the3six5 project… or how I learned to embrace the emergent

the3six5 project

Around the start of 2010, I began hearing about this idea dubbed the3six5 project. A bunch of transmedia and emerging media folks discussed it with great fervor.

So I took a look…
frowned…
then asked…
“What’s the big effing deal?”

Every day, a different person would step in and write a journal entry of what was going on around him or her. There are rules of course, like being assigned a day insignificant to the author (i.e. no birthdays, anniversaries), writing a reflection of life that very day from the author’s location (i.e. the stark reality), limits to the number of words, and finally, zero blatant self promotion.

Everywhere Magazine: a crowdsourced travel mag Yes, it’s crowdsourc-ive, it’s storytelling, it’s experimental, but is it too simplistic and too random?

Prior to the3six5, we’ve seen very well curated examples that have even been put to print, such as user-generated magazines Everywhere and JPG. In other words, this isn’t new… so what’s really going on here?

Thinking back at the3six5, I even tried to suggest connectivity between stories…

So I wrote to the3six5 co-founder, Len Kendall

“While some of the twitterati I follow seem to like this project a lot, I beg to differ. I value the experimental (back to personal writing) nature of it, like how it provides a “snapshot” of our world from different perspectives, but find the articles all too disconnected from one another. I feel that it lacks connectivity, a kind of holistic purpose behind it. Perhaps I need to be unhinged to the idea of a plot? That said, I admire the difficult simplicity, consistency and diligence behind this project.”

To which Len calmly replied…

“Your reaction makes sense. There is certainly a disconnect between people. But I think that people’s minds often try to get non-fiction to mirror fiction. But that’s not how life operates. It’s very random, and this chronology reflects that. What makes it flow is that once every few days some folks with mention a “checkpoint” in time. Haiti’s earthquake, Obama’s spead, Apple’s ipad, etc. So that 10 years from now, if you read this story, you’ll have some sense of what was taking place at that time and when that time was.”

At this point I’m widening my sights to treat the theme as a giant chronological expression. Len explained that enforcing a theme pressures fiction around our non-fictional world. Thanks to our increasingly politicalized news media, perhaps it’s our learned reaction to pigeon-hole social reality. I have the sensation that what some storytellers are seeing, that isn’t apparent at face value, are qualities which will emerge from both the process and product of this particular sousveillance literature. The fiction will eventually appear because we will implicitly, and punitively, place it there.

As Len blogged, within the first 30 days of this year-long work, we’re already seeing a string of patterns emerge:

The web can be a really messy place. On creating order from chaos, Len writes how “Crowdsourcing ain’t easy”. Maintaining 365 authors for 365 days is pretty intense work, which makes me wonder if this project could ever work as an entirely community-governed iteration.

The number of views, comments and retweets act like an invisible leaderboard. There’s growing competition, or as BBHLab’s Ben Malbon puts it, “God help those writing in November…”. Throw in a few celebrity writers (ZeFrank!), and it looks like I’m pretty much screwed.

And on forcing fiction upon non-fiction: Margo Gremmler said “[...] you brought us all together in an author mosaic”. While I can’t wait to see the big picture, I thought that Gennefer’s tweet was rather poignant for the3six5′s journey…

Twitter / Gennefer Snowfield: @brainopera I'd add we're ...

Almost everyone contributing to this project agreed that “the case study for this project is going to be just as interesting as the project itself.”

To appreciate the3six5 experience, I asked if I could contribute, and was kindly given the day of 24th November 2010. It’s weird… but I suddenly feel like I own that day. It becomes both my honor, and my burden.

For a better idea of the3six5 project, be sure to read Ben Malbon’s “Interview with the3six5 project founders: 365 days, 365 perspectives

  • http://twitter.com/margocole Margo Gremmler

    Thanks for the quote, Kevin – I'm flattered.
    Doubtless this 365-day online project is inspiring ideas for more. (It's certainly inspiring blog posts about the project itself.) I think the allure stems from a growing urge to make the ephemera more poignant and collaborative. Not only keeping it real, but real personal.

    • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin Lim

      Hello Margo, you tapped on emergent patterns, which is exactly what I was looking for.

      There's no argument about the “personal” aspect of writing for the3six5, except that as some of my peers have also observed, much of the writing hasn't been compelling enough. I do remind myself that this project is still in the early stages, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled.

      On the project's open nature, I've had similar issues with certain transmedia and ARG works out there… when a project gets too open-ended, do they really work? These ventures remind me of the potential problem of sandbox-type game worlds… too open and the player gets lost. If we take an artistic stance toward this, then one might argue that it is simply up to the observer to construct meaning around it. The exception being, one could participate by writing or commenting upon the work, thereby fictionalizing it anyway he/she wants.

      You're right, we do have a strong desire to give meaning where there seems to be none… it is our nature.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Thanks for the (digital) ink on the project, Kevin.

    Our project is exactly what Gennifer says: a social, storytelling experience. If someone's a good storyteller, they can tell their stories in a way that matters, and in a way others can relate to. A good story can transcend culture and time, and while this project is still in its infancy, we hope the stories that come out of it will be relevant for years to come.

    • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin Lim

      Hello Dan, pretty crazy that we're both from UB. That said, perhaps this project is an experiment into serendipity?

      Fragmented personal stories can be heard through aggregators like Reddit, personals on Craigslist, visually through PostSecret and Flickr groups, or even through random Youtube viewing. My argument, as with most of my more critical peers, is to locate the3six5 project's most compelling idea.

      This isn't meant to criticize the work. We do feel some sensation that this could be much more, and perhaps only time will tell. As I've told my friends, ideas make the most (or least) sense in hindsight.

      I'm rooting for Len and you.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    By the way, I'm a SUNY Buffalo graduate as well.

  • http://twitter.com/melex Mel Exon

    Kevin

    Nice post, good to see someone questioning received wisdom.
    Personally, I'm enjoying the fact there is a non-linear aspect to the project. I think it's richer and frankly fresher for the fact you dip for a day into a different person's view of the world.. and then onto the next. The external events that loosely link intensely personal reflections* – that's enough connection and cohesion for me.

    Thanks also for calling out the BBH Labs interview with Len and Daniel. As I suggest in that post, it's also well worth checking out @brainpicker's interview with them pre-launch of the 3six5 project – it provides some interesting insight.

    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2009/10/

    *Love Margo's expression 'a growing urge to make the ephemera more poignant and collaborative.' Agreed. It's that and the fact that each writer for this project has just one chance, one shot – so naturally enough there is a kind of Hawthorne Effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect. In other words, most consciously or otherwise raise their game and are less inclined to chit chat about the weather ;-)

    • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin Lim

      Hello Mel, first let me get the fanboy in me out of the way… “OMG I LOVE BBHLabs”. There I'm done.

      Do I see what you're getting at… the different tinted windows looking into the world? The same was said when Youtube first came around, where we could at last see through the eyes (or webcams) or everyone around the globe. As I hinted to Dan, it feels like good old PostSecret or the brand new Pictory… only looser. (David Weinberger's “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” (2002) seems to fit here)

      Thanks for the Brainpicker link. The interview was quite telling, cites great references into conversation and storytelling. Margo's expression is a deadly appropriate, and reminds me of Peggy Phelan: “The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction” (1993). Like twitter, the3six5 is best expressed as performative writing, the experience being around the daily funerals of the written word.

      From a systems perspective, the social algorithm does imply for better writing… but it would be just as exciting if someone deliberately broke the implicit rule ;)