How to Storify. Why to Storify.

How to Storify. Why to Storify.

We’ve threatened to publish reviews and how-to-guides for digital tools since we started Hybrid Pedagogy, but we haven’t really gotten around to it. Every time we sit down to do this work, we get caught up in philosophizing about bigger issues related to educational technology — caught up in a desire to theorize the room before we fully enter the room. It’s important, though, for us to turn our minds (and typing fingers) toward both process and practice, hence our concordance of digital tools, and now this article about Storify.

Intended to serve as a stop-motion camera for the torrent of information we get from social media, Storify allows the user to arrange pieces of conversations to construct a narrative. When we first began teaching with Twitter, we wanted to contain conversations that would eventually evaporate. Twitter allows us to go back through someone’s stream to see everything, but the simple organization that a hashtag brings to an organic conversation has about a two-week window. If we start a back-channel conversation in a lecture one day, Twitter requires that we look at it, learn from it, and let it go soon after. Storify emerged on the scene last year to cull these kinds of social media contributions (not just on Twitter) and freeze them.

We begin, from the critical perspective that drives the mission of the journal, with the big questions: What is Storify? What sort of room is it? What kinds of thinking does it encourage? What kinds of thinking does it discourage? Is it a place for reading, a place for interaction, a place for modeling, etc.?

Storify describes itself: “Storify lets you curate social networks to build social stories, bringing together media scattered across the Web into a coherent narrative. We are building the story layer above social networks, to amplify the voices that matter and create a new media format that is interactive, dynamic and social.” It’s a beautiful description and yet we’re not sure we buy it. For us, Storify feels more like the layer beneath social networks — the layer where thearchiving (not the “amplifying”) happens. Story doesn’t “drive” or “build” thinking. Story organizes and maps thinking. The power of Storify, then, is in its ability to cohere and preserve, to create blueprints for the wilder and more disparate conversations happening on the web.

A metaphor might serve well here. Just like an entomologist pins his bugs to the display board, Storify brings an encyclopedic order to the rush of a conversation. Because Storify permits the user to publish her list, just as she might an arrangement of websites on Diigo, we can already see Storify’s narrative effect on social media users. It’s a beautifully simple concept: if a specific interaction over Twitter matters now, it might be important later, to tell the story of an idea or debate. If Twitter recreates conversation and sharing as digital practices, Storify becomes the digital documentarian of new media interaction. Currently, it allows users to bring order to ongoing conversations across multiple platforms — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, and Google+.

The order that this collecting brings is also the major failing of Storify: it takes the glorious chaos of dynamic interaction and makes it contained and linear. A conversation on Twitter, for example, is interactive, using distraction as a generative force, as participants bounce from one strand to another. By the end of a rousing twitter discussion, we usually have a dozen or more windows open on our screens, are following the feeds of all the involved twitterers, are reading several linked articles, and have gotten sidetracked by tangential conversations. Storify, on the other hand, happens in one static window. It is an important record of a conversation but can serve, when used poorly, to close the conversation down (at least temporarily) rather than open it up.

Yet, as with most of the tools we adore (Twitter and Crocodoc as examples), Storify’s strength as a teaching tool lies in its flexibility. It provides users a frame, a uniform presentation format, and publishing capabilities, and leaves the rest to the hive.

How to get started:
1. Start with Storify’s own guided tour.
2. Then check out the Storify Blog, which includes news about the tool and offers useful tips.
3. Finally, read “How to Curate Conversations on Storify” by @JonMwords.

Essential tips for using Storify:
1. Curate. Don’t try to include every little piece of something in your Storify. Instead, make choices to collate or summarize a conversation without simply recreating it.
2. Stage. Curating material for a Storify involves taking a position, because you’re deciding what should and should not be included; however, it’s also important to make that position transparent and to offer some (even if minimal) introduction to the materials you’re collecting.
3. Direct. The best Storify artifacts read like a great drama (see Sean Michael Morris’s comparison of teaching to a play). Storify allows you to insert comments in the thread as it unfolds, so give yourself license to add stage directions and emotional punctuation.
4. Redirect. Announce your Storify creation, but don’t let your audience off the hook. Ask them to engage rather than allowing them to be passive observers. Encourage comments on your Storify or ask questions about your Storify on Twitter (or Facebook or Google+ or …).

Jesse’s Storify Projects:
The Anatomy of Digital Humanities (#dighum) and Digital Pedagogy (#digped): Sifting through and storifying this conversation on Twitter quickly became an exercise in dissecting the many layers of Digital Humanities and Digital Pedagogy. It also made me realize just how elaborate (but still focused) the threads of a Twitter discussion can be.

The Pedagogy of Public Work: Is FERPA just a red herring?: The question posed: What is the pedagogical benefit of having students doing public work? Is FERPA just a red herring? A #digped discussion that started on a Monday morning and devolved into a fierce debate during the wee hours of a Monday night.

What Does Twitter Do for the Digital Humanities?: The conversation began late on a Friday night with a question: Where is the online conversation about digital humanities happening? Facebook or Twitter? Why?

Pete’s Storify Projects:
#Occupclass Discusses Mike Daisey, Journalism, and the Truth: After listening to This American Life’s “Mike Daisey and the Apple Factory” and the follow up “Retraction,” my #Occupyclass (Electronic Writing and Publishing) had a spirited class discussion to blow off some steam and reflect on our own quasi-journalistic practices. This thread resulted from the backchannel.

Practical Grammar “Live Language” Exercise: I asked pairs of students in my ENGL 3105 (Practical Grammar) course to tweet sentences from news media that included a verbal (infinitive, gerund, or participial phrase), then to identify the verbals in others’ sentences. We discussed the analysis on a presentation board using Twitter.

Twitter for Academics: Advice from the Users: In my first of three workshops on Twitter for Scholars this semester, I threw a question out on Twitter an hour before the session: What advice do you have for new Twitter users in the academy? The response was fantastic.

[Photo by dynamosquito]

About the Authors

Pete Rorabaugh

Pete Rorabaugh (@allistelling) is Assistant Professor of English, Southern Polytechnic State Univ in @ETCMA_SPSU. Critical pedagogue, Americanist, father, and co-founder of Hybrid Pedagogy.

Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) is Director of Hybrid Pedagogy and Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of Liberal Arts and Applied Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is an advocate for lifelong learning and the public digital humanities. His personal site can be found at jessestommel.com.

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