RE: Telling stories on the Web is like developing software using agile principles

My human-readable un-remixing of Michael Amedeo Tumolillo’s remixing of Alex Iskold’s mix (itself a comment on this awesome book):

In the Web world, stories have ill-defined and constantly evolving requirements, making it impossible to think everything through at once. Instead, the best Web story today is created and evolved using agile methods. These techniques allow journalists to continuously re-align stories with business and customer needs.The Waterfall Model of storytelling, coined in 1970, will not work in such a world. Its idea was to tell stories by first reporting, then creating the story, then editing it, then creating and editing it again, and finally publishing it in one linear sequence.

The Waterfall Model is now considered a flawed method for Web stories because it is so rigid and unrealistic.

Non-storytelling people tend to think that stories are soft or easily changeable. Nope. Stories, like any system, have a design and structure; they are not as soft as they seem.

Yet the accelerating pace of business requires constant changes to storytelling. Using the Waterfall Model, these changes were impossible, the development cycle was too long, stories were over produced engineered and ended up costing a fortune, and often did not work right.

A problem with the Waterfall Model was that in the information jungle, dynamic stories are not told once; they evolve over time in bits and pieces.

Storytelling needed. First, stories have to embrace change. Today’s assumptions and requirements may change tomorrow, and stories need to respond to changes quickly.

The stories created using agile methods are much more successful because they are evolved and adapted to Web customers. Like living organisms, these stories are continuously reshaped to fit the dynamic Web landscape of changing customer attention.

Stories have lots of moving parts, in other words, in the sense that they’re dynamic systems whose parts influence one another.

Tumolillo’s grokking a general point, of course, and I don’t want to read too deep in to his analogy. But one possible issue with this conception of the bits of content writers/publishers produce is that it may still neglect the necessarily short-term economics of the news. Developers can rejigger an application two weeks after its debut because they’re confident that people will still care about the application two weeks thence. Stories are ephemeral—or at least much more so. Life comes and goes.

That’s why I think it makes sense to distinguish between the article and the story:

The article has taken the story hostage. That must be turned on its head: the bits of content must be contingent on the people they discuss. The people, and also the issues, who constitute the story, as it were, must be liberated from the confines of the article. That’s the promise the internet makes to journalism in the twenty-first century. That’s the promise the database makes to news.

You can’t change the stories. Someone’s got to write them—and get paid for them, and move on to writing the next one. That’s partly why blogging was so transformative. Bloggers write something one day. And then they let it stand, never changing it. If they want to elaborate or correct or just revisit, they just write another post and link back.

The story’s in the map! (Or what I called a “news graph” in a fit of facebook exuberance once not too long ago.)

So let us have a web application that brings together the articles that compose a story—all of its sides, elaborations, corrections, and more. I’m looking at you, kindly folks at the Knight News Challenge.

I know I can do it.

PS. Don’t apply now. Sadly, the deadline has passed.

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