Reblog: So You’ve Decided to Unfollow Me — Cory Doctorow

In today’s reblog, the insanely prolific author, blogger, tweeter, speaker, etc. Cory Doctorow gets a little misty-eyed for the days of yore, when the internet was all about finding the little corners where people liked the same things you liked and you all could collectively geek-out over it.

Doctorow is of the opinion that the rise of social media, cross-site user tracking and online advertising empires drew people away from many of those hidden corners of the internet and encouraged websites to cast the widest-possible nets, seeking sheer number of views over engaged communities.

Whether or not you believe that narrative, it does seem like we’ve lost some of that early internet magic. Doctorow is here to remind us that we don’t have to try to please everyone. We don’t have to chase those big, but barely-engaged viewer numbers. It’s better to build that little corner of the internet that’s all about the thing you love. It’s better to get together with a few people who also love that thing.

It’s hard to overstate how liberating the early years of internet publishing were. After a century of publishing driven by the needs of an audience, we could finally switch to a model driven by the interests of writers.

That meant that instead of trying to figure out what some “demographic” wanted to read about, we wrote what we wanted to read, and then waited for people who share our interests to show up and read and comment and write their own blogs and newsletters and whatnot.

[…]

In the golden years of internet publishing, the point was to find the weirdos who liked the same stuff as you. Freed from commercial imperatives, the focus of the blogosphere was primarily on using your work as a beacon to locate Your People, who were so diffuse and disorganized that there was no other way to find them.

That’s the dynamic behind the explosion of fandoms and fanfic, behind esoteric maker communities and weird collector rabbit-holes, behind conspiratorialism and fringe politics and the whole loompanic wonderment of it all.

Read the rest over on Cory Doctorow’s Medium site

Writing Tech Ideas #2 — Canonicity

As a software developer who also writes fiction, I find myself occasionally coming up with software ideas for writers. Honestly, I’ll probably never put in the effort to make these things a reality, but I am curious if anyone else would be interested. Let me know in the comments if this is something you’d use.

The Premise

Writers are often depicted as quiet loners, toiling away in hours of solitude in front of a typewriter or computer. That may be true for some, but many writers seek each other out. There are many vibrant writing communities.

Not only that, but many writers love collaboration—whether it be co-authorship, shared worlds, TTRPGs or fan-fiction. Yet there are surprisingly few places where writers can gather to indulge in these communal writing activities.

Canonicity would be a website and community built around collaborative fiction and shared worlds, where writers from anywhere can work together to create ever-growing fictional universes.

Creating a Universe

The process starts with one or more authors creating a new shared universe. As the creators of this universe they are the admin(s), but they are also opening up their world as a playground for everyone else to come in, look around, and play.

The admin can publish stories, novels, art, and other world-building documents (collectively called stories) in their universe. They also have certain privileges, such as the ability to add other users as admins and mark stories as “canon.”

Collaborating

Other writers can come into a shared universe as participants. They can make their own stories in the admins’ universe. They can use characters and settings that already exist, or invent completely new ones that integrate with the previously created stories.

People can also simply join the universe as readers. Readers can comment and up-vote stories within the universe (whether they are marked as “canon” or not). They can add “tags,” which are short little descriptors of the story to help other readers find what they’re looking for (a bit like Steam tags).

Admins can pick other participants’ stories that are especially high quality or especially well integrated into the existing universe, and mark them as “canon.” This allows the admins to curate a core collection that they feel represents their shared universe. However, users can also sort by votes, view counts, or tags to get more of a community opinion of the best Stories in a shared universe.

Tags can also be used by the community to identify offshoots of the curated “canon” universe, when it grows large enough to have its own identifiable alternate universes.

Monetization

Even as a website that’s primarily serving text, there are going to be costs to keep a live service like this up and running. Monetization offers its own challenges, including more scrutiny of copyright issues. Fan fiction, which should arguably be transformative fair use, is a copyright claim magnet. Even if those claims are spurious, as soon as lawyers have to be involved, things get expensive. Not to mention the kinds of trolls who will happily upload someone else’s bestselling story just to cause trouble.

There are a lot of ways Canonicity could be monetized, but the most effective would probably be to allow authors to monetize their stories and take some percentage. Paid stories (or a paid token system) would be a monetization route that many other fiction services use. Typically the service takes a cut, and the remainder goes to the author. Another strategy might be a subscription service that splits the monthly fee among paid stories based on readership.

If we wanted to avoid paywalls, there are options like running ads alongside story content or paid aesthetic improvements like custom avatars, story backgrounds, themes and emojis.

That’s It

What do you think? Would you be interested in opening up your worlds for others to write in? Would you be interested in writing within universes that others have created?