Just got back from Toronto where I attended HASTAC2013 and had the chance to present a good chunk of my dissertation research and got a lot of good feedback. It was a really intense but productive weekend where I got to meet some very interesting colleagues, hear about amazing projects and even, surprisingly, find people who were into my own research! Thank you very much to all the organizers and participants for making it a great event!
I should also thank everybody that came to my presentation, and everybody that complimented my slides. I feel like I should say a bit about why I did them the way I did. More than making a statement on conventional softwares, the reason is I’ve been trying to give my presentations a more personal touch and a more organic sort of flow. The idea behind that is to use them both as aids to those attending the presentation but also aids for me to go along them more naturally. So for the past few months I have been experimenting with Paper and have managed a certain level of control over the handwriting and the drawing on the iPad. I especially like that the format is a small notebook and has really forced me to come up with concrete, to the point slides. Also, along the way I realized that it was weird that I was presenting the results of the empirical data in drawing, but went along with it just to be playful about the idea of visualization and representation. The really complex networks are definitely way beyond my level of proficiency on Paper. The one problem with Paper I had was that it does not allow to import other images into the notebook, so I had to export them into prezi instead and then put the slides together with the other images. The result, I thought was pretty neat, so I will probably try it a few other times during this Summer’s conference season.
Those following this blog from before will recognize much of what has been posted. For those just joining in, this might be a good introduction. I have tried to embed the slides into the post but failed miserably and time is pretty tight to go around twitching things here and there to make it work. So, instead, here is a link to the prezi that goes along with the text below.
Where is the Story? Textual and Social Network Analysis of Interstory
Interstory is characterized by one self-reflexive, interactive and immersive narrative delivered through different media platforms, and usually involving the ‘reading’ of different media. Because of the spreading out of the content, readers have a lot to do with the compilation, and in crowd-funded efforts the materialization – of the global narrative.
To understand a complex narrative and social phenomenon like this, I have explored Orsai a Spanish-Argentinian project deeply inserted in convergence media dynamics and truly benefitting from them as well. Through a very innovative distribution system including a currency of its own and print on demand, Orsai has reached not only the Spanish-speaking world but also the more ‘isolated’ Spanish-speaking communities around the globe.
The development of Orsai is also the narrative of Orsai. It started as Hernan Casciari’s personal blog in 2004, until 2010 when he associated with his life-long friend Christian Basilis to turn Orsai from a blog into a print literary-journalistic magazine. From here the project took the transmedia path morphing almost immediately into electronic Orsai in a variety of platforms: kindle, ipad and issuu, a publishing house and more interestingly a Bar. Through all of those changes the original blog, later on divided into three, remained a backstage where new developments, and media additions where narrated resulting in a highly self-referential and interlinked narrative. Through this period a large community was forming around the project – not necessarily interested in the magazine contents, but in Orsai as a story in itself. The reading community has made itself heard through the very simple yet powerful comments tool in the blogs and the web magazine. This has made the project quite successful and, impressively for such a grass-roots initiative, economically sustainable.
I have modeled this complex phenomenon in the following way: 5 media: print magazine, web magazine, 3 blogs amounting to a total 708 ‘pieces’ that include all articles, chronicles, short stories, blog posts, etc. published under the Orsai name. These texts have been written by 103 authors and have gathered the astounding amount of over 41 000 comments just in the period from 2010-2012. From the comments poured over the texts we have extracted a network of about 12 thousand readers many of whom not only comment on Orsai but arguably also buy any of the versions of the magazine and attend events at the bar. Arguably as well, many more visit the different sites.Using of all this data we have built a graph database following this schema where author writes piece, piece is published in medium, and reader comments on piece.
The textual graph has showed the centrality of the editors as authors as well as the centrality of the main project: Print Orsai, which nonetheless is surrounded by a heavy supporting textual apparatus responsible for eliciting the readers’ participation and, of course, economic contributions. From here, I have queried issues of authorship, genre, and readership to understand the narrative and social dynamics of the project.
In terms of authorship it has become clear that both editors, Casciari and Basilis have penned a large number of the pieces. This is expected of the blogs, of course, but it becomes significant when their pen is pretty ubiquitous in the print magazine, but not in the web magazine, which are supposed to be twin publications. We suggest that the reason for this is that many of the texts written by them are information about the magazine itself or promotional writings aimed at getting the readers’ appetite going. They are also the story of the project and, interestingly, heavily self referential.
Following Orsai’s own these texts have been marked as self-referential, including leaks about the magazine contents, profiles of featured authors and readers, editorials and two interesting textual additions of Orsai that keep its own narrative going ‘entradas’ and ‘sobremesas’. Using a ‘three-course meal’ as an analogy for Orsai reading, the editors include one ‘appetizer’, an introduction to an article; then a ‘main course’, the actual article; and finally a sort of ‘dessert’, a discussion of the article. These frame pieces are published in the print magazine but taken out of the web version arguably due to the presence of the blogs where much of this content is reiterated. Nevertheless, self-referential texts appear in all media and are the thread keeping the cohesion of the project by referring to each other. It is not insignificant that self-referential texts amount to over 30% of the whole published material in the two-year period.
The large amount of self-referential texts has proved more than effective not only in terms of keeping the project tight and alive, but also in terms of building a community that has made it their own and as such relate to and take care of it. Readers have poured over 41 000 comments constituting in total numbers 99% of all the items related to the project included in our database. Reader behavior follows, as it would be expected, a long tail pattern. Measures that have caught our attention are: only two readers have commented in 300 or more pieces, 10 have commented on 150 pieces, 50 have commented on 100 pieces; and 100 readers have commented on 25 texts. Contrary to my initial intuitions reader participation seems a lot more varied.
Comments vary widely, from a permanent competition to be the first to comment up to more serious discussions on digital publishing just to mention a couple. Word frequency analysis allowed us to see things that were expected, such as a very high level of direct mentions to Hernan Casciari, and much discussion of Orsai – whether it is referred to as orsai, revista, blog, bar, etc. in a very constant patter. And returned unexpected results such as a huge proliferation of “gracias” suggesting high levels of sociality in the readers’ network.
To wrap up some of the conclusions we have reached are.
Given that the global narrative is the story of the project itself, Orsai is sustained by the self-referential texts. They are the instances inviting larger reader participation and as a consequence of this are the ones receiving more comments. Self-referential texts are persuasive and keep the main project sustainable, that is, they are powerful marketing tools.
Interstories thus rely on their community to keep going, and since they have no huge media conglomerate pushing them, are vulnerable to community fluctuation. And lastly, because of the high levels of reader involvement an interstory like Orsai proposes a new kind of engagement oscillating between the purely narrative and the actual.