What's Behind the 'Noise' in the Story Space?

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A week or so ago, I kind of ambushed some of my closest colleagues in the story world — Gregg Morris, Cathryn Wellner, Thaler Pekar, Lou Hoffman, and Terrence Gargiulo — bloggers and luminaries all, and made them into an ad hoc advisory board to ask about preventing blog-readership decline.

noise.jpg Among many brilliant observations and suggestions, Gregg made an interesting comment about why the attention of folks interested in story and storytelling is currently getting diverted:

There is more “noise” in the story space now than at any time over the last few years. I used to be able to get through the Twitter stream and Google in reasonable time when searching story and storytelling and the derivatives. I can’t do that anymore now that “storytelling” is the new “everything.”

The others agreed that the story space is cluttered with noise, so I decided to analyze where that noise is coming from. Let’s say that, like Gregg, you use Twitter as one of your main sources for your news of storytelling (currently I don’t, but I have in the past). I get a daily email that aggregates tweets with the keyword “storytelling” and the hashtag #storytelling. Let’s look at the tweets on a random one of these emails, the one from Friday, July 29. Some initial categories of “noise” (and these might not be noise to everyone, but they are to me):

  • Tweets in languages I can’t read.
  • Multiple retweets of the same resource. Once I’ve checked out the first one, subsequent retweets are just noise.
  • Tweets that announce specific storytelling events (often oral performance or library story hours) in remote cities.
  • Tweets of resources that the tweeter has newly discovered but that I have known about for months or even years, and probably most serious story folks know about. A good example is the series of YouTube videos by Ira Glass on storytelling that repeatedly gets tweeted.
  • Tweets of resources that seem to be at best peripherally about storytelling and are perhaps in the Twitter stream because they have “storytelling” in the URL (Example: 6 ways Twitter has made me a better writer). Or because they are given a #storytelling hashtag.
  • Tweets that contain no links, so there’s usually no place to go with them. Sometimes these are good quotes about storytelling. Hannah Arendt’s “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it” gets tweeted frequently.
  • Tweets that comprise little more than a video. I’m probably in the minority, but I just don’t have the time or patience to check out most of these.
  • Tweets that contain bad/dead links.
  • Tweets that label something as “storytelling” that is not storytelling. For example, this link was touted as a “great example of activism via storytelling.” Can you find any storytelling?

So, discounting all of the above, here’s what’s left from Friday’s storytelling Twitter stream. Tweets about …

  • Storytelling in social media. For example, Why Storytelling is Key to Social Media Marketing, which falls into the category of items I’ll certainly want to check out even though many articles of this type turn out to have a vague notion of what storytelling is and offer minimal examples.
  • Same goes for storytelling in marketing and branding. In Crowdsourced Co-Storytelling: Brands Invite Fans to Assist in Idea Generation & Content Creation, Reb Carlson says, “Today, consumers comprise a huge part of a brand’s overall story,” but the article does not support the idea of storytelling or demonstrate how crowdsourcing contributes to storytelling.
  • Storytelling in screenwriting and filmmaking, a topic of interest to some in the story space, but marginally to me because I veer toward nonfiction and applied uses.
  • Curations and aggregations, like Gregg’s. I tend to already know about these. One new one was Twylah, where Jan Gordon’s curation is kind of a curation of curations!
  • Transmedia storytelling, which is huge right now and certainly has implications for folks in the applied-story space. Much of it tends to be noise, however, for the same reasons that items about screenwriting and filmmaking are. Here’s a provocative one from April currently making the rounds: TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING IS BULLSHIT… And Michael Margolis calls this one a “fascinating example of transmedia brand #storytelling.”
  • Pop-culture blockbusters like Harry Potter. Again, not of primary interest because it’s fiction.
  • Amazon Japan. In my Scoop.it curations in particular, I have noticed huge numbers of tweets of books listed on http://www.amazon.co.jp/. I think Amazon Japan must pay people to randomly tweet book titles. Serious noise here.
  • Children’s story books. Generally not of interest to adults in the story space.
  • notes-storytellingKnisley.jpg
  • Various forms of visual storytelling, such as Friday’s More on Storytelling With Your Camera. Like social-media storytelling tweets, these are usually worth checking out, but often the “storytelling” aspect is questionable. One item showing promise is a beautiful slideshow by visual storyteller Matt Knisely, along with his downloadable quick reference guide to storytelling (partial screenshot at left).
  • A song called Storytelling by Belle and Sebastian.
  • Storytelling in videogames. Surely of interest to some in the story space, but not me because I loathe games.
  • A kind of uncategorizable piece about how story makes content more entertaining.
  • Storytelling in fiction. Not of primary interest.
  • An Exquisite Corpse experiment. An intriguing experiment (that takes a while to load) by IDEO Labs, which explains that the creators “asked a group of collaborators to submit sentences/fragments … to create a dynamic visualization for the “exquisite” story our writers had crafted. These collective fragments formed a base on which we layered sensory artifacts, from voice-over to tagged visuals, and we were curious as to how far we could take the experience.”

So, of 100 tweets in that one day’s email of storytelling tweets, I would strongly consider writing about, or including in one of my curations, maybe two of the items tweeted about. Perhaps two others would get secondary consideration. Indeed the noise-to-valuable content ratio is high. That’s one reason I eventually determined that culling through Twitter streams was not a good use of my curation time, but the noise is nearly as bad in other channels as well.

Gregg predicts: “I think that you’ll see your traffic pick up again once this madness has run its course. Cream always rises to the top.”

I hope he’s right.


Thanks Kat for this great synopsis of storytelling topics on the web. Yes, there is lots of noise out there today about storytelling and it is taking more and more time to weed through it all to find the gems worth sharing. So much of it is just junk, or authors are making very simplistic/beginner’s mind statements. You’ve really put all into perspective and I really appreciate the effort it took for you to put this together. Well done!

Belatedly responding to thank YOU for stopping by to comment and for all your storytelling and curations efforts.

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