The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

Greg Linch § Matching cuts / 2014-09-16 18:18:15
Inque § Matching cuts / 2014-09-05 13:27:23
Gavin Craig § Matching cuts / 2014-08-31 16:33:56
Tim Maly § Sooo / 2014-08-27 01:35:19
Matt § Sooo / 2014-08-25 02:10:30
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-25 00:49:38
Robin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:47:35
Doug § Sooo / 2014-08-21 20:40:50
Tim § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:23:13
Gavin § Sooo / 2014-08-21 18:10:44

Worldbuilding and world-extending: Discoveries and questions
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I kicked off this week with a big, messy post about, basically, fan fiction. Now that I’ve talked it through a bit with my incredible fellow seminarians, I think my questions boil down to: What are the aspects of a creative text that are most conducive to fostering fan fiction? and How do those attributes translate to nonfictional domains?

Here are the boundaries I’ll draw around my curiosity:

  • I’m more interested in creative responses to discrete creative works (e.g. this in response to this) than I am in creative stuff made with creative tools (e.g. this built with this). That is to say, I’m less interested in the general phenomenon of people building things with games or tools that are about building things (e.g. what makes Legos so conducive to worldbuilding?).
  • I’m more interested in the wealth (in all dimensions) of responses a work produces than in the inherent creativity of the work itself — the world built on top of or in response to a thing, rather than the world of the thing.
  • I’m (ultimately) most interested in how these attributes of creative works apply outside the most familiar domains of fan fiction such as fantasy fiction, Star Wars, etc. I’m curious, for example, how one makes nonfiction that produces fan-nonfiction.

Some familiar examples of the types of creative responses that strike me as fitting into my framework of what I’ll call “world-extensions” are modding (EG), fan fic (EG), and cosplay (EG).

Some of the more unfamiliar examples that strike me as possibly alike enough to cluster with these things are:

  • An interplay of visual artworks, like the Picasso and American Art exhibit, and particularly the range of artistic extensions of / responses to “The Studio.” (Including Picasso’s own extensions of that artwork.)
  • Op-eds and punditry in major national newspapers and the sort of mirror-world that pundits fashion in concert with one another. (Thanks, Robin!)
  • Parody Twitter accounts, like @MayorEmanuel.
  • Wikipedia.
  • Memes.

Lastly, here are some of the nascent hypotheses I’m forming about aspects of a work that can help bring about world-extending:

  • Expansiveness and/or continuity: The world should feel big and open enough that folks feel there’s room to play with it.
  • Strong, recognizable systems: The rules and boundaries of the world should feel solid enough to provide a common structure to any world-extensions.
  • Focus and blurriness: It seems important that there are areas of the world drawn in fairly vivid detail, but also aspects of the world presented only suggestively. Things to grab onto, and things to fill in.
  • Fandom: This kinda goes without saying, but the work needs to have enough attractions that a critical mass of folks will fall in love with it.

There are a few other dimensions I haven’t reached the hypothesis stage for:

  • What’s the effect of otherworldliness? Are works of fantasy more conducive to world-extending than works based more solidly in reality?
  • How much of world-extension is related to things such as age and gender? We all seem particularly interested in extending worlds when we’re young; does the desire dissipate as we get older and busier?
  • What about the degree of user/reader/watcher/listener investment in the text? To inspire fan-fiction, is there possibly a sort of attentional summit that, once ascended, begins to tunnel the person deeper and deeper into the world of the text?

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be crashing the #worldbuilding tag on Twitter to explore some of these questions. Do join me!

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Announcing the Snarkmarket Seminar
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Update: Discovered I needed to wait an extra week to book the hotel rooms because of how far out it is. We should be able to confirm signups this week. – MT

Snarkmarket is nine years old today. At this point, I think of Snarkmarket as less of a blog and more of a collective of incredible people with similar (and often wonderfully divergent) fascinations who’ve happened upon each other at the right time. Years after the height of this blog’s activity, I still meet folks who introduce themselves with the question, “Hey, aren’t you Matt from Snarkmarket?”

In 2013, we want to try something that ties together many of the fascinations of this collective. We’ll be seeking about 30 fellow travelers to join us in a year-long, self-assembling digital seminar on media. Everyone will be a lecturer and everyone will be a participant in a series of weekly discussions focusing on a particular text or set of texts. It’ll culminate in a weekend of creation and collaboration in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Snarkmarket began.

First, we have to figure out who’s in. The price of admission will be a hotel room reservation at a hotel in St. Petersburg (official venue TBD) the weekend of November 2nd and 3rd, 2013. We’ll take care of actually booking the rooms. Next week, we’ll post more information on claiming a spot in the seminar. If you want to be in the loop when we do, shoot me a quick email at seminarkmarket@emailmatt.com.

Second, we have to create the syllabus. Starting Sunday, January 6th, we’ll have a weekly discussion led by a different seminar participant, focusing on a different set of texts. During the month of December, each participant will volunteer the text (or texts!) they want to discuss during their week at the virtual podium. It can be anything, of any vintage – a video, a book, an essay, a story, a game, an artwork – just as long as it says something fascinating to you about media today. Once we’ve identified the full set of texts, we’ll arrange a lecture calendar (with a few breaks for holidays and whatnot).

Weekly discussions get underway the week of January 6th. We’ll try to find a regular day and time that’s agreeable to as many members of the group as possible. The day after each discussion, the next participant at the virtual podium will introduce us to their text with a post telling us why they find it fascinating. Our weekly homework assignment is to participate in the comment thread about this post (you’re not getting graded on responses, so they can be short; “I’m not sure I saw the same resonances you did in this video” is a perfectly legitimate reaction).

In September, we’ll break to work on our final “papers.” These can obvs take any form you wish. They’ll be due by Sunday, October 20th. No more weekly discussions during this time.

Last, we gather in St. Pete. What will happen there, no one can know. We promise only wizardry and delight.

The last time we embarked on a grand adventure together, we wrote a book that’s still being talked about today. I’m beyond excited at the prospect of spending a year in study with this community, learning and sharing alongside one another. I hope you’ll join us.

Happy birthday, Snarkmarket. And happy birthday, Tim!

5 comments

Recently assembled cultural artifacts
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I was at a conference called NewsFoo this past weekend. In sessions and in conversations throughout the event, folks shared a number of impressive or memorable cultural artifacts they'd encountered; I wrote down as many as I could. I often stupidly neglected to note who pointed out what. Where I've remembered the source, I've included her. Thanks to everyone who shared!

First, some British psychedelia from Alastair Dant and Nicola Twilley – a show called "The Magic Roundabout" that was apparently pretty fantastic:

Read more…

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Social networks, as told by Flight of the Conchords
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Joanne McNeil, quoting Farrah Bostic on July 3: 


“so far google+ friending seems to be more about a shared present/future than a shared past” – @farrahbostic (so true)less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply

So if Facebook quickly became like this:

Google+ right now is more like this:

While Twitter, with its tendency towards zaniness, its frequently misunderstood and embarrassing messages, and inevitable blurring of casual and intimate relationships, feels a bit like this (in all its glory):

Meanwhile, we also have MySpace (“people who hold signs go on to hold many things”):

The original, Friendster (“How did Dave get a hottie like that to a party like this? Good one, Dave”):

And this one, I can’t tell if it’s LinkedIn or Chatroulette (maybe a bit of both):

Soliciting suggestions for Quora, Instagram, Foursquare, et al. (My partner-in-pop-culture-crime Sarah Pavis already nominated “Stay Cool” and “I Told You I Was Freaky” for Tumblr.)

PS: You can find me on Google+ here.

4 comments

The Cave, The Corps, The League
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I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M DOING THIS

I’m going to jump in the middle of Robin and Gavin’s exchange on the DC Comics reboot, even though I explicitly told both of them that I didn’t want to read about it and had nothing to say about any of it, because some things Robin just wrote sparked some ideas that I want to follow here.

Today, you don’t go work at Marvel and DC because of what they are; you go because of what they have. It’s almost like a natural resource. Superman and Batman are potent substances. They have this incredible innate energy, this incredible mythic density, built up over decades. They really are like petroleum—a bright eon of individual organic contributions all compressed into this powerful stuff that we can now burn for light, for entertainment, for money… How do you weigh the opportunity to work on an old titan like Superman against the opportunity to create something wholly new, and to potentially profit from that creation? Is it only sentimental or emotional value that draws an artist to the former—or is there more?… Maybe what we’re talking about here is the difference between being an entrepreneur and being a custodian. We tend to think of artists as entrepreneurs, right?—inventors, trailblazers, risk-takers. To make meaningful art is often simply to try something new.

Now before I start, I want to stipulate a few things. First, I want to take seriously Robin’s two primary arguments in his post:

  1. “I want to talk not about Superman’s universe, but our own—because I think this strategy says something interesting about creative economics today.” Let’s call this the explicit argument.
  2. Comic books themselves, as content, not just the strategies of their publishers and artists, have something to say about this. Let’s call this the implicit argument.

And I want to add a third point, that I’ll call the unconscious argument. It’s something I don’t think Robin necessarily intended, but which is entailed in the way he formulates the problem:

Everywhere in Robin’s post where he writes “artists,” you can substitute “journalists“—and probably many other nodes in creative economies, broadly construed.
Read more…
7 comments

It’s not the echo, it’s the chamber
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Eli Pariser’s op-ed in the New York Times, When the Internet Thinks It Knows You:

Democracy depends on the citizen’s ability to engage with multiple viewpoints; the Internet limits such engagement when it offers up only information that reflects your already established point of view. While it’s sometimes convenient to see only what you want to see, it’s critical at other times that you see things that you don’t.

The Times had run an earlier story on Pariser’s The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You. It takes the easiest possible reading of this idea, applying it to media choices and political disagreement:

If you want to test your own views on personalization, you could try a party trick Mr. Pariser demonstrated earlier this year during a talk at the TED conference: ask some friends to simultaneously search Google for a controversial term like gun control or abortion. Then compare results…

With television, people can limit their exposure to dissenting opinions simply by flipping the channel, to, say, Fox from MSNBC. And, of course, viewers are aware they’re actively choosing shows. The concern with personalization algorithms is that many consumers don’t understand, or may not even be aware of, the filtering methodology.

Reading Pariser’s op-ed, though, I got the sense that he’s not nearly as concerned about narrowing of opinions on the web as he is about the narrowing of interests.

“[I]f algorithms are taking over the editing function and determining what we see,” he writes, “we need to make sure they weigh variables beyond a narrow ‘relevance.’ They need to show us Afghanistan and Libya as well as Apple and Kanye.”

If you spend much time on the Internet, you know that there’s clearly no shortage of disagreement. But it’s more likely that you spend most of your time and energy disagreeing with people who care deeply about the same things about which you already care deeply.

You’ll argue about whether LeBron James or Derrick Rose should have won the MVP, whether or not Mitt Romney has a shot in the Iowa caucuses, or why Apple decided to pre-release information about the WWDC keynote.

We dive deeply into a range of pre-defined topics, tied to our professions, hobbies, needs, and histories, and sharpen our swords with opponents who do the same.

And on the margins, maybe that’s okay. Mass culture throws a whole lot of stuff at its audience that I, like you, have no intrinsic interest in. The time, energy, and cognitive surplus we once devoted to those things we used to consume only because “they were on” are all much better put to use tackling subjects we actually care about.

But it does mean that we’re often unaware of what’s happening in the next room, where there is frequently plenty of useful stuff that we could port into our own special areas of interest. We need to make sure we’re taking advantage of the web’s built-in ability to move laterally.

More to the point: those of us who produce and share content that other people read — and at this point, that’s almost all of us — need to trust that our readers are lateral movers too, and encourage them to do so.

I’m reminded of this blog post from last year, predicting the death of the niche blog and the rise of the lens blog. The lens blog can tackle any subject, but always from the point of view of a subset of enthusiasms or perspectives that find clever ways to find the same in the different, and vice versa.

Hyper-specialization, like information overload, is an old, old problem. But exactly for that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up as a potential problem with our new tools and new media, too.

In short, if you’re really worried about search engines or social media overfiltering what you see, worry less about your reading being one-sided and more about it being one-dimensional.

(For more smart takes on Pariser’s argument, see also Mat Ingram at GigaOm, Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing)

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War reporting is a craft
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The New York Times’ Lens blog is a gem, and it proves it again with this latest post, about photojournalist Bryan Denton’s experience in Libya. Okay, so, most of the post is written by C. J. Chivers, which is like cheating—Chivers is one of the ten best reporters in the world right now—but even so, the whole package is emblematic of what Lens has been able to do consistently: go deep, really deep, into the real craft of reporting.

Here’s one part that really struck me. This…

Denton: We departed from Benghazi on April 13 [aboard a Greek ferry that had been pressed into evacuation service]. The trip lasted about 16 hours. There was evidence of artillery impacts on some of the structures in the port, so we knew that the area had come under fire. The entire trip between disembarking and arriving at our safe house was probably an hour. As with other stories in the past, it was one of the more stressful periods, primarily because you are new on the ground and haven’t yet picked up on how things work yet. I often equate conflict with music and dancing. It takes a little while to figure out the rhythm. But once you do, you can start to dance.

…followed by this:

Denton: [C. J. Chivers] has been great to work with on this story because, as a former Marine with many years of war reporting under his belt, he has a great deal of experience and perspective on how battlefields work and shift.

In Misurata, a great deal of planning and thought went into each story before we reported it; finding out what exactly was happening at the locations we were planning to report from, how we were planning on moving there and how much time we wanted to spend on the ground. Misurata is not a place where you want to hang around on the street and wait for stuff to happen.

Whenever we were outside of the compound we were staying in, we were wearing full body armor, including eye protection. We carried personal medical kits, including tourniquets, in case one of us was wounded while reporting. We’d check with each other periodically, and when it was decided that both of us had what we needed for the story, we’d pull back to our safe house, and get to work on filing the day’s story.

I like the demystification there. War reporting isn’t some magical, macho art form; it’s a sequence of decisions that you make very, very carefully. Yes: courage is a prerequisite. But like most reporting, this is a craft. It’s something that can be learned. It’s something that a person can practice and get better at—under the tutelage, say, of a master like Chivers.

I really highly recommend the entire post: it’s at once totally harrowing—horrifying, really—and surprisingly cool, collected, cautious. This is the world of the war reporter. This is the world of the craftsman.

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I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to click it anymore
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This New York Times piece on Paddy Chayevsky’s archive is amazing. The NYT seems really way out ahead of the field in terms of presenting primary sources online; I mean, just look at this document viewer. It’s awesome.

Here’s a highlight: Chayevsky created an entire programming grid for UBS—the network in “Network”—with shows like “Lady Cop,” “Death Squad,” and the one-two punch of “Celebrity Canasta” and “Celebrity Mahjong.”

I so dearly wish this pilot existed:

In 1968, he started writing a pilot script for a comedic series he called “The Imposters” or “There’s No Business,” about subversives who infiltrate a television network and undermine it from within.

And finally, you can count on Aaron Sorkin for the kicker:

Sorkin, however, spoke for “Network” fans who respond to it as a devastating media-industry critique—one whose author never saw television devolve into a vast wasteland of reality programming and political partisanship, but who after 35 years is still shouting just as loudly about the dangers of crass, pandering content.

“If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week,” Mr. Sorkin said. “The commoditization of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write ‘The Internet.’ “

3 comments

Awl right
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This graf from The Awl‘s publisher David Cho really sums it up:

[...] it essentially comes down to the now standardized model that exists for how to build a large, behemoth, words-based content website. It’s sort of easy? Create a huge mountain of garbage statistics of audience and inventory, and then place a tablecloth of seemingly intelligent content to cover it like a veil.

“Words-based content website.” Yikes.

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Snark by Snarkwest: Unexpected Non-Fiction Storytelling
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Update: Dropped in the wrong embed code. I wondered why it was so quiet! Fixed.

Must not sleep. Must liveblog Ze Frank.

4 comments