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Book (Unpublished Manuscript)

Distributed Narratives

Extracting Design Methods from Nonlinear Narrative Formations

Fernando N. van der Vlist

Submitted: 11 May 2012; Revised: 12 November 2012; Accepted: 12 November 2012; Published online: 20 March 2013


This thesis proposes a concept of distributed narratives as a narrative form which is specific to the new-media ecology. As such, it advocates a multilayered approach to thinking about narrative structure as a dynamic formation. First, it proposes a theoretical framework, subdivided into layers, for understanding narrative as an encoded distributed formation. The first layer will identify the role of raw data, and examine how the formation of narrative is influenced by the way this data is stored in databases. The second layer, grounded in Russian formalism, will examine the literary concept of fabula, showing how the data is used and made accessible through narrative techniques. The third layer will then identify the notion of syuzhet, which entails exploring the dynamic role of the user, particularly in the processes of personalisation and accessing narratives. Second, by examining a fourth layer, the thesis shows how the principles of distributed narratives relate to the way these narratives are decoded. Because the decoding of distributed narratives is determined by the way in which these are encoded, the concepts developed in this thesis not only allow for narrative analysis, but also offer an array of proposals for designers to consider while developing appropriate design methods.


distributed narratives, design methodology, new media, medium specificity, network, emergence, adaptivity

distributed narratives
design methodology
new media
medium specificity

1. Introduction

All media as extensions of ourselves serve to provide new transforming vision and awareness.
— Marshall McLuhan (1964, 60)

In 1959, the British scientist and writer Charles Percy Snow presented his famous and controversial Rede Lecture at Cambridge University, in which he spoke with the authority of someone who had a foot on both sides of the split between the two cultures of science and the humanities. He argued that this split is characterised by: “Literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension – sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding”. The problem, according to Snow, thus lies in their mutual lack of understanding, which he states as follows: “They have a curious distorted image of each other. Their attitudes are so different that, even on the level of emotion, they can't find much common ground.”. When three years later, Frank Raymond Leavis, a literary critic and éminence grise of the Cambridge English faculty, gave his Richmond Lecture at Downing College (1962), the cultural split became even more visible. Fifty years after the lecture, Robert Whelan wrote about this extremely controversial Rede Lecture in From Two Cultures to No Culture: C. P. Snow's “Two Cultures” Lecture Fifty Years On (2009): “Leavis” lecture was so astonishingly vitriolic, seasoned with an almost toxic dose of the most vulgar ad hominem abuse, that, when I was an undergraduate in the English faculty ten years later, people were still talking about it in tones of shock and awe.” (7). Although this split may or may not be based on subjective preferences, it does show how deeply this conflict runs through our culture. The split should not be seen so much as a conflict of beliefs, between different views of the future, but should be understood rather as a conflict regarding the proper methods for working towards this unknown future. While scientists try to distance themselves from any emotional influence through the scientific method, literary intellectuals embrace this subjective influence as their essence. Snow then continues in his Rede Lecture: “There seems then to be no place where the cultures meet”. For years, Snow may have been right about this. But now that computer technologies are being used by both cultures in their own ways, these cultures are increasingly destined to overlap.

1.0.1. New-Media Ecologies

When trying to define new media, the first question that has to be dealt with is why we should call it “new media”, somehow suggesting an opposition to old media. When the printing press was invented, around 1440, was it also called “new media”? These are questions which must be addressed when attempting to define new media.

In New Media: An Introduction (2008) Terry Flew defines new media as: “the combination of the three Cs – computing and information technology (IT), communications networks, and digitised media and information content – arising out of another process beginning with a “C”, that of convergence” (2), which already points us to the characteristics of manipulability, networkability, compressibility and impartiality – all characteristics fundamental to any digital medium. Thus a second definition is proposed, in which new media is considered synonymous with digital media: “Digital media are forms of media content that combine and integrate data, text, sound, and images of all kinds, stored in digital formats; and are increasingly distributed through networks such as those based on broadband fibre-optic cables, satellites, and microwave transmission systems” (2–3). Not only is this definition of new media as digital media more specific, it also allows us to understand the radical line drawn between the old and the new media.

Historically, whenever a new “old medium” emerged, it stood isolated in its relation to other media. But when a new “new medium” emerges, it is connected to all other new media, as part of something that may be defined as a media ecology. New media is thus not a medium in the same sense as the old media: it should not be considered as just another option in the toolbox of media. Rather, it should be considered as a fundamental, paradigmatic change spanning all the former variations of media and stages of communication. This view shows why all new media are able to interconnect and overlap with other objects in their ecology, and why “old media” transform into new media when they become part of this ecology.

It is language that holds the media ecology together. In 2001, Lev Manovich listed the principles of this language in his book The Language of New Media: “Rather than focusing on familiar categories such as interactivity or hypermedia, I suggest a different list. This list reduces all principles of new media to five – numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability, and cultural transcoding” (20). This language is thus not necessarily digital, but rather consists of a set of rules defining a range of possibilities, which in turn together constitute a media ecology. By considering new media this way, we are liberated from the obligatory and constricting use of the term “digital”.

Now that the definition of new media has been loosened up a bit, we can better understand how other practitioners relate to this subject. For instance, N. Katherine Hayles wrote in her book My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts (2005), about new modes of thought between the human and the computer: “This larger vision of synergistic cooperation between consciousness and computer, language and code” (29). This synergistic relationship can only be fully understood as part of new-media developments when one does not think of new media as a strictly digital phenomenon, but rather as a set of conditions which have influenced their entire ecology, just as gravity influences life on our planet.

1.0.2. Distributed Narrative Formations

Distributed narratives should also be understood as resulting from such a set of conditions. A distributed narrative is not a form, but rather a formation, meaning that it is dynamic on all levels. It can never be viewed or experienced in its complete or entire state. Instead, it is distributed in small pieces, and is constantly updating itself. One example of such a distributed narrative is Encyclopædia Dramatica, a website launched on December 10, 2004 as a satirical variation on Wikipedia. The open wiki, which covered dramatic events on the Internet, quickly became infamous for its uncensored NSFW (“not suitable or safe for work”) type of content. It is thus similar to Wikipedia in that they are both open structures, promoting the participation of their users towards creating a collective source of knowledge. However, where Wikipedia endlessly edits its entries, the Encyclopædia Dramatica focuses instead on this very uncensored content. This has resulted in a very different type of wiki. Where Wikipedia strives to build a body of serious, politically correct knowledge, Encyclopædia Dramatica instead covers so-called lulz – basically laughter at someone else's expense. This includes current events related to Internet culture, such as Internet memes, mass organised pranks, trolling events or other types of criticism of conservative Internet communities. As the Encyclopædia Dramatica was thus essentially a critique of the objectivity and elitism of Wikipedia, it aimed to promote the influence of the (anonymous) individual user in taking part in the culture of the Web.

As of April 2011, the Encyclopædia Dramatica has been renamed and relocated as OhInternet. According to Andrew Baron, creator of Know Your Meme, the site has moved towards: “A more toned-down content style and a streamlined design” (Baron in Quigley 2011). OhInternet also considers the entire Internet worthy of documenting, which would include (mobile) applications, subcultures, events and memes.

1.1. On Method and Scope

The main aim of this research is to investigate distributed narrative formations in new media and their consequences on reading and design methods. New media require new design approaches, involving the characteristics of the media themselves. It is important for any designer to be aware of the contextual horizons within which he creates his designs. In this introduction, some of these horizons have been identified, and an example of distributed narrative has been introduced for future reference.

The chapters of this research thesis follow a bottom-up, layered structure. First, the means of creation and storage are discussed in light of the role of raw data. Second, the transmission from these means of creation and storage to the receiver is discussed in light of the narrative. Third, the way this transmission involves the reader through narrative is also discussed. Fourth, the consequences of all these developments on reading and design methods are taken into account. Once all these layers have been considered, we will conclude by summarising the properties of each layer as they can be identified within the introductory example of Encyclopædia Dramatica.

Although this research has been separated into chapters for purposes of clarity, the reader should not be misled into thinking that the subject of the research is not a united whole. The chapters should be considered as design layers, which are deeply intertwined, shaping and reshaping each other dynamically, constantly and endlessly.

2. The Layer of Data

Having “inventory” is a requirement for “invention.” Not only does this statement assume that one cannot create (“invent”) without a memory store (“inventory”) to invent from and with, but it also assumes that one's memory-store is effectively “inventoried,” that its matters are in readily-recovered “locations.”
— Mary Currathers (1998, 12)

Information technologies have changed our society from an industrial one into one that feeds on information. Information is collected in vast quantities by registering our daily activities such as financial transactions, Internet search behaviour, our travels, and so on. We have become quite the experts in collecting all this information. So can we say there is actually an information overload? According to Ian H. Witten, Allistair Moffat and Timothy C. Bell in their book Managing Gigabytes: Compressing and Indexing Documents and Images (1999) all this collecting results in what they describe as: “An overwhelming flood of reports, magazines, and newspapers; and dumped wholesale into filing cabinets, libraries and computers” (xxiii). While this statement leads us to believe that we are dealing with an information overload, the problem we are actually facing has much more to do with developing the right ways to interact with the new possibilities resulting from the so-called computer revolution. In order to explain this, we will first have to specify the processes on the levels of creation and storage of information in its raw form: the layer of raw data.

2.1. Traditional Storage and Retrieval

The amount of data describing the world is growing daily in size and rate of circulation. Most of it will fade away with time, but a selection of it will be kept in storage to ensure its continued existence. This is not the first time that society has struggled with finding the right form for passing on information from one generation to the next. The ways in which we have traditionally stored and distributed information have changed over time. Different contexts require different ways of organising information, making it retrievable for various purposes, and so that at least part of it can be passed on to future generations. This is always a selective process, and therefore every type of archive is unique in its aims and methods. Because of this difference in focus, we are able to distinguish between these institutions which store our cultural heritage.

2.1.1. Library

Although the word library comes from the Latin liber, which refers to the inner bark of a tree and thus implies the storage of paper books, the information scientists Arlene G. Taylor and Daniel N. Joudrey chose, in The Organization of Information (2009), to describe a library not by the type of objects it contains, but in a very basic sense, by its function: “Libraries are organised so that information can be retrieved” (11). Besides the fact that multiple types of informational objects may be stored in a library, this also means that these objects are organised in variable ways so that they may later be retrieved.

As collections grew, libraries became increasingly standardised throughout the twentieth century: for example, through the introduction of card catalogue indexing systems, which use a collection of surrogate records as an interface to a collection which may consist of duplicates and resources located in different libraries.

2.1.2. Archive

The process of archiving is different from that of a library. The main difference is that a library consists mainly of reproductions, while archives usually consist of unique and original items. Because of this, standardisation in this area was considered unnecessary and thus took longer to develop (Taylor and Joudrey 2009). According to Luciana Dutanti, archives started developing standards in their descriptive practices mainly during the twentieth century as a result of an increased use of archived material by the public (Dutanti 1993, 51). Archived materials started to play a role not only as artefacts of the past, but also as objects of research. These descriptions are therefore also affected by how much information the public expects to be documented.

The idea that scientists began to use archived material as objects of research is also closely related to the problem stated by Vannevar Bush in his famous essay “As We May Think” (1945). In this essay, Bush is concerned about the direction of scientific research towards destruction, rather than understanding. He then offers his solution in the concept of the memex, a machine that would function as a collective memory. This concept constitutes the origin of hypertext, and addresses a problem that rises from an anticipated overload of information.

2.1.3. Museum

The collection of a museum typically shares features of both the library and the archive, in that it stores unique, mainly visual artefacts such as paintings, photographs and prints, but also books and other objects. Taylor and Joudrey note that typically: “These collections traditionally have been organised for internal use only” (2009, 13). From this, we should note that – unlike the library or archive – the museum has never been a place where one would go to retrieve such artefacts; rather, its collection has always been used for internal purposes and to be exhibited in narrative contexts.

So far, we have only considered large archiving institutions, but these are not the only organisations we should be looking at. In his book Archiving Websites: General Considerations and Strategies (2005), Niels Brügger makes a distinction between two approaches for archiving digital resources: micro and macro. He describes micro-archiving as: “Archiving carried out on a small scale . . . by individuals . . . whose technical knowledge of archiving or of the subsequent treatment is either lacking or on an amateur level; on the basis of an immediate, here-and-now need to preserve an object of study” (11). In contrast, macro-archiving is “Carried out on a large scale . . . by institutions that have considerable . . . professional technical expertise at their disposal; in order to archive (part of) the (inter)national heritage” (12). With this distinction between micro and macro-archiving based on scale, expertise and resources, we can better understand the central role of archiving, particularly since the arrival of new media into our lives.

2.2. Properties of the Database

If anything, modern storage is all about the database. Its ubiquitous presence is demonstrated by the very word “database” appearing in all branches of society. But why? What makes databases so important that they sometimes even tend to replace complete archives or libraries? Before we can answer this question, we will first have to define what a database is.

Computer scientists Thomas M. Connoly and Carolyn E. Begg in their book Database Systems: A Practical Approach to Design, Implementation and Management (2010) define a database as a “Shared collection of logically related data and its description, designed to meet the information needs of an organization” (15). This definition covers the multiple key functions of a database. First of all, a database is a shared collection, meaning that it consists of items that can be accessed by more than one user or program, from different places at different times, and for different purposes. In this lies its “rawness” and multi-purpose usage. Second, this collection of data and its descriptions is logically related. A logically related data model is an abstract representation that is organised in terms of entities and relationships between these entities. These entities are the elements that constitute the whole and are therefore defined as distinct objects. An entity can be anything: a person, place, thing, concept or event. It is important to note here that an entity is always and necessarily unique, since a database (or any other retrieval technique) can never work on an ambiguous basis. The relations between the elements then come from the attributes assigned to the entities. In other words, they come from their descriptions. The attributes are usually called metadata: additional data which describes or specifies the actual data. The relations that hold the database together in its entirety can be structured and managed according to various models, the most common of which are: hierarchical, networked, relational or object-oriented (24–25).

So a database can logically connect entities through their attributes; therefore, the data contained in the database is logically related. But if these are the characteristics of a database, then in which way does a database differ from a traditional archive or library? Isn't it just the same thing with a different name?

2.2.1. Analogue/Digital

The first difference between an archive and a database is that the latter is able to represent endlessly smaller or larger entities. For instance, a database can in theory contain all the knowledge in the world; or, it can merely contain all the parts of some specific device. This distinction already points to the main difference, which is that the database suggests physicality. Ed Folsom writes about this distinction in his text “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archive” (2007), where he observes that: “Archive suggests physicality, idiosyncratic arrangement, partiality, while database suggests virtuality, endless ordering and reordering, and wholeness”. This suggestion is further confirmed by his statement that: “There will always be more physical information in an archive than in a database, just as there will always be more malleable and portable information in a database than in an archive”. Because an archived object is attributed with metadata – which in the case of a physical object may include a smell, a rough surface, the type of paper or inks used – then the changes undergone as a result of time, or any ritual processes which were used to create the object itself, become part of its history. Such analogue experiences of the object cannot be translated in a lossless way to a digital equivalent, and never will be, since the obvious distinctive properties of the digital medium constitute both its power and its limitation. Or, as Jerome McGann wrote in response to Folsom's distinction between the archive and the database: “The power of database – of digital instruments in general – rests in its ability to draw sharp, disambiguated distinctions” (2007, 1590). Thus, the power that lies in making clear distinctions not only enables computers to function properly, it is also the fundamental basis of our knowledge obtained through science: in both cases, we are able to use logic systematically. Because of this, both can be seen and used as an informational infrastructure.

This argument can thus be summarised by the fact that digital objects are fundamentally binary, based on clear either/or distinctions, thus also reducing reality to an interpretation. In contrast, an analogue object is submitted to the continuous flows of atomic processes resulting from reality itself. The digital is thus embedded in reality, and can therefore never become reality itself. This concept can only possibly be disproven by suggesting that the universe itself is somehow operating computationally.

2.3. Collecting Everything

The first aspect of the database, as we have discussed above, is defined in setting up its architecture – thereby enabling it to store data in the right manner. The next aspect, then, is the creation of the data to be stored.

People have always been collecting things for various reasons. In prehistoric times hunters and gatherers already went to find food, stones or sticks, so that these things could be used for specific purposes later on. Collecting was then a way of securing a resource, in order to have it at hand when it was needed. Today this is no different: we collect data – raw information – so that we can use it later, for purposes which are not always precisely known at the moment of creation. The collecting of data is therefore often pre-emptive, for instance in the case of security systems. This is particularly interesting, as it basically means that, while traditional archiving has always been focused on the past, this new kind of archiving done by the database is actually pointing towards the future. In his text “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression” (1995), Jacques Derrida wrote about archives and their relationship with the future when he stated that: “It is a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow. The archive: if we want to know what that will have meant, we will only know in times to come” (36). What Derrida is saying here relates to the responsibility of archiving in general, of enabling future generations to understand the lives of today so that they can build on this experience and avoid making the same mistakes we did. It allows progress to be more efficient. Since modern archives, like the Amsterdam City Archives, are usually government institutions, such ambitions have even become part of their day-to-day tasks. Their mission is to preserve not only highly valuable cultural artefacts, but also ordinary objects from everyday life. This concern with the future is thus the main reason for their existence; and this is also exactly how we should understand the database, and why we are busy storing everything we can in it – as if we were under the spell of some “archiving madness”.

Since archives and databases are primarily focused on preserving various aspects of everyday life, the preservation of the here-and-now becomes just as important as the task of preserving history and enabling the future. Therefore, the creation of information should also be considered from this perspective: as storing possible views on reality, or rather on the active reality, the here-and-now. For a designer, this offers possibilities for designing narratives based on real-time dynamics (e.g. game systems or open works), thus increasing interaction between user and design. The dynamics of interaction and real-time systems in relation to distributed narratives will be further discussed in the second and third chapters of this text.

2.3.1. The Myth of the Universal

Finding or creating the universal has been a dream of mankind since ancient times. It is, however, a problematic notion; it will always remain a myth. Whenever one believes to have created the universal – and this is not an uncommon claim – its mythical nature is implied.

In December 2004, Google announced its ambition to digitise and index all the books ever printed. Not long afterward, Jean-Noël Jeanneney – who was the director of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) at the time – wrote an extensive manifesto called Google and the Myth of Universal Knowledge: A View from Europe (2005) on the dangers and pitfalls involved in this “universal” ambition. While it is difficult to summarise his views in a few lines of text, the essential point he is making can be glimpsed in the following excerpt:

the issue is not just the whole work but also the cultural context and language in which the work was conceived, written, published, read, understood, and maintained. Information has many contexts and receives its full meaning within these contexts. How a search engine selects, organises, and presents information can destroy or invisibly distort the context. Complex cultural nuances are forced into molds and structures built by and appropriate to one dominant cultural perspective. (Wilson in Jeanneney, ix)

The key issue is thus the fact that the so-called universal is never really the universal, but rather the dominant. It is the use of aggressive force to make everything fit within a single dominant system.

Besides the quest for the universal, another motivation for this collecting madness was explained in a beautifully poetic way by Jorge Luis Borges, in his fictional text “On Exactitude in Science” (1946). Borges writes of a map that is as large as the territory it represents, which can be understood as an analogy of the paradoxical concept of an exact representation. The idea that a database – or any software for that matter – can be programmed on a sub-atomic level, becomes useless if one aims to completely represent something, since nothing can ever be fully described, as such a description would effectively have to duplicate whatever is being described.

The point I am trying to make here is that we should not aim to create the singular, the complete, or the ultimate, but rather enable multiplicity and plurality. This is exactly what databases allow us to do in various efficient ways, enabling possible viewpoints for considering the active reality around us.1

2.4. Tracing Biographies

Now that we have established why there is a general movement towards a collecting mania, we can consider how this collecting takes place. For this, we may use the distinction between micro and macro-archiving which we have established above.

2.4.1. Macro-Archiving

As the amount of data being entered into databases goes on increasing with no end in sight, the difficulty is not so much in how to create data, but rather how to generate such massive amounts of it. In general, programs and algorithms created specifically for this purpose do this kind of collecting automatically. However, recently we have been seeing more and more invisible collecting: and this is the kind that should make us cautious of our behaviour. Where we once saw cameras pointed at the entrance of a department store, through a screen typically placed right above this same entrance, we now can no longer see the cameras or the screens confirming their existence. A clear example of this trend is the personalisation of search results by Google: we never see it happening, nor is it made visibly explicit, but it's going on all the time. Andreas Pouros, the CEO of Greenlight2 was quoted in an article by Tony Bradley on the implications of this change, stating that: “One of the great benefits of the Internet was that it would allow for a multitude of sites to be presented to a user, broadening his/her horizons and forcing him/her to question their positions and beliefs. Search, philosophically at least, should accentuate that and not diminish it” (Pouros, qtd. in Bradley 2009). In other words, Pouros is concerned that the Internet is becoming a network of personal bubbles which are constantly reinforced as the user does more searching. Another concern here would be that of privacy.

2.4.2. Micro-Archiving

At the other end of the spectrum there is the archiving performed by individuals or small groups of individuals. In micro-archiving, the users themselves do the archiving, for instance in order to research a specific phenomenon on the Web, for which it is necessary to “freeze” information for as long as the research will take. This kind of archiving is already personal, and also does not necessarily require complex or automated methods. Thus there are no real privacy issues involved here. Examples of this kind of archiving include personal photo archives, or resources for research projects or music libraries, consisting of entities that may be stored using software such as Papers or iTunes.

2.5. Database as a New-Media Genre?

In The Language of New Media (2001), Lev Manovich attempts to define the role of the database. When he asks: “Why does new media favor the database form over others? . . . What is the relationship between the database and another form that has traditionally dominated human culture – narrative?” (218), he is already comparing the database and the narrative based on their significance in the media landscape. Since narratives have a much longer tradition, they have stood the test of time and have branched out into different genres. The database, however, does not have this extensive history and has therefore not yet been considered in the same way. Folsom fails to consider this, as he tries to define the database as a universal genre instead. Note that Folsom makes the exact same mistake discussed above, of trying to find the universal in the particular. This position puts him in an argument where he mourns the death of the very concept of genre, since the realisation of a universal genre would mean the death of the specific genre. The database as a cultural form thus has yet to evolve, before genres based on specific characteristics can develop here as well.

Manovich continues to compare database with narrative:

As a cultural form, the database represents the world as a list of items, and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events). Therefore, database and narrative are natural enemies. (225)

Comparing the traditional, pre-established, sequential narrative with the database thus necessarily results in conflict. This, however, only confirms the fact that the old and the new media indeed operate under different circumstances. The important realisation that the database cannot exist without its other half – the interface – thus confirms that the narrative has to be considered in new and different ways.

In this chapter we have examined the base-layer of the distributed narrative: the creation and storage of raw data. We have compared traditional methods of storage on one hand with databases on the other hand, and examined the motivations and methods of collecting, which we then used to explain the collecting madness we see happening all around us. Finally, we have looked at the database as a new-media genre, which led us to conclude that we now need to look further into the narrative layer of this distributed kind of narrative.

3. The Layer of Fabula

A modest number of rules applied again and again to a limited collection of objects leads to a variety, novelty, and surprise. One can describe all the rules, but not necessarily all the products of the rules – not the set of all whole numbers, not every sentence in a language, not all the organisms which may arise from evolution.
— Jeremy Campbell (1982, 127)

In the previous chapter we have considered the layer of creation and storage of information in the form of raw, unprepared data; up to this point, we have looked only at the creation of this data from the perspective of the database. To establish a useful metaphor which we can use throughout this chapter, we can define this as a first spatial dimension of distributed narratives.

In this second chapter, we shall now examine the second layer of distributed narratives, which connects these singular entities, thereby involving the second, third and fourth spatial dimensions. We will do this by considering these connections as narratives, drawing inspiration from the narrative in literature, sequential art, cinema and game theory. This way, we may try to answer the following questions: how can we look in different ways at narratives, so that they may continue to evolve in this new age of the database? Which characteristics can we discover which will allow us to assign genres that are specific, and not just universal? Which areas of knowledge can we draw inspiration from?

3.1. Defining Narrative

After Ferdinand de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics (1916) was published roughly one hundred years ago, narrative has been considered by many as a framework for structural linguistics. The elegant idea of analysing narratives as systems of signification led to all kinds of new ways of looking at this age-old technology. The narrative could now be considered as a network, extending its area of signification and meaning outside of its own territory. This new perspective, connected with the idea of intertextuality – a term which was first coined by Julia Kristeva in 1966 – leads to a framework of narrative analysis, which is closer to the current state of affairs than we may realise. Before developing this thought any further, however, the typical characteristics of narrative itself should be stated first.

3.1.1. Traditional Narrative

In order for a narrative to be identified as such, it must contain several key elements. These elements were listed by the literary theorist Joseph Hillis Miller, in his essay “Narrative” (1990). Miller states that there must first be an initial situation, which he describes as: “A sequence leading to a change or reversal of that situation, and a revelation made possible by the reversal of the situation” (77). The second key element he describes is that there must be some use of personification, “whereby the character is created out of signs – for example, the words on the page in a written narrative”. According to Miller, there can be no storytelling without personification. The last key element he identifies is the pattern or repetition of these key elements. His definition of narrative thus contains three key elements: the initial situation, the personification of the character, and the shape of the narrative through its patterns of repetition. These elements together constitute a formal, traditional definition. However, this definition leaves out the central role of the person reading or experiencing it. While this distinction may seem trivial at first, it changes the focus of the definition of narrative from a formal checklist of required elements to an experiential definition (Salen and Zimmerman, 2003). This change of focus not only allows the reading person to actually take part in establishing the narrative, thus making this narrative relative – it also broadens the definition so that it may be used to identify distributed narratives as components of new-media ecologies.

3.1.2. Fabula and Syuzhet

The idea of giving a central role to the reader of a narrative is not a new one. Russian literary critics Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp and Viktor Borisovich Shklovsky were the first to coin the terms fabula and syuzhet within this context.3 The fabula is the raw story, positioned in the layer of data. This is basically what we have discussed in the previous chapter, but from a narrative viewpoint. It is the unstructured dimension of entities, which needs its other half in order to visibly exist. This other half is the syuzhet: the way the story is structured, without yet implying at this point any specific narrative properties. The syuzhet depends fundamentally on the role of the person reading or experiencing the narrative, as it ultimately considers the act of reading or experiencing to be the creation of a chronological order. The narrative can therefore only exist visibly when it is interpreted.

So why is it important to make these distinctions? Kristeva's concept of intertextuality can be seen as a direct result of the earlier theoretical paradigm of structuralism, which – as stated previously – enabled practically everything to be analysed as a network of signification. The concept of intertextuality can be further distinguished by proposing that not only the direct network of signification should be taken into account, but also that this network itself should be considered in relation to the body of related texts. It suggests an endless universe of signification, affecting from one point in this universe the whole of the text through the relationships between the individual signs.

Considering intertextuality as part of the narrative, moves us from a one-dimensional view of narrative – which is sequential, usually visualised as a single line – to a four-dimensional view, visualised as a multiplicity of three-dimensional tesseracts. But how does this relate to the layer of the data which we established in the previous chapter, and the broader question of identifying new qualities of reading and design methods? One of the points we established was that a database consists of entities, which are necessarily unique. This uniqueness could be traced back to the binary code of computer language and was required so that entities could unambiguously be called upon. This uniqueness, however, is not reserved solely for the paradigm of databases, but is basically the same thing as what Jacques Derrida meant with his concept of différance4, which he described as: “The systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other. This spacing is the simultaneously active and passive (the a of différance indicates this indecision as concerns activity and passivity, that which cannot be governed by or distributed between the terms of this opposition) production of the intervals without which the “full” terms would not signify, would not function” (1967). Both différance, and the database require uniqueness as a fundamental structure, so that a network based on resemblance can exist between the separate entities.5

Thus we have now established a view of narrative which is no longer restrained by sequence, as is the classic Hollywood narrative for instance, nor by the formal definition of elements whose presence was required in traditional narratives. This different view considers the reader as the central vanishing point in the narrative, drawing the element of character development into reality, as an experience. The fabula of this new type of narrative is no longer necessarily preconceived, but is able to adapt to the ecology that surrounds it.

3.2. Hypertextual Fabula

Having established a framework for examining narratives, it is now possible to locate certain characteristics or techniques which can be used within these narratives, the first of which is the hypertext.

The term hypertext has been around for quite some time now. It was introduced by the IT sociolosopher6 Theodor (Ted) Holm Nelson in his famous article titled “A File Structure for the Complex, The Changing, And the Indeterminate” (1965), in which he defines hypertext as:

A body of written or pictorial material interconnected in such a complex way that it could not conveniently be presented or represented on paper. . . . Such a system could grow indefinitely, gradually including more and more of the world's written knowledge. However, its internal file structure would have to be built to accept growth, change and complex informational arrangements. (qtd. in Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 2003, 144)

The key elements of this concept are thus: a body of separate elements, which are interconnected, and can grow indefinitely. When reading this, one is immediately reminded of the concept of intertextuality, which shares the same key elements listed here. This suggests that something is missing in the definition: the fact that hypertext is necessarily visible in order for it to work, while intertextuality is a philosophical framework for considering metaphysical reality itself. This not only emphasises the importance of visibility in general, it also means that one could almost say that the Internet – which may be seen as a universe of the hypertextual – is the suggestion of intertextuality in its visible form. When this hypertextual network is thus considered as a fabula, we can find the syuzhet in the visible order or structure which this network adopts on the screen. This is where the user constantly has to make choices which are enforced by the interface itself.

All this may seem to suggest that the creation of this kind of narrative could become uncontrollable, and therefore impossible to construct. In order to disprove this idea, we shall examine some fundamental variables involved with this kind of fabula. At this point, we will not yet take into account shape and design variables.

3.2.1. Visibility and Order

The World Wide Web is nearly always considered to be non-hierarchical, since its nodes are decentralised. However, it can never be truly non-hierarchical. In order to understand this, the concept of order must first be defined. In his book Information Anxiety (1989), the graphic designer and (information) architect Richard Saul Wurman names five of the most common ways of organising information: location, alphabet, time, category and hierarchy – together forming LATCH. What these organising principles all have in common is the fact that they understand order as a way of sorting priorities, since any of these principles filter by the use of a specific rule which creates a certain sequence of priority. These principles can be found everywhere on the Internet, as anything that is visible – and this is where the interface makes its entrance – necessarily has an order in itself, which means that information presented to us is always ordered according to some prioritising principle. The role of the interface here is beautifully explained by Jerome McGann in a response to Ed Folsom:

No database can function without a user interface, and in the case of cultural materials the interface is an especially crucial element of these kinds of digital instruments. Interface embeds, implicitly and explicitly, many kinds of hierarchical and narrativised organizations. Indeed, the database – any database – represents an initial critical analysis of the content materials, and while its structure is not narrativised, it is severely constrained and organised. (2007, 1588)

Just as narratives mediate unstructured data, a particular structuring of any kind of information may embody meaning. The visual shape of knowledge representation systems illustrates this point: they are often visualised as trees. The meaning of each item in the tree is represented through its embedded position between the higher and lower branches of this tree.

3.2.2. Information Politics

This knowledge of the aggressive presence of order is essential, since it allows for a completely different perspective on the Internet, explored in particular by Web epistemologist Richard A. Rogers. In his book Information Politics on the Web (2004) he identifies specific principles which organise the information infrastructure of the Web, and which he uses to demonstrate that the Internet is not simply an endless collection of individual HTML pages, but rather a space of association. This way it becomes clear that the real meaning of the front-end Internet is not only found in the individual entities, but also in the relations connecting each of these entities. This is what we usually call “reading between the lines”.

3.2.3. Invisible Art

Reading between the lines is all about the invisible. Thus it is no coincidence that Scott McCloud's graphic novel Understanding Comics (1993) has a subtitle which reads as The Invisible Art. In this comic book about comics, McCloud explains how the space of a page can be used in comic art. He explains how the reader interprets meaning, showing how the blank areas in a story are filled in the gutters between the images, and he does this in an exceptionally compelling way. Comic art is not only the art of the invisible; it is also an art of using space. To understand this, we may again use the metaphor of spatial dimensions. The comic artist is the architect of a story, and this becomes instantly clear when looking at the work of comic artists such as Chris Ware or Tim Enthoven, who both use the page as a three-dimensional, or even four-dimensional space. These artists manage to transform the two-dimensional nature of the printed page into a space like a house, divided into various sub-chambers, all furnished for specific uses. This leads to a narrative formation that is not built up sequentially, but is divided into separate elements, all telling one aspect of the story – without a specific sequence – and together establishing a total that is more than the sum of its parts, because of its fundamental nonlinear structure.

3.3. Morphological Fabula

The second major characteristic or technique for the distributed narrative lies in its morphology. This characteristic shall be explained using the example of an annotated narrative.

Annotating a narrative is a very simple process: all one has to do is add notes or marks of some kind during the reading process, which will then enrich the source material with new information and perspectives. This is not a new concept. In times when narratives were transmitted orally, this process of annotation was applied when someone would retell a folktale he had learned previously. This example of the folktale is an interesting example: it was something exclusive, meaning that one had to learn it through membership. This resulted not only in specific folktales for each community, but also in different annotations.

3.3.1. Understanding Cultural Differences from Annotated Stories

Annotating a narrative can also be understood as an editorial process, in which specific parts are left out while others are given more attention. Imagine that these exclusive communities would repeat this kind of editorial process for generations; the result would be a tale enriched with so much cultural information that it might be used to explain certain tendencies within a culture. In his doctoral thesis “Learning Narrative Structures from Annotated Folktales” (2012), computer scientist and philosopher Mark Alan Finlayson appears to be thrilled by such an idea: “According to this hypothesis, folktales encode cultural information that includes, for example, the basic types of people (heroes, villains, princesses), the good and bad things that happen, or what constitutes heroic behaviour and its rewards” (13). For Finlayson, this question arose from his quest to understand the extent of cultural influences on cognition, as well as the cultural differences that are captured in stories. His research, which was based on fifteen different Russian folktales – previously collected and analysed by Propp – shows us how one can indeed find cultural characteristics in stories because of this annotative process.

Some other examples of this kind of fabula should be listed here as well. Consider for instance the Jewish Talmud, renowned for being heavily annotated. A single Aramaic/Hebrew page would typically require three English pages of translation. Another, more contemporary, example is the trend in geotagging photographs. As more and more pictures are being taken with mobile smartphones – which by now all feature GPS tracking – the annotation of a location to an image (or vice-versa) has become an interesting new meta tag. As a result of this trend, the photo-sharing website Flickr has introduced an image map on its website, showing images positioned on the map using their longitude and latitude metadata. A final interesting example comes from a particular scene in David Fincher's film Fight Club (1999), in which the apartment of the main character is shown at one point as a sequential catalogue of IKEA products. Here, one could recognise a distributed way of showcasing objects from the IKEA database. This is basically the same point made earlier in the first chapter of this text, when we showed that the museum presented certain parts of its collection in narrative ways as a result of informational needs which are different than those of archives or libraries for instance. The only difference is that this presentation is no longer the effort of the curator in the museum, but has shifted to the buyer at home.

3.3.2. Difference and Convergence

The kind of morphology involved in annotation is necessarily time-dependent – hence the word morphology. It needs time in order to be developed and to gain meaning. This specific kind of meaning is found not in any single version of a story evolving in time, but is a result of the comparison between two or more versions distributed on this timeline.

The principles of comparing by difference and convergence in order to extract this kind of hidden meaning, are best illustrated using an example. It should be noted, however, that this example focuses on the reading of narrative – which will be discussed in chapter four – rather than on its characteristics. The book Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences (2000), by Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star is an engaging analysis of informational infrastructures, and contains – among other things – multiple analyses of the infrastructure of medical classification: for example, their comparison of various stages in the evolution of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and death certificates, showing for instance a lack of knowledge on specific subjects, while other areas of knowledge seem to flourish.

3.4. Statistical Fabula

The third characteristic to be discussed is the statistical fabula. This particular kind of fabula focuses on the collection, organisation and interpretation of data in its primarily numerical representation. This is also the subject of the emerging fields of data visualisation and information design, which are currently quite popular as many designers and illustrators are suddenly interested in experimenting in this field. This trend of experimentation indicates that this is indeed something new, and something worth exploring. Designers are beginning to realise the potential of stored data for their designing methods, and the results they produce are often typical examples of statistical fabula.

3.4.1. One is Fact, Two is Story

So how can this kind of fabula be understood? And how can it be understood in relation to the previous chapter? The statistical fabula shows a resemblance with the morphological fabula, in that they both may observe a phenomenon or multiple phenomena over a period of time. However, while both these narratives may sometimes be read in the same way, they are not constructed in the same way. The statistical fabula, unlike the morphological fabula, does not necessarily need time as a parameter. Where the morphological fabula may observe the same phenomenon at different points in time, the statistical fabula may observe phenomena through general comparison. This allows for storytelling by means of contrast: here, narrative is the result of the difference between two different things. Though this may sound abstract at first, let us consider any relational database model, which could be envisioned as a collection of lists connected by threads. When a user calls upon this database to retrieve data, the database creates tables. These tables are then used to establish the relation between the attribute and the tuple, a process which may repeat itself endlessly from this point. What this example shows us is that the entity in its bare singularity is meaningless, unless it is related to another entity. Wiebke Lang interviewed graphic designer Niels Schrader for an article on trends in data visualisation published in PAGE, with the interesting title “One is Fact, Two is a Story” (2012). This title identifies the same aspect of contrast in statistical fabula.

This idea was also expressed by Jean-Noël Jeanneney: “History is always constructed by “temporal layering,” to borrow a term from Jacques Le Goff, in other words, by the superimposed rhythms of events whose intertwining describes each historical conjuncture and helps to define the scope of action to be taken by leaders and citizens” (2005, 88). So this gives us two main characteristics for this type of fabula. First, it finds its meaning in the relation between entities; and second, it is able to grow freely and move in any direction, both horizontal and vertical – the horizontal axis being its field of association, and the vertical being the number of steps of progression taken.

3.4.2. Statistical Narratives

Now that we can understand what a statistical fabula is, it is time to provide some examples of this kind of fabula. For the first example, we can look at the work of the medical statistician Hans Rosling, who has given several interesting conference talks on his statistical research. One of the striking examples he gives is the comparison of lung cancer statistics between men and women across the world. Using data from IARC (International Agency for research on Cancer), the statistics exposes gender differences within different cultures, but become even more interesting when a next dataset is brought into the equation. When statistics on cigarette smoking are compared with lung cancer, it becomes perfectly clear how much this deadly disease is caused by this bad habit. From this point, he then can explain the high levels of lung cancer in relation to economic wealth, as the ability to buy cigarettes is dependent also on financial factors.

Another compelling example would be the publication Making The Impossible Possible: The Dream of Flying/The Dream of Paradise (2006) by the media artist Claudia Weber and the information designer Gerlinde Schuller, in which the “dream of flying” is compared with the “dream of paradise”. The publication documents the unique accumulation of superlatives, and sheds light on two different business strategies which both attempt to realise these primordial dreams. The site for both these dreams is the same, in a small village near Berlin. This book uses the space created by the fold to oppose on each spread the strategies at various points in time.

3.5. Emergent Fabula

To understand the meaning of emergence, one could simply refer to the massive body of work by Stephen Wolfram, compiled in his publication A New Kind of Science (2002). In this seminal book, Wolfram explains how a simple set of rules applied to a limited set of objects in a system can lead to unpredictable and highly complex results. In this process, the complexity of the results increases as more steps of progression are calculated, which Wolfram illustrates using his visual examples of cellular automata. Computer scientist John Henry Holland also attempted to define emergence, in a publication of the same title, Emergence: From Chaos to Order (1998), writing that:

Emergence is above all a product of coupled, context-dependent interactions. Technically these interactions, and the resulting system, are nonlinear: the behaviour of the overall system cannot be obtained through summing the behaviours of its constituent parts. We can no more truly understand strategies in a board game by compiling statistics of the movements of its pieces than we can understand the behaviour of an ant colony in terms of averages. Under these conditions, the whole is indeed more than the sum of its parts. (121–122)

One of the important elements in this definition is that emergence results in something which is more than the sum of the parts – thereby also making a distinction between the whole and the part. So how does this work? Another point mentioned in the definition is the behaviour of an overall system. According to the game theorists Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, one possible definition of a system is: “[A] group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole” (2003, 50). This system then consists of objects, attributes, relationships and finally an environment. The first three of these elements we have already discussed in the first chapter of this text: they constitute the layer of data. The last element, however, is part of the layer of fabula.

One final element that must be introduced here is the way in which systems – and thus also their resultant environments – come into being. Since systems can only be systematic when they emerge from rules, we may again quote Salen and Zimmerman, who have formulated several properties of such rules in the context of game design, in their landmark publication Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (2003). They identify the following characteristics: “Rules limit player action; . . . Rules are explicit and unambiguous; . . . Rules are shared by all players; . . . Rules are binding; . . . Rules are repeatable” (121–124). As rules seem to have more to do with exclusion than with inclusion, it may be preferable to think of them as conditions rather than rules. This also helps to understand the initial point of trying to explain emergence as a form of fabula: it is the accumulated result of a simple set of conditions, which define the system or environment in which the process of emergence will take place. From this point, it may be best again to continue the explanation with examples, since explanations can only bring us so far.

3.5.1. Game Systems

A good example here would be the video game. The video game is a perfect example of an emergent narrative, as it is an artificially created system, which allows the user to operate freely within the conditions defined by the rules. The fact that nonlinear interaction is possible for the player, can only be the result of a system of rules. It can never be the result of a sequentially written text, and therein lies also the game's unpredictability, which is the fuel that drives emergence. Every choice made by the user results in an equal and opposite response by the system (note that this is also Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion). They are both dependent on each other, and because one side is always unpredictable, the results that emerge will be equally unpredictable, thus resulting in complexity.

3.5.2. Magnetic Spaces

Another case to be made here involves community membership distributed over space. In their book Mediapolis: Populaire Cultuur en de Stad, the architects Alex de Jong and Marc Schuilenburg wrote about sonische stedelijkheid, which may be translated as “sonic urbanism”. This idea explores, from an architectural point of view, the concepts of community and membership within a space consisting of various “flows”. De Jong and Schuilenburg argue that within the mediapolis, community exists as a result of shared experiences, of being “plugged in” to the same flows of information. This community is created by (social) networks, which are not built around physical locations, but rather cluster themselves based on shared interests or any other kind of common ground, such as pop music. In this example, the fabula is found not only in the magnetising effect of clustering related entities, but also in the emergence of these magnetic forces, which typically find their way into society as “pop-up” phenomena: anything from flash mobs to pop-up stores to viral media phenomena.7

In this chapter we have examined the layer of narrative, which we have split into two different aspects: fabula and syuzhet. We have then tried to frame some possible features of fabula in the context of a distributed narrative. While each of these features has been discussed individually, it should be noted that they can also be used or identified together.

4. The Layer of Personification

To adapt to a changing environment, the system needs a variety of stable states that is large enough to react to all perturbations but not so large as to make its evolution uncontrollably chaotic.
— Francis Heylighen (2001, 1)

In the previous chapter we have taken a closer look at the layer of narrative, which we split into fabula and syuzhet. The former was defined as the story in its raw existence, while the latter was defined as the way in which the story is sequentially structured – an act of structuring which takes place in the mind of the person reading the narrative. By providing examples of the typical functions of a distributed narrative, we have also shown its main differences with traditional storytelling. Although this has not yet been discussed explicitly, it is perhaps obvious at this point that narratives were traditionally created in advance, making the story a static entity. In contrast, the current functions of narrative can only be described as processes. This constitutes not only a fundamental difference between the book and the digital story – or the text and the e-text – but it also assumes a new position for the reader in relation to the fabula. We shall examine this position in the course of the present chapter.

4.1. Adaptive Syuzhet

On several occasions in this text the term reading was used to describe the cognitive function needed by the reader to grasp the meaning of the signs included in the narrative. While specific new modes of reading will be discussed in the fourth chapter, it should clarified at this point that the function of reading should rather be characterised as one of decoding. Where the term reading suggests a more or less passive involvement in the shaping of narrative (taking in a narrative), the term decoding suggests a more active involvement (analysing and understanding the construction of a narrative). Decoding is a form of translation, and can only exist as a result of its counterpart: encoding.

4.1.1. Encoding/Decoding

The British sociologist Stuart Hall considers encoding and decoding to be fundamental processes in the communicative exchange. The message has to be encoded by the source and then decoded by the receiver, resulting in a symbolic exchange. For this exchange to be meaningful, the message has to be decoded correctly by the receiver, implying that the message can only be considered as truly understood once it has produced the intended reactions in the audience. Decoding thus depends on a strategy of encoding, and the broadcaster adopts such a strategy when he makes assumptions about the audience before sending the message. Paradoxically, this means that the audience becomes both the source and the receiver of the message.

Using Hall's views on encoding and decoding, it also becomes easier to understand why they are both active processes, rather than passive ones. Encoding and decoding are not merely switches that can somehow always produce the same result. Rather, they are two different processes which come from two different poles and meet each other somewhere in the middle.

4.1.2. Transcoding

When considering the processes of encoding and decoding, the principle of transcoding arises in-between. Transcoding can be seen as the conversion from one code into another, bridging the process of encoding to that of decoding. Translating between languages is one example of transcoding. Philosopher and translator Walter Benjamin, in his essay “The Task of the Translator” (1923), wrote that: “The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original”, basically confirming that encoding and decoding are not lossless processes of transcoding, as they need to convert from one system into the other. Benjamin's personal solution for this problem was not to find some common ground from which the translation could be constructed – since there is no universal basis for language – but rather to produce an effect as close to the original as possible. This same strategy can also be applied to any other transcoding of information or media.

4.1.3. Disembodiment of Information

Transcodings between media – and the cross-media approaches we can find in many new-media projects – demonstrate that information is indeed increasingly disembodied, as N. Katherine Hayles writes in her book How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (1999). Hayles investigates the idea of embodiment in an information age, dividing her research into three interrelated stories, the first of which focuses on: “How information has lost its body, that is, how it came to be conceptualised as an entity separate from the material forms in which it is thought to be embedded” (2). The idea of disembodiment liberates information from its materiality, allowing it to become a flow within and between the subject and the environment. This notion then leads to her interpretation of the cultural and technical construction of the cyborg and finally the emergence of the posthuman. Since information has been freed from its material body, and can exist as a flow in an informational environment, the embodiment that has been lost must now be found elsewhere.

Embodiment has not disappeared in the way Hayles envisioned, nor has it stayed the same: rather, it had become distributed, much like all the other elements of this new kind of narrative which we are now investigating. This distribution can be found within the three elements of the encoding/decoding process as identified by Hall: framework of knowledge (personal identity), technical infrastructure (medium or devices needed to access the fabula) and relations of production (the sum or structure of social relationships needed to participate, e.g. the network administrator, Web developers, and so on). As these three factors together constitute the basis for encoding and decoding, we can now start to examine how the syuzhet uses these factors.

4.1.4. Adaptivity

Transcoding – enabled by the disembodiment of information – allows informational objects to be used for multiple purposes, at different times, and in different forms. Indirectly, it also allows encoding to be adaptive, meaning that information can be made to fit a specific use or situation. Or, in different words, encoding on an adaptive basis allows information to be decoded for multiple purposes or in different forms. This kind of adaptivity in syuzhet is typical of new-media narratives, as it is something that was not possible before.

Now that the position of syuzhet in relation to the practices of encoding and decoding has been established, we can examine the syuzhet more closely. In the following sections three dimensions of adaptive syuzhet shall be discussed: personalisation (biography), synchronisation (biography and space) and real-time (biography, space and time).

4.2. Personalised Syuzhet

The first form of adaptive syuzhet can be described as adapting to a person. This is what is commonly considered personalisation, or how specific information is prepared in order to “fit” better or to present content in a form that more effectively meets the needs of each individual person. The information for this process may result from a person's implicit behaviour, personal preferences, or explicitly given personal details. An interesting distinction can be made here between adaption and adaptability, the former being a system-driven personalisation or modification, and the latter being a user-driven personalisation or modification. Using this distinction some concrete properties and consequences of these kinds of adaptivity can be examined.

4.2.1. System-Driven Personalisation

When personalisation is system-driven it can be automatic, opening up the realm of back-end algorithms. This personalisation is the result of someone's implicit behaviour being registered over a period of time. The longer this period, the better the personalisation is considered to work, as it tries to “get in sync” with the behaviour of the user in order to suggest alternative options on an informed basis. This process requires behaviour to be observed, stored and interpreted, which raises privacy-related issues. A good example of such privacy issues is the AOL search data leak of August 4, 2006, where detailed search logs of over 650,000 users were released without their permission. Using the information thus released, users could now be identified through their searches. This example demonstrates the effectiveness of system-based personalisation, by showing how this kind of data can also lead to negative privacy-related issues. As a form of syuzhet this personalisation thus acts as an automatic filter, operating algorithmically, between the raw form of the fabula and the experience of the person ultimately decoding it.

4.2.2. Quantified Self

At a TED conference in Cannes (2010), the journalist Gary Wolf discussed the idea of the quantified self. In his talk, he encouraged people to consider social media, mobile devices and other technologies as windows for looking not only outside, but also inward: for reflecting on ourselves. This principle lies at the core of the quantified self, which is basically about self-knowledge in the form of data and statistics, using sensors that measure our heart rates, running distances, temperatures, and so on. While it is interesting to see that all this data is being collected for each individual in a personal, adaptive manner, it is even more interesting to note how technology is being turned back on ourselves, in a way that a traditional diary could not. Consider for instance the iPhone application iYou (2010), developed by Niels Schrader, Bert Kommerij, Michał Ejdys and Waag Society which collects and interprets an iPhone's unexposed data and makes the user's communication behaviour visible.

The principles used in quantified self projects are also used in game systems, as character development methods. Consider, for instance, the popular role-playing game series The Elder Scrolls, renowned for its highly customisable features. In this open-world game, the player can choose and customise his character at the beginning of the game: race, skin colour, hair colour, height, eye colour, and so on. He can also select talents and weaknesses. From that moment on, everything the player does is registered and adds to the skill-levels of the player's specific skills. The player thus develops individual skills, not through some general levelling system, but rather through continuous and repeated efforts invested into specific qualities. This particular example of quantified self contains not only system-driven aspects of personalisation, but also user-driven aspects, which will become clearer as the next dimension of personalised syuzhet will be discussed: user-driven personalisation.

4.2.3. User-Driven Personalisation

While system-driven personalisation is mainly automatic, user-driven personalisation is not. It is centred on the user itself, and therefore cannot be invisible in the way system-driven personalisation is. Because of this, it is a front-end phenomenon, rather than a back-end one.

So how does this particular kind of personalisation work, and how is it made visible? In Everyone is a Designer: In the Age of Social Media (2010), graphic designer Mieke Gerritzen and media theorist Geert Lovink described the template culture in which everyone has become a designer as a result of the democratised use of software and interfaces in general. One of their many statements is that: “The things we design end up designing us” (61), which points to the effect of template culture on culture and behaviour in general: the idea of “the templated mind”. Template culture is for everyone, and deeply influences the lives of its users. This is why it aims to repeatedly make everything easier and more accessible. The designer Hendrik-Jan Grievink traces this template culture back to the german typographer Jan Tschichold, who wrote The New Typography in 1929, distinguishing the old from the new typography as a result of a new objective in typographic design: to develop visible form out of function. This becomes clear when one realises that templates are typically designed as forms to be filled in, either in plain text or using pull-down menus. This is the type of interface typically found in communications between a database and a user, indicating – in a different form than game systems for instance – a general trend towards an aesthetic of functionality and database.

4.2.4. Template Culture

Template culture is a result of the broader interface culture which we are currently experiencing; it teaches us to use presets and pull-down menus in order to customise our digital lives. User-driven personalisation through customisation is also directly related to standardisation, since something can only be customised when it is already there. It may therefore be stated that customisation is an anti-reaction to standardisation, which in turn can be considered as the raw and necessary form of all computer systems. It also means that customisation follows these standards as well, which explains why templates typically look just like forms to be filled in.

Whenever one has to fill in a form of any kind, one is forced into a specific behaviour: to fill in the specific kind of information in a specific manner, at a specific place; or to choose from specific options. Often when filling out these kinds of forms, one of the options is some variation of “none of the above”, which exposes one of the limitations of such a system of personalisation: your personal preference is not always available. This kind of agglomeration is called torque and is defined by Bowker and Star as: “A twisting of time lines that pull at each other, and bend or twist both [user] biography and the process of metrication” (2000, 27). Without going too far into these matters, it is important to be aware of the pitfalls of customisation, and to realise that neither system-driven personalisation nor user-driven personalisation will ever lead to true personalisation.

4.3. Synchronous Syuzhet

The second factor of adaptive syuzhet can be characterised as adapting to the network ecology of the decoder. It is the result of how the other elements in the network affect the syuzhet, and is a bit like the idea of negative space: in order to understand an object, one must understand the space around it.

The reason for defining this adaptivity as synchronous may be explained by paraphrasing the mathematician Steven H. Strogatz, who wrote a book called Sync: How Order Emerges from Chaos in the Universe, Nature, And Daily Life (2003), in which he explains why he views the universe as consisting of synchronised cycles. He observes that when things keep happening simultaneously over a longer period of time, the observed synchrony is probably not a coincidence. With this observation in mind, he explores the mysterious form of mass synchrony which he finds in the behaviour of fireflies. In his words: “Synchronous fireflies not only flash in unison – they flash in rhythm, at a constant tempo. Even when isolated from one another, they still keep to a steady beat” (12). Fireflies somehow manage to organise themselves; they do not require a central node like an orchestral conductor in order to manage the synchrony between the players. Rather, fireflies individually send light signals to which the rest of the swarm will directly adapt. This process is decentralised and repetitive.

This analogy of fireflies makes it easier to imagine the concept in relation to a synchronous syuzhet, since both manage to actively influence the whole through the actions of one. This kind of adaptivity can be observed for example in the inner workings of collaborative filtering.

4.3.1. Collaborative Filtering

Collaborative filtering is a method of making automatic predictions about someone's interests by collecting data about their behaviour. This is basically the same process described above as system-based personalisation. However, it is now perceived in a different manner, not as a method of personalisation, but as a collaborative process.

The process of collaborative filtering requires the active participation of a user, and compares the results of this participation with the results of other users. Examples of this process can be found in the recommendation systems used by online stores like Amazon or other collection-based websites like the Internet Movie Database, or in applications like the iTunes Genius feature. These websites or applications recommend other related items to users, selecting these items based on their rating value. This rating process typically requires the users” active participation. This process may thus differ from system-based personalisation in the sense that collaborative filtering can be a visible and active process that is informed by others in the network, while system-based personalisation does not require this.

4.3.2. Open Design Methods

A second interpretation of synchronous syuzhet can be found in open design methods. Open design is a movement resembling the earlier open-source movements, aiming to make products free and open for collaborative development. But what does this imply for the syuzhet? Why is it synchronous?

The publication Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive (2011) contains a series of articles on the subject, including one written by the media theorist Deanna M. Herst and titled “Form Follows User”. In this article Herst observes the changing role of the designer, from a creator of finished products to a developer of frameworks or open works, such as Wikipedia. According to Herst, this paradigm shift questions the traditional notion of artistic authorship, since authorship has now become a shared responsibility: co-creation. In her example of Wikipedia as an open work, the synchrony becomes visible, as it becomes clear that all participating designers are encouraged to complete the form or product (220–221). Open design methods thus encourage channelling behaviour towards a certain specific goal, much like collaborative game systems – such as World of Warcraft – attempt to do. Within this mindset, one could also recognise social phenomena like the “Twitter Revolution” – leading to the Arab Spring – in this context, as this too had a synchronising, magnetic effect spanning over time and space between its supporters.

4.4. Real-Time Syuzhet

The order in which the aspects of adaptive syuzhet have been discussed was accumulative: the personalised syuzhet was about biography, and the synchronous syuzhet was about biography and space. The following aspect now accumulates the factors of biography, space and time.

4.4.1. Real-Time

To explain the relationship between space, time and biography within the concept of real-time, the work of the cultural theorist and urbanist Paul Virilio can be considered. In his text “Paul Virilio: The Politics of Real-Time” (2003), the political scientist David Cook discusses Virilio's understanding of the speed and power of technology. According to Virilio we now live in a real-time world, in which the speed of life is equal to the speed of light. Virilio also recognises the power that lies in speed, as he observes that that which moves quicker comes to dominate that which moves slower. In a time of virtual globalisation this concept of power by speed of circulation becomes increasingly relevant.

As stated above, the speed of life becomes the speed of light, which deeply affects the lives of people around the world.Real-time is a mode of speed, not a unit of time. It is no longer about following up on things that happened: rather, it becomes more and more crucial to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of the virtual. Traditionally, narratives were constant: they were printed on paper, bound with thread between two covers; in a certain sense, they were immortalised by the medium. While the storage of data in itself is still immortalised by the medium in roughly the same way, the narratives of our time must constantly adapt to the pace of real-time virtual life. Because of this, narratives become temporary instead of permanent, and the notions of memory and forgetting come into play at almost the same moment as the syuzhet comes into existence.

The following two examples, by comparing the narrative's traditional and current forms, aim to clarify how real-time adaptivity has changed the mechanics of narrative.

4.4.2. Journalistic Narrative

Journalism is generally described as the investigating and reporting of events, issues and trends to an audience. It typically aims to do this as objectively and as quickly as possible. The speed of journalism has traditionally been defined mainly by the speed of the daily printing deadline of newspapers. Now that this speed of publication has changed from a daily pace to an instantaneous one, the effects on journalism are obvious. The change journalism has undergone becomes clear when one realises that breaking news, the kind of news with the highest priority, has the power to interrupt any program on television, even something as popular as a Super Bowl championship. It also becomes visible in a new type of journalistic story, published in newspapers such as the Dutch NRC Handelsblad. In the case of events that are still developing, the newspaper sometimes chooses to report the events in the form of a live timeline. Not only does this demonstrate the journalistic urge to post a “story” as soon as possible, it also exposes the restructuring of the article itself. The textual structure of this kind of article has become shorter, and is structured chronologically, rather than by argument. The same – but unfiltered – approach can be found in live news coverage: the order (structuring) of the content exposes its priority. What all these new trends in journalism have in common is that they attempt to adapt the narrative to the pace of real-time.

4.4.3. Biographical Narrative

The second example is that of the biography. Traditionally, a biography was a selection of material that could outlast the archive. If the archive burned to the ground, the archive's documents were permanently gone and so was part of the biography. Also, in an archive, documents tend to regularly get lost, stolen or otherwise removed.

The database, on the other hand, preserves everything – or at least it aims to. Digital documents are stored at several locations, and if they are somehow lost there is usually another copy somewhere. Also, as discussed in the first chapter, databases trace most of our daily events and transactions, building up huge collections of biographical data. The main difference here thus seems to be that, where the archive required effort to obtain and keep material, the database does so quite effortlessly.

Also, the type of information is different: the traditional biography contains mainly written official documents, while the database contains data generated by search engines or social networking platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. This difference in type of information becomes beautifully clear by considering the role of gossip. Gossip is a typically real-time type of narrative, as it loses its value as soon as it is outdated – or not talked about anymore. Therein lies also the power and influence of gossip, in politics for instance: gossip's power lies in its unique speed of circulation, thus prevailing over slower-circulating information.

The observation that gossip can only hold power as long as it stays ahead of the threshold of the past, points to another important time-based factor in syuzhet: the concept of memory.

4.4.4. Narrative and Memory

The analogy of human memory as an apparatus of remembering is a useful one, since it instantly enables us to relate to it and compare it with its opposite: forgetting. Forgetting, in terms of media, is not only an inescapable fate; it can also become a strategy, which can be defined as the concept of erasure. Erasure can become a strategy when, for instance, an institution wishes to change its identity, or somehow to start over with something. An interesting example illustrating this phenomenon on a small scale is the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine (2009), which is a web-based service that enables users to commit “social network suicide” by removing their online content and friend relationships.

Another motivation for erasing a narrative may be a denial of some kind, for instance in the case of Holocaust denial, censorship of specific and reserved knowledge, or the Chinese Book Burning in 213 B.C., which was an attempt by the Qin dynasty to burn all Confucian books and have Confucian followers persecuted. In doing this, they may have hoped to erase certain elements of culture – such as religious or political ideas – from the collective memory of the Chinese people. Both these strategies of erasure can be seen as attempts to somehow take control of the immortalising effects of time on (digital) data as well as the narratives that emerge from them.

This third chapter focused on the syuzhet of a story. By discussing the influential factors of the syuzhet, it became clear how the somewhat formally encoded layers of data and raw fabula connect to their decoders. Now that this third piece of the puzzle has been described, and that the elements at play in the encoding of a distributed narrative have thus established, we can move on to view the ways in which the narrative is then decoded. Only when we understand how a distributed narrative can be encoded and decoded, will we be able to effectively develop ways of designing for this new narrative paradigm.

5. The Layer of Interpretation

For some time sociologists of technology have argued that when technologists define the characteristics of their objects, they necessarily make hypotheses about the entities that make up the world into which the object is to be inserted.
— Madeleine Akrich (1992, 207)

The previous chapters of this text have all focused on the encoding side of the story. The first and second chapter discussed the layers of database and fabula, establishing the basic foundation for distributed narratives. The third chapter then discussed, in the context of this basic foundation, how to bridge the gap between the decoding and encoding processes. This brings us to the final part of this argument, in which the decoding process will be considered in relation to the encoding process.

As previously established, the decoding process arises from three basic factors: first, the framework of knowledge (which was about personal identity); second, the technical infrastructure (which was about the medium or devices needed to access the fabula and database); and third, the relationships of production (the sum or structure of social relationships required to participate). These factors act as parameters of a syuzhet, and therefore take part in the constitution of the distributed narrative. The first of these factors is incorporated into the distributed narrative mostly by the use of personalised syuzhet, the second by its medium – enabling real-time syuzhet – and the third by use of synchronous syuzhet.

Now that the basic conditions of encoding and decoding distributed narratives have been established, we can examine specific forms of decoding. What forms of decoding can we derive from our conclusions? How does this relate to the changing profession of a designer? This fourth chapter aims to inform the reader (without going into explicit instructions on design methods resulting from distributed narratives) about the specific experiences of the decoder following from the encoding of distributed narratives.

In order to describe how the notion of encoding is related to that of decoding, I have chosen to use the metaphor of resonance, rather than discussing this relationship in terms of consequences or effects. Resonance indicates both direct and indirect consequences which ultimately return to affect the source as well, rather than a mere unidirectional causality. On the one hand, resonance implies an echoing effect: when something is happening on the encoding side, the decoding and design are both affected as a result of that. On the other hand it also implies a distributed effect: a loud sound in a mountain landscape may result in multiple echoes, returning to the source as slightly altered sounds from different angles and at different moments in time.

5.1. Technology and Society

In the publication The Medium is the Massage (1967), Marshall McLuhan and Quintin Fiore argued that the environment which we create, becomes the medium for defining our role within this environment, stating that: “the invention of type created linear, or sequential, thought, separating thought from action” (2008, 156–157). This view of technology, as being capable of directly influencing human behaviour, is part of a broader theoretical framework. Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law explore this broader framework in their book Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change (1992), collecting twelve essays focusing on the central question of how technologies become “stabilised”: that is, how they attain a final form and use which becomes generally accepted. Bijker and Law write that technology does not just appear out of nowhere, but that: “It is born of the social, the economic, and the technical relations that are already in place. A product of the existing structure of opportunities and constraints, it extends, shapes, reworks, or reproduces that structure in ways that are more or less unpredictable” (11). In the same way, it also reflects back upon its users, changing their behaviours. In their introduction, Bijker and Law reflect on the essays written by their contributors, and observe different approaches to understanding sociotechnical change. One of these is the actor-network approach, which holds that: “The elements bound together in networks are, at the same time, constituted and shaped in those networks” (13). Here, they also note that the backdrop of social, economic, or technical factors is itself created in the course of building the network. This specific approach makes clear that technology and society do not evolve along isolated paths, but are a in constant interaction with each other. Considering the theoretical framework described in this book, it may thus be concluded that technology and society indeed constantly influence and change each other.

With this in mind, we can better understand what McLuhan and Fiore meant when they wrote that:

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments. (2008, 26)

McLuhan and Fiore attempted to define the medium through its position in the network of social, economic and technical factors, a perspective which led them to observe how the invention of type led to linear thinking. Following the same perspective, we should now also be able to understand how current technologies influence our modes of reading.

5.1.1. Positioning Design

In “The De-Scription of Technical Objects” (1992) Madeleine Akrich describes the role of the innovator. Her argument is that designers – which she also calls innovators – essentially aim to create scripts or scenarios for specific developments to take place. She writes that: “Designers define actors with specific tastes, competences, motives, aspirations, political prejudices, and the rest, and they assume that morality, technology, science, and economy will evolve in particular ways. A large part of the work of innovators is that of “inscribing” this vision of (or prediction about) the world in the technical content of the new object” (208). Though her view on the design profession is quite broad, it helps to understand the complex relationship between design and technology as one of intention or strategy, rather than one of production.

The technological developments of distributed narratives on the side of encoding show some degree of resonance on the side of decoding. If, as McLuhan and Fiore stated, movable type indeed created sequential thought, separating thought from action, then one might also say that new media and the computerised society have led to the introduction of distributed thought, distributing the factors involved in encoding and decoding into an endless array of narrative parameters. As a result, multiple factors must be taken into account in considering new modes of reading: not only the factors involved in encoding, but also those related to medium and device. Then, once their resonance on the side of decoding has been established, design strategies – scripting methods – may be developed.

5.2. Accessing Narrative

Access to distributed narratives is a key to both decoding and participating in them. Accessibility is defined on Wikipedia as: “A general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the ability to access and possible benefit of some system or entity”. While this may perfectly describe accessibility in terms of availability, it leaves out the important aspect of participation. Accessibility is more than access alone, it is also the degree to which someone can have influence on a product, device, service or environment. This means that two sides of accessibility can be considered: availability and participation.

5.2.1. Availability

In the context of distributed narratives, availability can be found in the devices of access. As a result of the disembodiment of information as described by N. Katherine Hayles, narratives no longer necessarily exist in the form of physical objects. Because of this, one no longer has to travel in order to get a specific document. Instead, it may be accessed through a device. Unlike copies of the same book, narratives on devices never show the same result twice (as explained in earlier chapters of this text). This distinction arises from the way in which the text itself is presented. A book can be seen as a frozen state of thought: it has been written down and immortalised, that is to say, it will not change significantly. On the other hand, a text accessed through a device is remade – or refreshed – every time it is accessed, as it is fundamentally a process instead of a frozen state in time. Each device or software used to access, deals with the steps in this process in a slightly different way. For instance, the way in which Web browsers process DIVs may sometimes result in completely different layouts; or the screen size and data limits on a smartphone mean that websites need to be designed in an entirely different way, preferably making the chunks of information as small as possible. It is also exactly this process-based nature which enables concepts such as adaptivity to be used in narratives.

5.2.2. Participation

One of the types of adaptivity which was identified previously was the synchronous syuzhet, examples of which were collaborative filtering and open design methods. In these methods, the participation of the individual becomes a central element in the creation of a work. This is an excellent example of how participation and access are Backlinksgether, as access in these cases is not only the degree to which one can view a certain document, but becomes the ability to actually participate and influence its constitution – thus pointing the creation process in a specific direction. Open-source movements in particular recognise this view on accessibility: their philosophy is specifically based on this principle. By making source code available, they enable access to an end product's design and implementation, allowing it to be revised over and over again. This kind of access requires active participation and responsibility for the quality of the product. At the same time, from the perspective of the designer, it asks for an open-minded attitude towards a process-based type of work, rather than a completed work.

5.3. Resonance of Encoding

All of the characteristics of the encoding of distributed narratives that have been identified and discussed up to this point, show some degree of resonance in the decoding process. In our previous examination of new types of fabula, four different types were identified: the hypertextual fabula, the morphological fabula, the statistical fabula, and the emergent fabula. Then, in describing the layer of personification, three types of adaptive syuzhet were identified. These were the personalised syuzhet, the synchronous syuzhet and the real-time syuzhet. Finally, the role of accessibility was considered within this context. As we shall see, this requires new qualities of decoding that can be expressed here in the active form of verbs (thus once again highlighting the process-based nature of decoding):

Analysing: This quality can be observed most clearly in the emergent fabula. It is the ability to figure out the inner workings of a system in order to strategically navigate through it. As we have established that systems work according to rules or conditions, this quality is a matter of figuring out these rules or conditions, so that one can strategically make use of them.

Choosing: Narrative is distributed, and the dots need to be connected by a decoder. Especially in the hypertextual fabula, this constantly requires that one choose which way to go. Since choice is inherent to a distributed narrative, this is an important quality to develop.

Comparing: Particularly in the morphological and statistical fabulas, the quality of comparison is essential. Comparison allows one to draw conclusions from the combinations of dots presented in the distributed narrative.

Connecting: First and foremost, the distributed narrative itself is scattered and non-linear, and thus needs to be connected by the decoder.

Customising: The templated mind is a consequence of customisation through templates. Not only does this quality require template-based thinking, it also requires one to develop an awareness of one's identity, and how this personal identity then transcodes into the template.

Dérive: Dérive is a French situationist concept developed by Guy Debord in which one chooses to: “Enter a mode of experimental behaviour in which one rapidly passes through varied ambiances” (qtd. in Knabb 2006), allowing oneself to be guided by the unconscious. It can be roughly translated in English as drifting.

Participating: Synchronous syuzhet requires one's active participation in the constitution of the distributed narrative. It is a shared responsibility towards the narrative and its implementation in reality.

Repeating: Recursion happens when something is repeated in a self-similar way over and over again. It is the endless thread of choices that is made in a hypertextual fabula, or the endless thread of comparisons that is made in a morphological or statistical fabula. Recursion is also about infinity, implying the principle of never-ending narratives. These narratives have no beginning and no end, only a point of entry.

Role-Playing: The central role of the device in encoding and decoding distributed narratives results in an experience of events which increasingly takes place from a third-person perspective. For instance, one looks at an event through a camera; or, in the case of quantified self, one looks at oneself through data. Looking at something from a third-person perspective creates distance between reality and experience. It also requires one to adapt between different character roles: for example, assuming the role of a tourist or a journalist while filming with a camera.

Scanning: The change from reading to scanning is the result of the speed of distributed narratives. Reading has become increasingly selective – we scan for key words – and things are usually not read more than once.

Strategising: In a distributed narrative, the decoder connects the scattered entities that are the fabula. This requires that the decoder either strategises or chooses to wander.

Sustaining: The speed of the distributed narrative is the speed of real time. In order to keep up, the speed of decoding has to be equal to the speed of encoding. Keep up or be left out. This is the only formula to deal with the impermanence of distributed narratives.

Targeting: Living inside the realm of connected databases. Because of the permanence of memory in distributed narratives, one should be aware of the possibility that personal data can be made public, and can be used as part of a narrative. Therefore, one must develop abilities for browsing and filtering through this memory in order to find specific bits of it.

Tracing: In the emergent type of fabula, magnetism was identified as a typical cause of emerging fabula. Magnetism works as a force, pulling everything that is sensitive to its rules towards a central point. Decoding, then, becomes the act of allowing this process to take place. It becomes the quality of not resisting such narrative forces, so that one may trace their emerging effects along the way.

While this list does provide an overview of many new decoding qualities, it is by no means complete. The search for these new qualities is an exploration which is also being pursued by many others. The publication I Read Where I Am: Exploring New Information Cultures (2011) is an example of such an exploration, compiling eighty-two reflections on future forms of reading. These reflections are written by people from various backgrounds and thus offer a broad range of perspectives on future forms of reading. These perspectives, however, are not specifically developed from the same basis of distributed narratives which was explored in this text. Now that the resonance of encoding has been considered, as well as new qualities of decoding, we may move on to consider the resonance of decoding on design.

5.4. Resonance of Decoding

Just as the resonance of encoding has consequences for the process of decoding, the resonance of decoding has consequences for the design and implementation of distributed narratives. Since design is a very broad and multi-faceted profession – aiming to accomplish endlessly varied goals – it is impossible to pin down specific instructions for a perfect design strategy. It is, however, possible to give an indication of specific methods or qualities that follow from the characteristics of distributed narratives. These methods or qualities can then be used as strategies for effectively dealing with resulting specific complications. Just as we previously did with the qualities of decoding, we can list these methods or qualities of designing.

Coordinative Design Methods: At the core of designing distributed narratives lies the coordination. Coordination is necessary in order to strategise reaching a specific goal, since all design is necessarily process-based. As noted earlier, distribution also produces scattered bits which are then somehow brought together through the actions of the decoder. These scattered bits are typically small: not complete bodies of literature, but rather anecdotal pieces of data. The coordination that then follows is all about connecting and linking these bits. This is also where complexity becomes an important factor. Complexity is the inevitable result of a distributed narrative, a consequence of its recursive nature: the distributed narrative is complex because of the relations between the individual bits.

Data Methods: In the first and second chapters of this text, the role of data in a distributed narrative was discussed. Stored data is ubiquitous, and thus offers much potential for research or design methods. Data mining and the use of software tools are becoming increasingly important as methods of inventory on specific subjects. Also, the data itself increasingly becomes the focus of a specific work; these are the areas of information design and data visualisation.

Information Architecture: The field of information architecture has been defined by the information architects Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld as: “The structural design of shared information environments; The combination of organization, labeling, search, and navigation systems within web sites and intranets; The art and science of shaping information products and experiences to support usability and findability; An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape” (Morville and Rosenfeld in Taylor and Joudrey 2009, 20). It is the skill of architecturally designing social spaces of possibilities, potential interactions with information or users, and flows of information on the Internet.

Information Design Methods: Information design concerns itself with the visual representation of data obtained through data mining, so that it may express meaning more clearly. Information design – and its sub-branch of data visualisation – covers the statistical and morphological fabulas, trying to present information rooted in reality in a clear and functional way. It makes large data sets and complex distributed narratives comprehensible, usually in a systematic manner.

Interdisciplinary Design Methods: In Mediapolis: Populaire cultuur en de stad, de Jong and Schuilenburg introduced the term scenius, bringing together the words scene and genius. The term indicates the change from a one-to-many model of design, to a many-to-many model. A scenius is a coordinator, one who must interact with all related parties and entities of a network. This approach allows for participatory works and interdisciplinary design methods. When discussing interdisciplinary methods, the word multidisciplinary also comes to mind. The term interdisciplinary is preferred, as it indicates the crossing of boundaries, from which combinatory solutions may emerge.

Journalistic Design Methods: Journalistic design methods are concerned with investigating and critically reporting on active reality, that is to say the here-and-now. One specific type of design resulting from these methods is visual journalism. Visual journalism is a consequence of the speed of real time; it is a strategy for investigating and conveying topical information using visual methods.

Open Design Methods: Open design methods embody the possibilities and advantages of collaborative and open methods. Using these methods, everyone can be a co-creator; the role of the designer is to create and coordinate the framework for this interaction. The opening up of source codes in digital works is one of many examples of this type of method.

Process-Based Design Methods: As distributed narratives are characterised by speed and constant change, design becomes increasingly process-based. This particular approach is pioneered by Conditional Design, a graphic design agency in Netherlands. They have published a manifesto outlining this design method on their website. At the top of their list of conditions, they write that the process is the product, and they recognise that the form of a process-based design is not so much a form as it is an emergent formation. Process-based design thus emerges from rules – or conditions, like any algorithm, and in this sense it is a systematic method; not necessarily objective, but simply operating through logic.

Serious Design Methods: In game design, the adjective serious is used to describe games that fulfil purposes other than merely entertainment. Such games are widely used in industries such as defence, education, science, health care, city planning, engineering, religion, politics, and so on (Wikipedia). They thus find their purpose in reality itself, as they are concerned with real life. Distributed narratives are also rooted in reality, although in a different manner. First, they are based on data which is often collected for specific research purposes. Second, they adapt to real-life factors such as time, place and biography – through their adaptive qualities found in syuzhet. Thus, a narrative which is rooted in reality has become serious, and is required to explore and engage the responsibilities that come with this role.

Systematic Design Methods: When design is systematic, it is based on a step-by-step principle – thus establishing itself as a process. This process is logical and covers every development phase: from the initial exploration to the final phases of production and consumption. Systematic methods allow one to decode the design choices – both the rules and the exceptions – through their logical relations. Also, systematic methods allow one to deal with the complexity of distributed narratives, which are scattered over both time and space. Systematic methods allow for efficiency and flexibility in growth, while still maintaining control over complex constructions. This design method stems from computer technology, where all software is based on standards and protocols, but may be expanded at any time – like puzzle pieces to which more pieces can be linked on all sides, without boundaries.

The list of methods described above should be helpful in designing and implementing distributed narratives. These methods are in no way absolute; they are suggestions, based on the qualities of decoding which could be distilled from observing the resonance of encoding. All the layers and elements of the distributed narrative which we previously discussed can be found within these methods.

At the beginning of this chapter, we discussed how technology always exists in relation to its context, and how the role of design should be considered as one of intention. When one considers these arguments in relation to the design methods described above, then the design of a distributed narrative becomes a hypothesis about how it will function once it is implemented and becomes part of the real world. This is an important point, since all of the methods described above are relevant only to the extent that they support one's personal hypothesis about the role of narratives in our highly mediated lives. It is now time to re-evaluate the roles of data, narrative, reading and design, while remembering McLuhan's formula which was quoted at the beginning of this text: “All media as extensions of ourselves serve to provide new transforming vision and awareness” (2005, 60). Every new quality which we learn to develop and use helps us to understand our surroundings in a different way.

In this fourth chapter, we have identified the resonance of encoding on distributed narratives. In order to do this, the principle of accessibility had to considered first, which is a key to decoding as well as participating in these narratives. We then identified the resonance of encoding in new required qualities of decoding, which subsequently resulted in new methods for designing and implementing such narratives. We also considered the position of design, defining it as an intersection between social, technological and other contextual factors, resulting in a view of design as a process of intention or strategy, rather than simply a process of production.

Having answered the questions that were raised at the beginning of this chapter, we can now move on to the final part of this text, where we shall draw conclusions on the text as a whole, and reflect on the initial intentions behind this research.

6. Conclusions

I began this thesis by reflecting on the age-old conflict between the two cultures, more specifically the culture of scientists and that of (literary) intellectuals. Since distributed narratives are deeply rooted in reality, these two cultures also intertwine within this new concept of narrative. However, in this case their relationship is not necessarily one of conflict. This is because a distributed narrative is not necessarily defined by some dominant editorial or philosophical perspective, giving shape to some sequential narrative development. Instead, a distributed narrative operates in a nonlinear fashion, and without a solid boundary: it is always to some extent unpredictable.

This unpredictability also leads to the emergence of a certain complexity in the narrative. Complexity arises when an entity exists in relation to its context – or is located within a network. The idea of a distributed narrative is a direct result of singular entities becoming a part of networks, through new media and in an explicit way (e.g. hyperlinks). Creating a distributed narrative, then, means developing a script to steer this narrative using rules or conditions, seeing narrative as a dynamic ecology – or a set of multiple intertwining systems.

6.0.1. Revisiting the Encyclopædia Dramatica

Now that we have defined in this thesis the framework of distributed narratives, we can compare this framework with our initial example, described in the introduction: the Encyclopædia Dramatica.

The base-layer of distributed narratives is about the creation and storage of data. Since the Encyclopædia Dramatica is a website, its content is stored on servers and in the form of databases – as raw entities and relations. It stores possibilities and can only be communicated with through an interface.

On top of this layer of data structure we saw the layer of fabula. The fabula was the raw story, the layer of data, but from a narrative point of view. Within this layer we have distinguished the hypertextual fabula, the morphological fabula, the statistical fabula and the emergent fabula. First, the Encyclopædia Dramatica embodies the hypertextual type of fabula, as it draws its networked content from all over the Web. Second, the Encyclopædia Dramatica embodies morphological qualities, as its narratives develop by annotating content with personal – and critical – interpretations by its users. Finally, it involves emergent properties, such as the conditions of the system, and magnetism. These conditions are found in its open structure as a Wiki, in which users are free to enter their personal content, constrained only by the rules of the system itself (e.g. the limitations of the actual medium or template). Finally, its magnetism can be found in its social network. The Encyclopædia Dramatica is more than mere documentation: it is a critique, which people can support and participate in. Like any strong idea, it attracts followers. The Encyclopædia Dramatica thus acts as a magnet for people as well as for narrative content.

Then, in chapter three, we discussed the layer of personification, investigating in detail the role of adaptive syuzhet in distributed narratives. This adaptivity is made possible by the disembodiment of information, resulting in various factors of personalisation. First, we considered personalisation from both a system-driven and a user-driven perspective. The system-driven type of personalisation is the result of back-end algorithms analysing the behaviour of the users and consequently adapting the interface. Here, we also identified the quantified self as an example. The user-driven kind of personalisation is more clearly visible and has to do more with users and templates; thus it can also be found in the Encyclopædia Dramatica, where users can for instance log in using their own accounts. Also, the very idea of an open structure embodies this user-driven type of personalisation as its main interactive form, since the user can add his own content, thus personally claiming a part of the distributed narrative.

The second aspect of adaptive syuzhet was its synchrony to other users, for instance in the form of collaborative filtering methods, or as enabled by open design methods. The function of synchrony is to synchronise the individual roles of each of its participants, which it does through its system. Each user can see what the other users have added to the narrative with each update, and all users are synchronised to contribute to the same large-scale structure of the Encyclopædia Dramatica itself. Its synchronisation is thus both on the level of content, and on the level of usage.

Finally we identified the real-time syuzhet as the type of narrative that attempts to follow the speed of real time. The journalistic narrative and the biographical narrative were mentioned as examples of this kind of adaptivity. This specific adaptivity can be partially found in the Encyclopædia Dramatica, which aims to report on current events in Internet culture. In this sense, it also deals with the same issues as journalism does. However, the Encyclopædia Dramatica is not primarily focused on keeping up with this real-time speed; it also takes a step back in order to connect the entities to each other. In the case of an Internet meme, for instance, an image may be posted or reported instantly, but only becomes part of the narrative of the meme once it has been correctly positioned in relation to other instances of that image. The Encyclopædia Dramatica's narrative memory is also important, since it typically focuses on controversial material. For example, a controversial video may become a viral phenomenon, and the person being ridiculed in the video may wish to remove it.

Memes and other viral phenomena are also good examples of distributed narratives: they include various types of content such as hyperlinks, hashtags, images or videos, moving through the media ecology by being connected to new instances of the same content. These phenomena clearly show the unpredictable nature of the distributed narrative, the role of distribution over space, time and biography, and how distributed narratives are not dependent on a specific medium or context. The fact that Encyclopædia Dramatica collects such phenomena makes it a perfect example of distributed narrative.

6.0.2. Resonance on Reading and Design

Based on the framework of layers established as aspects of encoding, we were then able to deduce decoding qualities: analysing, choosing, comparing, connecting, customising, dérive, participating, repeating, role-playing, scanning, strategising, sustaining, targeting and tracing. Typically, these qualities are about participation, multiplicity, uniqueness, quantity, paths, development, assumption and prediction.

Finally, from here we were able to answer the second part of this research's initial question: how can designers develop new methods for incorporating in their professional practice the consequences of distributed narratives on the behaviour of readers? To this effect, we proposed a list of design methods, typically focusing on methods that dealt with narrative dynamics, coordination, reality and active participation. This list consisted of: coordinative design methods, data methods, information architecture, information design methods, interdisciplinary design methods, journalistic design methods, open design methods, process-based design methods, serious design methods and systematic design methods. This list is only an initial proposition; therefore, further research into both decoding methods and design methods will be required, from an applied perspective as well as a theoretical one.

6.0.3. Towards a New Aesthetic

During the next few years, in parallel to social and technological developments, we may expect to see the new methods of decoding and designing proposed here to evolve and become more common in their use. Inspired by the creation of exciting examples of digital design methods, this way of thinking will increasingly become the norm. The design of distributed narratives is also the design of complex behaviour; herein lies, beyond its necessity, also a new aesthetic direction. Following the aesthetic of the reductive and the simple – which characterised the modernist period – we now seem to be heading towards a new aesthetic of the complex, the multiple, and the unique. This new aesthetic does not oppose modernism, but rather succeeds it, thus inheriting some of its characteristics – such as the re-use of the existing, and the notion of self-consciousness (e.g. art about art or process-oriented design). In this sense, it is very much a post-modernist idea of narrative.

New technologies and developments can lead to a new understanding of ourselves and our environment. To refer once again to McLuhan's formula “the medium is the message”: technologies help us define our role within our environments. Whatever this role may currently entail, in the future it will certainly include the preservation of our everyday lives, enabling future generations to understand their cultural heritage through narratives, so that they may enjoy and learn from them. For designers, this leads to what could be called an enabling role: allowing for narratives to emerge through designed environments.

7. Acknowledgements

The current work is a revision of an undergraduate thesis that was originally submitted on June 11, 2012 to the Department of Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy, School of Media & Design at Rotterdam University, university of applied sciences, as a Bachelor of Design thesis. My foremost thanks are due to some of the members of this department, who provided support during this research period. Above all, I am grateful to Levien Nordeman for his encouragement, expertise and helpful feedback at key moments in the process. I would also like to thank Niels Schrader, Lauran Schijvens, Karin Mientjes and Gabrielle Marks who guided me in the development of my final design projects that accompanied this research. The current work is a direct result of a close feedback loop between these applied approaches and this research document.

Special thanks to Florian Cramer for his initiative to publish this work, making it into a series, and also for providing me with the possibility of designing the publication myself. To Joe Monk, thank you for reading and commenting on the text to that end. In this regard I also owe a word of thanks to Geert Lovink and Minke Kampman. Their kind responses have helped inspire me in taking the final steps.

8. Endnotes

1. Consider protoSPACE, which is a collaborative design game environment. In it, each player constructs his own view of the active world. A view is a specific way of representing data from the database. Constructing specific views facilitates the expert usage by the different disciplines involved in the collaborative design process.

2. Greenlight is an independent digital marketing agency doing research on various digital subjects, among which are search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine philosophy.

3. The terms are originating in Russian Formalism of the 1920s and employed in narratology that describes narrative construction.

4. His conceptual understanding of différance would later result in the reconception of deconstruction, which he explores in his later work.

5. Différance explains the world in terms of elemental oppositions. This worldview therefore shares the same basis with the idea of the computational universe, which was discussed briefly in the first chapter of this text. Where the computational universe finds its genesis in the opposition of binary signals, différance finds its genesis in the opposition of concepts in literary works.

6. Neologism for someone who is considered to be both a sociologist and philospher.

7. See for example the famous images of Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring – or Twitter Revolution. The magnetic effect of a hashtag becomes a type of emergent fabula, resulting in a whole new category of political activism.

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Title: Distributed Narratives
Subtitle: Extracting Design Methods from Nonlinear Narrative Formations
Type: Book; Unpublished manuscript F. N. (Fernando) van der Vlist Dr. J. J. F. (Florian) Cramer
Editor.affiliation: Creating 010, Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences
Description.note: Originally submitted on June 11, 2012 to the Department of Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy, School of Media & Design at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Design (BDes).
Abstract: This thesis proposes a concept of distributed narratives as a narrative form which is specific to the new-media ecology. As such, it advocates a multilayered approach to thinking about narrative structure as a dynamic formation. First, it proposes a theoretical framework, subdivided into layers, for understanding narrative as an encoded distributed formation. The first layer will identify the role of raw data, and examine how the formation of narrative is influenced by the way this data is stored in databases. The second layer, grounded in Russian formalism, will examine the literary concept of fabula, showing how the data is used and made accessible through narrative techniques. The third layer will then identify the notion of syuzhet, which entails exploring the dynamic role of the user, particularly in the processes of personalisation and accessing narratives. Second, by examining a fourth layer, the thesis shows how the principles of distributed narratives relate to the way these narratives are decoded. Because the decoding of distributed narratives is determined by the way in which these are encoded, the concepts developed in this thesis not only allow for narrative analysis, but also offer an array of proposals for designers to consider while developing appropriate design methods.
Keywords: distributed narrative, design methodology, new media, medium specificity, network, emergence, adaptivity
Length.words: 19,337
Length.reading: 1 hour, 48 mins
Sections: Abstract; Keywords; 1. Introduction 1.0.1. New-Media Ecologies; 1.0.2. Distributed Narrative Formations; 1.1. On Method and Scope; 2. The Layer of Data; 2.1. Traditional Storage and Retrieval; 2.1.1. Library; 2.1.2. Archive; 2.1.3. Museum; 2.2. Properties of the Database; 2.2.1. Analogue/Digital; 2.3. Collecting Everything; 2.3.1. The Myth of the Universal; 2.4. Tracing Biographies; 2.4.1. Macro-Archiving; 2.4.2. Micro-Archiving; 2.5. Database as a New-Media Genre?; 3. The Layer of Fabula; 3.1. Defining Narrative; 3.1.1. Traditional Narrative; 3.1.2. Fabula and Syuzhet; 3.2. Hypertextual Fabula; 3.2.1. Visibility and Order; 3.2.2. Information Politics; 3.2.3. Invisible Art; 3.3. Morphological Fabula; 3.3.1. Understanding Cultural Differences from Annotated Stories; 3.3.2. Difference and Convergence; 3.4. Statistical Fabula; 3.4.1. One is Fact, Two is Story; 3.4.2. Statistical Narratives; 3.5. Emergent Fabula; 3.5.1. Game Systems; 3.5.2. Magnetic Spaces; 4. The Layer of Personification; 4.1. Adaptive Syuzhet; 4.1.1. Encoding/Decoding; 4.1.2. Transcoding; 4.1.3. Disembodiment of Information; 4.1.4. Adaptivity; 4.2. Personalised Syuzhet; 4.2.1. System-Driven Personalisation; 4.2.2. Quantified Self; 4.2.3. User-Driven Personalisation; 4.2.4. Template Culture; 4.3. Synchronous Syuzhet; 4.3.1. Collaborative Filtering; 4.3.2. Open Design Methods; 4.4 Real-Time Syuzhet; 4.4.1. Real-Time; 4.4.2. Journalistic Narrative; 4.4.3. Biographical Narrative; 4.4.4. Narrative and Memory; 5. The Layer of Interpretation; 5.1. Technology and Society; 5.1.1. Positioning Design; 5.2. Accessing Narrative; 5.2.1. Availability; 5.2.2. Participation; 5.3. Resonance of Encoding; 5.4. Resonance of Decoding; 6. Conclusions; 6.0.1. Revisiting the Encyclopædia Dramatica; 6.0.2. Resonance on Reading and Design; 6.0.3. Towards a New Aesthetic; 7. Acknowledgements; 8. Endnotes; 9. Bibliography
Date.submitted: 11 May 2012
Date.revised: 12 Nov. 2012
Date.accepted: 12 Nov. 2012
Date.publishedonline: 20 Mar. 2013
Language: English (United Kingdom) Modern Language Association (7th ed.)
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Bachelor's Thesis

Distributed Narratives

Extracting Design Methods from Nonlinear Narrative Formations

Fernando N. van der Vlist

(School of Media & Design,) Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands

Submitted to the Department of Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy, School of Media & Design at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Design (BDes).

Submitted: 25 May 2012; Accepted: 11 June 2012


This thesis investigates the concept of distributed narrative formations in relation to reading and design methods. New media require new design approaches, involving for instance the principles of nonlinearity, content dynamics and the active role of the user. It is therefore part of a larger exploration, trying to find new ways to design for and think about not just as a tangible media object, but rather as intangible media ecologies. From a media-theoretical point of view, this concept of distributed narrative as an exploded formation of data and relations as a form of narrative is investigated, laying down a framework in which the various dynamics of this specific kind of narrative may be stabilised. What are the consequences of distributed narratives on reading behaviour, and how can graphic designers develop new methods to embody these consequences in their practice? The framework of this thesis builds from a layered approach, separating the branch of encoding from that of decoding and resulting in the layers of raw data, narrative fabula, syuzhet and reading and consequently specific design methods. While building this frame of reference, it locates and positions subcultural trends like information architecture, database narratives, template culture, collaborative methods, open design, quantified self, journalism and real-time media. After analyzing the dynamics involved in distributed narratives it investigates its consequences for a designer, resulting in several qualities of decoding and resultant methods of designing, both of which are typically process-based. Placing itself between the two traditionally conflictive cultures of science and the humanities, this research draws from both cultures, showing that the discussed new kind of narrative is part of a larger aesthetic trend towards an aesthetic of the complex, the intangible, the multiple and of the unique.


distributed narratives, design methodology, new media, medium specificity, network, emergence, adaptivity

distributed narratives
design methodology
new media
medium specificity
Title: Distributed Narratives
subtitle: Extracting Design Methods from Nonlinear Narrative Formations
Type: Bachelor's thesis; Abstract F. N. (Fernando) van der Vlist
Author.affiliation: School of Media & Design, Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences J. L. (Levien) Nordeman
Supervisor.affiliation: Dept. of Graphic Design, Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences J. W. (Jan Willem) Stas
Second-reader.affiliation: Dept. of Graphic Design, Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences G. C. C. (Gabrielle) Marks (chair); L. J. M. A. (Lauran) Schijvens; K. M. (Karin) Mientjes; N. O. (Niels) Schrader; N. (Nicole) Martens
Committee.affiliation: Dept. of Graphic Design, Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences; Mind Design – Gedankendesign; Nicole Martens
Description.note: Submitted to the Department of Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy, School of Media & Design at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Design (BDes).
Abstract: This thesis investigates the concept of distributed narrative formations in relation to reading and design methods. New media require new design approaches, involving for instance the principles of nonlinearity, content dynamics and the active role of the user. It is therefore part of a larger exploration, trying to find new ways to design for and think about not just as a tangible media object, but rather as intangible media ecologies. From a media-theoretical point of view, this concept of distributed narrative as an exploded formation of data and relations as a form of narrative is investigated, laying down a framework in which the various dynamics of this specific kind of narrative may be stabilised. What are the consequences of distributed narratives on reading behaviour, and how can graphic designers develop new methods to embody these consequences in their practice? The framework of this thesis builds from a layered approach, separating the branch of encoding from that of decoding and resulting in the layers of raw data, narrative fabula, syuzhet and reading and consequently specific design methods. While building this frame of reference, it locates and positions subcultural trends like information architecture, database narratives, template culture, collaborative methods, open design, quantified self, journalism and real-time media. After analyzing the dynamics involved in distributed narratives it investigates its consequences for a designer, resulting in several qualities of decoding and resultant methods of designing, both of which are typically process-based. Placing itself between the two traditionally conflictive cultures of science and the humanities, this research draws from both cultures, showing that the discussed new kind of narrative is part of a larger aesthetic trend towards an aesthetic of the complex, the intangible, the multiple and of the unique.
Keywords: distributed narrative, design methodology, new media, medium specificity, network, emergence, adaptivity
Length.words: 21,730
Length.reading: 2 hours, 1 min
Sections: Preface; Statements; Abstract; Word Count; Keywords; Acknowledgements; Contents; Introduction; New-Media Ecologies; Distributed Narrative Formations; On Method and Scope; Chapter 1, the Layer of Data; 1.1. Traditional Storage and Retrieval; 1.1.1. Library; 1.1.2. Archive; 1.1.3. Museum; 1.2. Properties of the Database; 1.2.1. Analogue/Digital; 1.3. Collecting Everything; 1.3.1. The Myth of the Universal; 1.4. Tracing Biographies; 1.4.1. Macro-Archiving; 1.4.2. Micro-Archiving; 1.5. Database as a New-Media Genre?; Chapter 2, the Layer of Fabula; 2.1. Defining Narrative; 2.1.1. Traditional Narrative; 2.1.2. Fabula and Syuzhet; 2.2. Hypertextual Fabula; 2.2.1. Visibility and Order; 2.2.2. Information Politics; 2.2.3. Invisible Art; 2.3. Morphological Fabula; 2.3.1. Understanding Cultural Differences from Annotated Stories; 2.3.2. Difference and Convergence; 2.4. Statistical Fabula; 2.4.1. One is Fact, Two is Story; 2.4.2. Statistical Narratives; 2.5. Emergent Fabula; 2.5.1. Game Systems; 2.5.2. Magnetic Spaces; Chapter 3, the Layer of Personification; 3.1. Adaptive Syuzhet; 3.1.1. Encoding/Decoding; 3.1.2. Transcoding; 3.1.3. Disembodiment of Information; 3.1.4. Adaptivity; 3.2. Personalised Syuzhet; 3.2.1. System-Driven Personalisation; 3.2.2. Quantified Self; 3.2.3. User-Driven Personalisation; 3.2.4. Template Culture; 3.3. Synchronous Syuzhet; 3.3.1. Collaborative Filtering; 3.3.2. Open Design Methods; 3.4 Real-Time Syuzhet; 3.4.1. Real-Time; 3.4.2. Journalistic Narrative; 3.4.3. Biographical Narrative; 3.4.4. Narrative and Memory; Chapter 4, the Layer of Interpretation; 4.1. Technology and Society; 4.1.1. Positioning Design; 4.2. Accessing Narrative; 4.2.1. Availability; 4.2.2. Participation; 4.3. Resonance of Encoding; 4.4. Resonance of Decoding; Conclusions; Revisiting the Encyclopædia Dramatica; Resonance on Reading and Design; Towards a New Aesthetic; Works Cited; Bibliography; Appendix, Reference Figures
Element.figure: Fig. 1; Fig. 2; Fig. 3; Fig. 5; Fig. 6; Fig. 7; Fig. 8; Fig. 9; Fig. 10
Document.pages: 1–114 (i–viii, 1–94, A1–A10)
Date.submitted: 25 May 2012
Date.evaluated: 11 June 2012
Date.accepted: 11 June 2012
Language: English (United Kingdom) Modern Language Association (7th ed.)
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