Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Awesome new site called "historypin" allows users of all sorts -- libraries, archives, individuals, etc. -- to upload photos and pin them to a Google map, and then enter metadata like keywords, location, year taken, and the stories associated with that photo. Then anybody can search for photos, and compare them to how the location looks today in Google street view. You can also post video and even audio, which is pretty cool. Some major archival photo collections are already on board, like the New York Public Library. Check out some historypin's best content here. Also, it bears mentioning that the audio version of this is Broadcastr.com (currently in beta), where I have some audio content under the username InsideStoriesOnline.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Hot off the proverbial presses, the latest Inside Stories podcast. Listen on the player above, or subscribe to the podcast series here. This episode is a radio segment I produced for the arts and culture program Studio 360, about the recent Broadway revival of Larry Kramer's 1985 play "The Normal Heart." 

I happened to see the revival on opening night, which was a treat. In attendance was the biggest concentration of stars I'd ever encountered in person: Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Rose Perez, Gabriel Byrne, and film director Alejandro González Iñárritu. I also managed to crash the opening night party, with a ticket generously supplied to me by the show's star, Joe Mantello. Just goes to show, it doesn't hurt to ask. Well, if he were a less gracious person, maybe he'd have punched me in the nose, and it would have hurted to ask. But as it happened, he was very friendly. Thanks, Joe!

Anyway. The play takes place in the early 1980s, as activists organize against the burgeoning epidemic. The play is often polemical, but wow are the polemics excellent! I left the theater enraged all over again at how AIDS was ignored then (President Reagan famously did not even publicly utter the word "AIDS" until years into his tenure), and, to a lesser extent, how the battle against it is underfunded now. I got to wondering how this play was being received by young audiences today (especially those born after the original 1985 production), as compared to its reception in 1985, when it was first produced. So that's what the segment is about.

Studio 360 is a co-production of Public Radio International and WNYC Radio. Thanks to the show for permission to re-use the segment as a podcast episode, and for everything else. Thanks in particular to staffers David Krasnow and Josh Rogosin, and host Kurt Andersen.


Artist Jonathan Harris says he "makes projects that reimagine how humans relate to technology and to each other" -- and storytelling is a big part of that endeavor. (The above video, by Scott Thrift, is about a photo project the artist started upon turning 30.) 

In one of a couple TED talks he gave, Jonathan explains that he builds online tools to help large numbers of people tell their stories. One project, for example, pulls from millions of blogs to capture sentences that contain the words "I feel" or "I am feeling." Each sentence is then represented as a dot in a kind of ever-changing digital starfield; a dot's color indicates its emotional valence (the brighter the color, the happier the feeling) and its size reflects the length of the sentence. Users can click on any of the dots to call up the sentence and sometimes a related photo, and play with the source material in other ways, too.

Given how many people tell their stories online now, it's cool to see how Jonathan has represented some of them in the aggregate. I can't help but think about a possible next step in this kind of artwork. Jonathan has created visual representations of large numbers of stories. But would there be a way to actually create a story of large numbers of stories? I'm not so much thinking about an individual author who would craft a novel, say, from plot points that are contributed via a crowd-sourcing platform. Rather, an algorithm or some other automated system that spins one story out of many available online? Granted, the human hand would still be at work, as someone would have to create the algorithm; and granted, the resulting story might not make sense or work dramatically; but what are some ways we might create collective stories online?

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

The smart folks at IDEO.com assembled a few designers to consider "The Future of the Book." As they say in the written intro to the video, "The team looked at how digital and analog books currently are being read, shared and collected, as well as at trends, business models and consumer behavior within related fields. We identified three distinct opportunities—new narratives, social reading with richer context, and providing tools for critical thinking—and developed a design concept around each one." They're not discounting the satisfactions to be had from a regular old paper book, just imagining a few directions that the medium might take. 

I'm most intrigued by the concept they call "Coupland," which would allow users to easily share information about and discuss books in their social networks. The "Nelson" concept of providing references, fact-checking, and other "layers" of information could be useful for, say, the Bible, Shakespeare, or various nonfiction texts. I most bristled at the concept of "Alice," which would seem to turn literature into a choose-your-own-adventure story by making the experience more "participatory" and "non-linear." I suspect that such a platform could be used independently to tell fantastic game-like stories, but somehow I imagine it would distract from the experience of reading a book, rather than enhance it. Maybe I'm old-school, but I think the primary form of engagement in reading has less to do with gadgetry and more to do with the imagination.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


CREATIVE RE-WORKING OF OBAMA'S AUDIO-BOOK: Austin-based artist Dan Warren has taken the audio from President Obama's audio-book of "Dreams from My Father," and re-fashioned it into a 32-minute origin story called "Son of Strelka, Son of God," incorporating sound effects and electronic music. The whole audio-file can be downloaded for free from Warren's website, where he describes the story as telling "the story of an ugly dog-faced demigod who recreates the world after it is destroyed." So far, a couple of the chapters have been animated (by others, I believe) and put on YouTube. Chapter 1 is above. 

ALTERNATE REALITY GAMES FOR TV PROMOTION: Producers of Showtime's hit series "Dexter" have created an alternate reality game that put players into the shows of the show's murderous lead character -- they hope it'll drive up viewership. Read the story from SXSW, which also links to the audio of a full panel discussion on the game. 

TELLING STORIES UNDER INTERROGATION: Here's an interesting little quote from criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, perhaps most famous for his work for O.J. Simpson. "Anyone experienced in interrogation learns to recognize the difference between a man speaking from life and a man telling a story that he either has made up or has gotten from another person." That's from page 151 of his 1971 book, "The Defense Never Rests" (link to 1972 edition on Amazon). I've heard that people telling the truth about an event in their lives (e.g. under interrogation) can tell the story backwards with relatively little effort; but people who make up an alibi usually cannot tell the story backwards, unless they've really prepared.