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Stories are taking over

posted by Patrick Tanguay   May 04, 2018

Photo by Jonas Lee on Unsplash

The inimitable Ian Bogost with some thinking on how stories are overtaking social media and how they are perhaps the first true smartphone media format. First, what are stories in this context?

“Story” is a terrible name for this feature, because it’s so broad as to descend into meaninglessness. In ordinary parlance, a story is a generic name for a narrative account of something. But a Story, of the Instagram and Snapchat sort, is something much more specific. It’s a collection of images and short videos, with optional overlays and effects, that a user can add to over time, but which disappears after 24 hours. Users view a Story in sequence, either waiting out a programmed delay between images or manually advancing to the next.

Then this pearl of a quote I’ll be stealing and reusing:

That name is vestigial now, because it’s only incidental that an iPhone or a Pixel is a telephone. Instead, it’s a frame that surrounds everything that is possible and knowable. A rectangle, as I’ve started calling it. (Emphasis mine.)
The rectangle now frames experience. Information is rectangle-shaped, retrieved from searches in Google or apps or voice assistants. Personal communication comes in the form of a list of bubbles spilling down a rectangle. The physical world can be accessed by a map scaled to the boundaries of the rectangle, which can also provide way-finding through it. Music, movies, and television appear on these screens, and increasingly there alone. The rectangle is also an imaging device, capable of capturing a view of the world in front of it and the operator behind it.

Stories are clearly from rectangles, using the vertical 9:16 aspect ratio for better or for worse. I was not aware of this:

Screenshots from the apps where people spend more and more of their time, in messaging conversations, for example, also take this shape. In fact, this tendency drove one of Facebook’s newly announced features: a software integration for Stories that would allow direct posting from an app. A song playing in Spotify, for example, will be able to be inserted into a Story natively, with a link back to the track in question. […]
Stories is not a technology, nor is it a feature. It is a media format, or even a genre, in the way that a magazine or a murder mystery or a 30-minute television program is.

Side notes: as much as I hated stories originally (and as I kind of despise Instagram), I now find myself spending more time swiping through stories than I do scrolling down “classic posts.” I also end up following accounts and using the app purely as a visual distraction and discovery instead of anything truly social, because the algorithm is just not that good at surfacing the friendly posts which used to make it a social space.

Think about this next quote for a bit:

The liveness of smartphone-authorship, combined with the ephemerality of the Story format, makes it a catalog of the experience of holding and looking through a rectangle almost all the time. […]
Likewise, a Story is the illusion of what your smartphone saw. Or better, of what the hybrid you-and-your-smartphone saw—as if there was a you without a smartphone, anymore.

I wonder which other uses will be born from this “rectangle nativity” in 9:16? Medium used to have “Series” which could be seen as the text based version of stories but are they even findable anywhere? I can still post some but where do I find others’? Any other examples?