I have used this Fold that Story site in various online collaborations and, well, you never know. That’s why it’s perfect for Networked Narratives. So, come join in. The way it works is that you only see the “fold” (what the other person wrote) just before yours. You can’t see where the story started or earlier folds. So, the story zigzags quite a bit. I’ll share out the entire thing when it is done (I have it set at 25 folds).
I am thankful I was asked to host an Educator Innovator session the other night with Katie Eder, the teen founder of an expanding project called Kids Tales, which provides free writing camps with paths to publication for young writers, often in communities that are struggling. All camps are organized and run by teenagers. The teens write curriculum, pitch for funding, and created a non-profit. In fact, the entire Kids Tales organization is completely run by teenagers.
When we talk about Connected Learning, about how to empower young people to engage with the world through networking and through learning and through making, the Kids Tale story shows how a vision by one young person — Katie — can lead to an entire network of other engaged teens, reaching out to help young writers. And all with minimal help from any adults. It’s also a good example of how technology does not have be a central aspect of Connected Learning — it’s about the connections.
Katie and some of her fellow members of their Board of Directors, Shreya and Morgan, as well as my teaching friend Charlene Doland, joined me for the hour-long discussion about writing, empowering students and making change in the world. I was inspired by the work they are doing. I hope you will be, too.
I was able to join a “studio visit” video hangout yesterday afternoon with the fine folks over at Networked Narratives and the strange (compliment!) minds behind what is known as Netprov. Essentially, Netprov taps into the possibilities of digital and social media spaces to create a sort of “networked improvisation.”
You can read more about the Netprov idea at the website, but these points stuck out at me, in reading and listening to the Rob Wittig and Mark Marino (I didn’t talk much in the Hangout because Mark and Rob had so much to say, and it seemed best to give the Kean graduate students time to ask questions):
Netprov creates stories that are networked, collaborative and improvised in real time
Netprov is collaborative and incorporates participatory contributions from readers
Netprov is designed for episodic and incomplete reading
When somebody makes a fake Twitter account of an object or a critter — that is Netprov
When somebody creates a make-believe event and blogs about it in real time — that is Netprov
They gave some examples from OccupyMLA to a sort of flash mob project on Twitter where a group people pretend to be watching a television show and live-tweeting it to a I Work for the Web fake campaign against the tech companies using users’ sharing to make profit. There are other, stranger, odder, cooler projects at their site, too (including a recent 5-gender dating Netprov project. Do I have that right? Really?)
Here’s what I am pondering now, asked by Mia Zamora in the visit: how does a Netprov parody and satire move beyond humor and into changing the real world for the better? (This is part of Mia’s continued reference to “civic imagination.”)
Rob and Mark, both college professors, say Netprov can and Netprov does, because the satire element forces the “actors” to be attuned to the why and what they are doing, and that often brings to the surface deeper cultural constructs. Rob also talked quite a bit about the “fake news” element of our media world, and how projects like Netprov can showcase the absurdity of the PR-spun alternative realities that politicians and media like to spin (as well as that lone person in their basement, pumping out fake news for clickbait profit).
Bowling Green Massacre, anyone? (Maybe the new administration is pulling off some epic, large-scale Netprov on us all? I shoulda asked that question in the hangout).
(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March — about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
In the days after the protest marches in Washington, I started to write a song about what I was seeing here at home, and how I was galvanized by the gatherings. I recorded a raw demo, but I knew I wanted to do something more with it.
So, when I had time to myself the other day (ie, family was out of the house and the world was silent), I finally got to record the song more properly, and I am happy with how it came out. When I first started writing songs, in college, all I wrote were protest songs, and my band would play them on campus to small audiences (mostly friends). That was during the Reagan years. I wonder if the Trump years will spark a new age of protest songwriting …
Well, I did it. Check out the PeaceLove&Bot bot. Every six hours, the PeaceLove bot will send out a new tweet that begins with the lines made famous in the Elvis Costello song (but written by Nick Lowe) with random word replacing “Understanding” in the lyrics. I’ve included the #NetNarr hashtag in the code, too, so that the tweets get sent into the NetNarr twitter stream.
Phew. It was both easier and more difficult than I thought, and it took a long time on Saturday to get all of the programming pieces together. I used a free program called Tracery and hosting site called Cheap Bots by the very generous @GalaxyKate and George Buckinham.
Hey #NetNarr – What’s So Funny about Peace Love and Remix?
The easy piece was that Kate and George really make the programming possibilities fairly simple to use. The difficult part was the ins and outs of making sure I was writing my code correctly, for any little thing made the bot go boink (hard to resist that alliteration and Scooby Doo onomatopoeia).
First, I had to create an entire new Twitter account. Which I did. But then when I connected the Cheap Bots to the account, Twitter got mad and shut down my account, asking me for a phone number to reinstate the account. I did that, and then realized that now my main Twitter account could not use the same mobile phone number as my bot account … ack … I confirmed that Cheap Bots could use my new Twitter bot account, and then reversed the use of the phone number (which I use as a validation tool for my Twitter account).
Third, I was stuck with the question. I am making a Twitter Bot, but what should it say to the world? I had Elvis Costello in my head, singing along with What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) and wondered if that might be a way to keep true to staying positive in this negative time of Trump, while also keeping the underlying mechanics of the Bot simple. It would use a common phrase but replace a word each time with a random word from a database.
Fourth, what database? I realized that while ideally I would have my bot draw from some outside database, I could not take on the technical aspects of that. Tracery allows you to make your own database right in the code, so I did that, mulling over phrases and words that would remain positive and still fit in the song title. At one point (and I might return to this), I had this idea of using the invented, made-up words from my students’ Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (which I wrote about the other day) as the database for the bot. But when I experimented, the bot didn’t seem to want to recognize the invented words. It may have been something that I did wrong with the code. Not sure. So I went back to my original database.
And now? The PeaceLove&Bot is loose upon the world. Every six hours, a new tweet is sent out. I may yet add more words to the database, and heck … I invite you: What words or phrases should end the What’s So Funny about Peace Love and ?????? Leave a comment here at the blog. I’ll add your word in.
Peace (not so funny in these tumultuous days),
So, I am on another meander .. trying to parse out the possibilities of Twitter Bots as a means of digital writing. And wondering, is it? I don’t rightly know. Thus, the meander.
I’m on this line of inquiry thanks to the Networked Narratives crew, and one of the paths revealed during the recent “studio tour” with Leonardo Flores, whose work with generative Twitter Bots sparked some interesting annotation discussions.
Certainly, Twitter Bots — which are programmed to release writing or images or something from a data base at random or programmed times — are numerous (as I found when I started looking for them with new eyes) and funny and entertaining. Some bots mesh together ideas from other sites, creating a hybrid tweet. Others are original material, parsed together in odd ways. Some bots take on personalities from history, using archived texts as source material. Others are like programmed memes, making political fun of something through satire and sarcasm. Some are stories, unfolding in small bits over time.
Right now, I am following Mia Zamora and Alan Levine’s suggestion at Networked Narratives to “follow some bots” and see what happens over a few days time. I created a Twitter List of various bots that I have found (and feel free to follow the list if you want or you can ask Flores’ HotBots Bot to recommend Bots to follow based on your question or theme), and find myself dipping into the narrative stream now and then. It’s not a great strategy because the bot tweets are all mixed up, like a book whose pages have been put into disorder.
What I am wondering about in the larger picture, though, is this: can I make and launch my own Twitter Bot?
Yesterday, I started working on a Twitter Bot to send into the NetNarr twitter stream and I think I can pull it off, but I have been struggling with what would I want that bot to say to the world? What database might it mine for words and ideas? What message? Is my act of making a bot share writing out to the world an act writing?
More to come …. tomorrow, I will write about my bot experiment.
Now in our 12th year of collecting newly invented words (ranging alphabetically from Aamic to Zzaj) from sixth graders, our Crazy Collaborative Dictionary is pushing nearly 1,000 invented words. The invention of language is part of our lessons around the origins of words, and the roots of the English Language, and we have a blast with this word-invention activity.
But what amazes me is that this year’s class of word inventors weren’t even born when the first class of word inventors began making up words in 2005. Actually, we didn’t use a wiki until 2006, I think, but we used to publish the words as an in-house dictionary document. We started with an old wiki site called Seedwiki, and then moved to Wikispaces when Seedwiki kicked the bucket.
Once I had the first version of the wiki dictionary up, we shifted to the online dictionary concept (as well as lessons about this thing called the Internet and what in the world Wikis were). I’ve had them submit words all sorts of ways. This year, we set up a Google Form to collect words into a database.
A few years ago, we added podcasting to the activity, giving students a chance to record their word and definition. As I now pitch it to them, their voice will be forever (well, we’ll see about that, right? Forever is a long time in Internetland) linked to their word, in this moment in time. Five years, or ten years, from now, they should be able to “listen” to their sixth grade self, reading out their word and definition at the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary. (I am still connecting podcasts to this year’s collection of words)
I think that idea is pretty nifty, as is the concept that many of my students are now “collaborating” with older siblings, some of whom have graduated and are in college, or in jobs. But their words are there, in our dictionary, as are their siblings’ new words. As a father of three kids, I find that idea of cross-year collaboration pretty magical indeed.
Here’s mine, called Even Dead Ends are Starting Points.
She heard the sounds of the guitar, and the song came suddenly. Melody. Words. Harmony. She hurried out to meet the musician, only to find it was an audio recording of a photographer setting the mood for his shots. Still, she kept singing. Even dead ends are starting points.
What’s so intriguing about this kind of visual-inspired writing with somewhat random images is that while you are choosing each of the five images, they are come from a very limited pool of choices. There’s nothing outright that seems to connect the five pictures you end up choosing … except the story unfolding in your mind as you are making your choices.
So part of the fun with the Five Card Story concept is making that narrative leap — weaving that invisible thread – that wraps each disparate visual together into a tapestry of remixable story. You have to ride your inspiration forward, and go beyond the literal. It’s a creative challenge.
I find that the first image chosen is the most important, as it anchors the narrative. But so is the last image, I guess, as it ties up the story. In writing, I find myself staring at each image, wondering about what I don’t see with my eyes (and maybe do see with my heart). I’m trying to determine what narrative is stubbornly invisible at that moment, and then try to tease it out.
Infographics done right fascinate me, particularly if they tell a story from the data. Cold data analysis … does nothing for me. In the amazing book Dear Data, graphic designers Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi document a year of postcards between themselves, sharing personal data in hand-drawn styles. Their 52-week journey of documenting and share is a reminder of how we might be able to uncover insights into ourselves, and each other, by paying more attention.
In fact, over at the Connected Learning MOOC community, a number of us are using Dear Data as a launching and inspirational point for sharing Data Postcards in the coming year. Some of us sent out Resolution Data postcards in January and “love” is the theme of February, and we are using Lupi and Posavec’s work as our starting point, to some degree.
This is my workspace the other day, as I was working on my data postcards, which I sent to different parts of the world. I sort of cheated by not doing every one by hand, but this is how I got it to work for me.
The two developed weekly themes that they built their data collection on, from the opening theme of “clocks” to observing urban animals (week 34) to a week of distractions (week 44) to a week of goodbyes (week 52, of course). Along with sharing the postcards, the two write about their experiences, from the difficulties of coming up with data representations to the celebration of sharing to insights they gained about their personal worlds through such an endeavor.
I also appreciated the insights at the end of the book, where the two outline some suggestions for others, such as:
See the world as a data collector
Begin with a question
Gather and spend time with your data
Organize and categorize it
Find the main story that the data tells
Share the data and the story
We don’t need to leave it to our machines and our computers and vast programming ventures to gather our world. We can do it ourselves. Lupi and Posavec show us the power of connections between people, and how to humanize the data, as a means to strengthen insights and understanding through a very visual means.
Earlier today, I shared out an invitation to annotate a video by Leonardo Flores and the Networked Narratives folks who hung out with him. (You can still annotate the video). It helped that we have a two-hour winter weather delay this morning, so I immersed myself in the NetNarr experience. As I was thinking about how best to reflect on what I learned and heard, I wondered if (given Flores’ interest in digital poetry) I could use my own comments to create a poem about the theme of the Studio Visit, as I knew it, from afar.
I did create a poem. You can read it — Mapping Out a Field of Possibilities — over at Notegraphy. What I think, for me is interesting, is that the discussion about the use of “twitter bots” to “scrape” text from tweets and create something new raises all sorts of questions about what is writing when algorithms are in place, and who owns the writing (and does that even matter on a digital canvas?).
Here, I made myself into a sort of “human bot,” scraping through my own annotations and musings (along with quotes from others in the session that I had pulled out into the margins) to make a poem. I am not a bot. I just played one here sometimes. So, would the poem be any different if I had been a programmed Twitter bot and had done the same thing? Such interesting things to wonder about, right?
Another point: I would have liked to have had more time to add other layers to the writing — to create audio linked on top of the words, perhaps, or maybe, shifting the poem’s stanzas into Zeega for a multimedia compositional experience or maybe layering links to the people whose words I, eh, remixed for the poem, an associative anchor to people from the poem. I might still do something.
As it is now, the poem is experientially flat, even as it is read on the screens. The poem is merely words on the “page.” I’m not suggesting that this kind of writing is not exciting or interesting or valuable (certainly, it is) but I continue to be curious about how to push writing into new directions.