its product, the service will become a more and more crucial piece of the new Web. Storytelling is a primary character of human beings. And this is why a service designated itself to this character may also become a central piece of human life.


Openworld said...

Great post!

I've been intrigued by the possibility that "narrative fractals" may become the basis for co-creation in social networks of alive and whole stories.

Here's a thumbnail of the idea:

Look forward to your thoughts.


Mark Frazier

Yihong Ding said...


I have read your post in Quora. It is quite a thoughtful description of the narrative factals.

I support your point of engaging fractals to develop narratives. In certain sense, it is indeed all the Web is about. Each of us contributes some fractals and eventually these fractals are connected to become a very compound and meaningful society---the integration of many many narratives.

As you said in the post, the idea is in its very early age. I agree to it also. A difficulty about how to apply the idea of narrative fractals lies on the conflict between objectiveness and subjectiveness. As I said, the Web is also a practice of engaging narrative fractals. The Web evolution adopts a way of objectiveness. To the end, nobody may define an ultimate goal or plot of the Web. The Web grows in its own will, which is probably the collective will of all mankind. By contrast, to develop a narrative based on many fractals is a practice of subjectiveness. One has to make a goal and coordinate the process of development. This aim thus makes contradiction to the creation of the fractals, which is a practice of objectiveness or some certain of subjectiveness but beyond the control of the narrative goal designer. How to solve this problem might be the major challenge about the narrative fractals.

This is just some immediate thought coming to my mind. Hopefully it helps you some way.