The discussion that started this page concerns mostly SoLaSI type stuff: How to get a successful collaborative narrative working.
The major contentions are about how much pre-existing content (infrastructure) is required to create a successful collaborative narrative. AlexSchroeder has offered the work of Ken Newman from a Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference Web Based Communities 2004, p. 83-90. From this paper, Alex culled the following important points:
Enough of this has to be decided before actually starting to write the first episode. There is some roome for change as time progresses, but as soaps illustrate, it is difficult to undertake major changes in the important issues.
This might explain why most collaborative story-telling efforts that try to connect one scene to the next seem to have failed in online communities. In that sense, playing on a MUSH with other people is far closer to what Ken talked about:
All of the above seems useful and important.
MattBowen started the Project Rhizome. His idea is that individual writers can add, edit, and interlink independent narratives themselves. In a way, authors write collaborative short stories. Hopefully collaborative editing and remixing existing works will yield new and interesting reading experiences. (See ProjectRemix.)
As themes and similar characters emerge, his hope is that the WikiProcess will take over and existing bits of the narrative will be forked and modified to fit together more coherently in a non-teleological narrative without definite openings or closure. The rhizome may have many points which feel like beginnings and many other that feel like endings, which is ok. It has the appeal of being big and having plenty of parts without restricting creativity.
The next step in this process would be that editors/critics would start reading the rhizome for certain themes and trends and create maps of the rhizome that highlight these themes. On wiki, any reader can build a map and take notes as they go along. Other readers can then add to the rhizome to give these maps more flesh and to change their themes. The deficiencies of the existing maps will hopefully prompt more additions to the rhizome. This will, in turn, create the need for more maps.
The WriteHere site is a basically a testbed for this idea.
Open questions that remain to be answered:
The question of control is an important one that remains to be answered. Too much control stiffles creativity, but too little guidance invites confusion. Perhaps timing is important. If a group of writers were to write several related short stories like soap episodes using what we’ll call the Ken Plan, several themes should hopefully emerge and those writers may well wish to attempt the rhizome process on their collective efforts.
Narrative is used in some very influential ways in our society (law is decided by narrative currently, and history is almost always narrative, which then re-inspires law) – so a coherent system of assumptions that's pounded into Americans non-stop would make sense.
As for MattBowen's specific interests in narrative: Most of the work he has done so far is in how sequencing effects meaning, and how readers construct a meaningful work from a text. The basic assumption is that any text – be it Paradise Lost, J.M. Roberts’s History of the World, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, or a story you read in the newspaper – is dreadfully deficient in the information it can convey to the reader as to how the events related relate to one another. Furthermore, since you read in a linear way but multiple events may happen all at once, the sequence of the narrative cannot represent the situation which it codes. Thus, the sequence of the presentation is significant for the overall effect and meaning of the text/work. He thinks that an analysis shouldn't try to force a single meaning onto a text, but instead should try to give a model of the parts of a text then explain how they relate might relate to one another given different assumptions.
This analysis method is useful for closed narratives like books and articles. It gets more interesting for experimental, hypertext narratives like SoLaSI’s Project Rhizome. Suddenly, sequence is not stable or closed, and new elements can enter. This makes it (thankfully) impossible to impose a single meaning on a text, since the form of the text is very unstable.