Social Media Narrative:
The Rutgers Camden Digital Studies Center
Facebook, November 16 - 21, 2016
Jay Bushman is Transmedia Producer and a staff writer for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the first YouTube-distributed series to win a Primetime Emmy Award (for Outstanding Achievement in Original Interactive Content). Jay has been a consultant, creative lead, and content strategist for Google, HBO, Disney, Bad Robot, Paramount, and Lucasfilm.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
Social media has been a major part of my storytelling toolbox since I first started using Twitter in 2007. I did one of the first Twitter novels, The Good Captain. But I soon found that social tools felt more effective when used to express strong character voices -- for dramatic storytelling rather than prose fiction. That approach has fueled my work ever since, through a variety of projects culminating in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern multiplatform adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that I worked on as Transmedia Producer and staff writer.
But we're not here to just toot our own horns, but to discuss issues in contemporary practice, and there's a major issue that I run into again and again, that I continually look for new ways to solve, and that I haven't cracked yet: replayability. For all of the immediacy and power of social media, these tools are all relentlessly realtime; they are optimized for the new, the now, the latest. They are extensions of the blog dynamic of reverse chronology, which is a problem if you are trying to tell linear stories like I usually do.
There are limited toolsets -- thank Zod for Storify -- that can help in some cases, but they are usually limited to small scale compilations, or to single platforms. They do not scale for multi-voiced, multi-format, multi-platform stories. For example, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries sprawled across 35 individual social accounts on a dozen platforms. Social platforms are already not great at helping you find something that happened last week, last month or last year, and its almost impossible to find an old story if the pieces of it are spread across multiple sites.
Our solution in that instance was to create an archival list of links in chronological order: http://www.pemberleydigital.com/the-lizzie-bennet-diaries/story-lbd/. This is barely functional, however, and provides a terrible audience experience for consuming the story. It also does not help with the handful of fictional websites we incorporated into the story; state changes throughout the story are not reflected by the final version of a website.
I should also add at this point that I am not a coder; I imagine it would be possible to custom-build an application to replay content of this type, but it is beyond my ability -- and the commercial projects I've worked on do not see the need to spend resources on this.
As an attempt to address this, I started a company a few years ago. The Horizon Factory aimed towards building an easy-to-use authoring system to compile multiple kinds of media -- video, audio, text, graphics, social and interactive -- into an mobile, tablet and/or SmartTV app that would serve as a single package, a sort of multiplatform version of a DVD box set. I'm sad to say that earlier this year we shut the company down, as we were unable to find the right investors.
I have to admit that I find myself moving away from social as a primary tool in my storytelling. Not only do replayability issues hamper the ability to find an audience, but the platforms are evolving to become more and more hostile towards these kinds of endeavors. Twitter, my first social media love, has become almost unusable in the past few years as they decided to focus on becoming a celebrity broadcasting tool. YouTube has become gamed towards their top-tier creators and make it almost impossible for new projects and entries to be discovered. Social media in general has become optimized for personalities over content, requiring continuing, never-ending streams of content to "build a brand." But I'm not interested in building brands or creating a never-ending stream of content -- I tell stories, and stories need endings. And endings are anathema to social platforms as currently constructed.
Transcript of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries conversation