"It may be hard to believe at the moment, but people once
defined the meaning of their lives by the stories they told one
David Denby, writing in The New Yorker magazine, lamented the lack
of coherent stories in contemporary, action-packed movies. I have
a similar complaint about the web. The web has content, it has material
that is repurposed, it has data but where are the stories?
Where are the stories that are being told in a new way appropriate
to this medium? In my opinion, the stories that are done in the
best, the most web-specific way, are not on the New York Times site
or Salon or Washingtonpost.com. The best job of story telling is
being done by ... Amazon.
Why Amazon? To understand, first we need to look at what we mean
by story. We're accustomed to the way stories are told in print
and in movies. We know the form and the vocabulary. In fact the
old-media story template can be boiled down pretty simply, as it
is in a New Yorker cartoon by Roz Chast. The four elements of a
story, she says, are: "Once upon a time. Suddenly. Luckily.
Happily ever after." Traditional story telling is all about
narrative arc and character development.
How is story telling different on the web? The web uses all the
tools of print, as well as those of video and audio. But it destroys
narrative arc, character development, continuity. On the web you
lose the strengths of "Once upon a time. Suddenly. Luckily.
Happily Ever After."
The web is not conducive to story telling as we know it. Which
is a shame. Because good story telling is transforming and it conveys
meaning. The web can offer a meaningful experience
just not in the traditional story-telling way. The web is really
about people, and people come to it with certain goals that they
want to satisfy. If you help them fulfill their goals, you will
create a meaningful experience.