War of the Worlds 2.0 on Halloween – A Retrospective

I already wrote about the War of the Worlds 2.0 plan made by Kris Kowal (with some minor help from me) and encouraged you all to try it out. I was really happy to see that some of you did! Hundreds of people participated (including @biz, one of the co-founders of Twitter, who participated with one tweet). Most created their own stories, staging their own photos and videos, tying events together logically. Kris wrote up a super-linky post-mortem. My friend Kevin wrote about the event. So did Wired, and they even quoted one of my darkest tweets. But I think I’m most proud of this particular quote from the Wired article: “It appears this is the first time (Twitter) has been used for mass fiction.” We made history!

I resonate a lot with a sentiment in Kevin’s aforelinked entry. He said “fictional posts about the potential death of your friend and their family are kind of disturbing.” Too true! I think all the participants were as fair as they could’ve been on Twitter making certain all tweets that were part of this fictional storyline were tagged with “#wotw2.” Some people don’t yet understand what tagging on Twitter is and what it implies, but that’s because this is a new medium. We’re giving birth to it right now. For the folks who, like Kevin, knew it wasn’t real, I consider it an exercise in stretching one’s mind into new areas of fiction. Fiction has never come quite this close to home before, and that’s one of the things that makes this effort so innovative and gives it power.

To be clear, I would never condone purposefully fooling people or regularly dwelling on dark things, but one could argue that Halloween is perhaps the one day on which such things are mostly permissible. I personally found it very revealing, and perhaps edifying, to discover first hand how unprepared I would be in the event of a terrorist attack or other cataclysmic event. Writing those tweets forced me to think through it. I was actually slightly shaken on the afternoon of Halloween, between 3pm and 4pm, writing that series of graphic tweets.

What follows is a chronological listing of all of my #wotw2 tweets, so you can see my own entire story if you’re interested, and so they’re preserved here when they inevitably become hard to find on Twitter months/years from now. My personal favorite spots in my own storyline were 1) the fun video that Eddie and I recorded and put up on YouTube,  2) giving the moment of the alien’s uprising (on Halloween at 2pm) a darkly-ironic soundtrack, and 3) the final moments after midnight when I “saw” a tripod standing in the bog behind my house, my final tweet leaving my and my family’s fate uncertain. Chilling!

October 30th

  • Weird, I just saw some kind of shooting star, and it’s not even dark out. Anybody else see that? 6:07pm
  • Reports of weird comets are freaking me out. I’m gonna go buy some extra water. And bread. Couple guns… generator… ammo… searchlight… 11:28pm

October 31st

  • NPR is going on about some kinda metallic cylinders that fell from the sky last night. I’m not aware of any near my house. Hoax? 8:09am
  • Missed my bus and had to drive in. City-bound roads are strangely clear. Rockstar parking, too. I think people are staying home. 8:56am
  • People are saying last night’s “sky cylinders” have some sort of *machines* in them?!? I wish I watched more news. Why’d I come in? 9:28am
  • I’m hearing sirens screaming through the streets and heading away from the city. Better than stopping here, I guess. 10:19am
  • On the phone with a friend of mine named Eddie. Neither of us has seen these metallic sphere things yet, but we hear a lot online. 1:04pm
  • I wish I knew how @stephlewis was doing, but I can’t reach her on the phone. Man, it’s hard to concentrate amidst all this. 1:47pm
  • ♫ Everything in its right place / Everything in its right place ♫ 2:01pm
  • Getting SMSes from friends that the spheres are rising on legs & some heading this way! Hitting the street w/ Eddie and a camcorder. 2:08pm
  • EDDIE AND I BARELY SURVIVED! http://tinyurl.com/5kgs6z Had to run through the alleyways to avoid the giant tripods! 2:30pm
  • Smoking, smoldering hunks of buildings, cars, and people lay strewn about. The tripods have left the Warehouse District in ruins. 3:16pm
  • The light rail train lays on its side, its doors opening and closing in spasms. People are comforting each other. Many are on phones. 3:19pm
  • This song seems to be appropriate to capture the moment. Listen and contemplate. http://is.gd/5mUf 3:23pm
  • It is time for us come together as one people, consecrated to the preservation of human supremacy on this earth. 3:27pm
  • Finally got @stephlewis on the phone! We’re heading to Maplewood to be with family. Luckily I drove, MetroTransit isn’t operating… 4:07pm
  • My family is OK. Found them in the basement. Going to try to get home via 35E. Not sure what the conditions are. Praying. 8:20pm
  • Sections of 35 are so torn up I have to go off road. Passed two Tripods near Hugo, burning down houses. Is mine next? 8:38pm
  • Well, @RhythmHippy has had a harder night than I have. Exhibit A: http://twitpic.com/j92s Exhibit B: http://twitpic.com/ja8o. 8:57pm
  • My house is still standing. Some south of me were not so lucky. Just saw a Tripod wading through Forest Lake like a kiddy pool. 9:02pm
  • Steph, Caleb and I are in the basement with the pets. All the lights are off. We’re hoping the Tripods pass by. 10:38pm

November 1st

  • Oh. Crap. http://twitpic.com/jbxz 12:04am.
  • OK, don’t panic. Don’t panic. The tripod is just standing there, not moving. It didn’t see me. Sorry, @hidama, I had to look. 12:10am
  • The tripod is *still* just standing there. I’m not going to tempt fate, but as long as it’s not hurting anyone else, I’ll let it be. 12:37am
  • Can’t sit here and stare at this thing all night (& I’m fresh out of mucus). Gonna to try to fall asleep. I hope this isn’t goodbye. 12:49am

Twitter Fiction

There have already been several different attempts to bring fiction writing to Twitter. A couple come to mind:

  • 140novel: An attempt by Leo Laporte and the hosts of the Buzz Out Loud podcast to collaboratively write a work of fiction 140 characters at a time, apparently without knowing where the story was going beforehand. Obviously it only lasted two months and 36 tweets, but it was an interesting idea.
  • twitterfiction: Tiny works of fiction in each tweet. There’s no central story here, each tweet is separate from the others. User submissions are accepted. This one only lasted about two weeks and 35 tweets.

I have a new idea which I think is far more realistic and also a lot more interesting than these. One of the key elements of Twitter that the two ideas above don’t take into account is the real-time nature of Twitter. We’re all familiar with stories told in real-time or near real-time like the TV show 24. Why not try this on Twitter? Of course the core of the story would be text, but Twitter easily supports pictures, taken on cellphones for instance, that can be published instantly. Video could be done in a similar way if desired. 

You could take it a step further and have a multi-character story where each character gives a first-person account of the story in real time, all simultaneously. The chance for a complex, intense narrative is really amazing here. Perhaps some of the characters would be on Twitter (with photos and video where appropriate) and others off Twitter and only referred to by those we’re reading, and we’d be left to piece together the full narrative J. J. Abrams-style.

The story would be an event, live, happening right then and there on Twitter, just like the debates or other nationwide happenings. The author could just say, “My next story will begin on November 3rd at 7pm. I will announce the initial characters you must follow on November 3rd at 3pm. This story will take two hours.” If desired, the characters could then reveal more Twitter characters in their tweets as the story progressed, and your cast of characters could grow. As I’ve already hinted, I think this format would work best for fairly short stories and happenings. It seems to me that anything over a few hours long approaches a breaking point and forces the reader to break their immersion during the story. I wouldn’t want to watch a story in real-time over six months unless it was specially-written and appropriate to that kind of timeframe.

Another aspect of Twitter that could be brought into this particular fiction medium is that of the ARG, or alternate reality game. I’m not aware of anyone using Twitter for an ARG, but it seems so obvious that I would guess it has already happened multiple times. If the writer chose to incorporate ARG elements, the Twitter characters could actually respond to readers as the story happened, interacting with them, calling them on the phone or receiving phone calls from them, and encouraging people with whom they were communicating to also relay messages to the rest of the community, thus pulling chosen Twitter users into the fiction and making them part of the story. I suppose at some point in the story readers wouldn’t be able to tell which participants were normal Twitter users and which were planted actors and actresses playing fictional characters. But that’s part of the ARG idea. It enhances the story and makes it far more real, and thus more fun.

Clearly, even a fairly simple story with no ARG elements that was an hour or two long would require a talented writer and a small team of people to pull off, especially if it incorporated multimedia and more than one character. No one said great art is easy. Making history isn’t easy either.

Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any) – Radiohead from Old Electronics

I’ve debated sharing this with you all since Tim showed it to me yesterday. My mind keeps coming back to it. So at the risk of turning this entire blog into a heap of popular geek fluff with no lasting, personal value, I present one of the coolest videos I’ve seen in years. It’s a cover of Radiohead’s song “Nude”, done by obsolete electronic equipment, some of which was never meant to play music. (If you’re not familiar with the song, listen to it over on Grooveshark, if only to understand the fidelity with which Thom Yorke’s voice can be reproduced by hard drive platters.)

The music starts at about 1:09. Don’t be put off by all the non-musical noise the video begins with, but skip ahead if you must.


Lately I’ve been fascinated by Banksy, the pseudo-anonymous English graffiti artist who has become quite famous in the graffiti scene over the last few years. I’m no tagger, but I like his style and I like the fact that he tries to remain anonymous. He’s mostly succeeded in doing so, although there are theories about his identity.

There’s something magical about the possibility of walking down the street and suddenly coming upon an original work of art by a famous artist, right there on the wall. You could be the first person to see it. There’s an immediacy to that kind of art that other visual arts don’t have. Usually, visual art is enjoyed and consumed outside the context of its creation. But Banksy’s art doesn’t leave its birthplace. When you look at it, you’re probably standing right where he stood when he made it.

I wonder how this same kind of discovery and immediacy could be brought to music. Maybe I should become an anonymous musician who drops CDs or thumb drives of his work here and there with markings to let people know they should listen to it.

I’ll end with Banksy’s delicious twist on an old Andy Warhol quote. Warhol originally said, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Banksy’s take: “In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.” That one just keeps getting deeper.