Twitter and Visual Narratives

I have been trying to be part of the Twitter momentum so evident at present. My attendance at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009 at the National Library of Australia accelerated my interest in Twitter. I was fascinated by the backchannel potential of Twitter at the Forum (#iif09) but realised my own limitations in tracking conversations, listening to some remarkable presentations and blogging live. I realised too that it took a great deal of imagination and energy to be part of the Twitterverse.

I have been away from Twitter for a few days and a recent car journey gave me the opportunity to listen to a talk by Shaun Tan on The Book Show on Radio National. Shaun’s talk was on Visual Narratives and was the 2009 Colin Simpson Lecture for the Australian Society of Authors in Sydney. The talk is available as a podcast and as a pdf document.

Just as I am intrigued by the 140 characters available to me in Twitter, I am fascinated by Shaun’s discussion of visual narratives. In his talk he observed that:

Like writers, illustrators are not really attracted to their chosen language for its descriptive clarity or objectivity, but more for its slipperiness, mystery, ambiguity and accidental poetry. The best illustrated stories make the most of this, often prompting us to think about familiar concepts in an unexpected way, offering up a new and interesting perspective.

Shaun’s subsequent suggestion that “I realise that I share with many other illustrators a fundamental interest in ideas of silence and voicelessness” brought into sharp focus for me why I have been intuitively attracted to Twitter (and perhaps why I have failed so miserably at Plurk).

Shaun developed his theme with a discussion of the Lost Thing.

The Lost Thing, for instance, is an awkward, mute creature without any particular purpose or ability, and for this reason it remains largely ignored by a world that lacks the imagination needed to deal with it. Even the narrator of the story, a boy who is concerned enough to befriend this hapless creature, talks about it in an evasive way, without any description, and much less insight. Every illustrated scene frames a question for the reader: how might we deal with things that are outside of language, or lack any clear meaning?


He discusses the potential of photo albums as perfect examples:

of how illustrated narrative works most effectively, their power is not so much in documenting particulars, but triggering memory and imagination, urging us to fill the empty space around frozen snapshots, to build on fragments and constantly revisit our own storyline, a kind of visual literacy we all understand intuitively.

Shaun concludes with the observation that “our everyday … is a place of things one-half observed and one-half imagined, simultaneously familiar and mysterious”.

I believe the appeal of Twitter is this relationship between observation and imagination. Collectively and personally we have the possibility of engaging with the familiar and mysterious.

Two recent tweets caught my eye in this regard:

Biz Stone:

just helped a blind lady navigate from the subway to her destination — she knew where she was going but I’m still a little lost

Chris Messina

Homeless man walking down 6th, casting with a fly rod. Apparently someone taught him to fish. Now he just needs a body of water.

Rose Holley Innovative Ideas Forum 2009: National Library of Australia

I have been tardy in writing this post! Whilst getting ready to write I read Katie’s delightful write up of the Forum. I thought her post exemplified the energy the Forum created and drew upon. Just as I was writing this I received an #iif2009 tweet about the availability of the podcasts from the day.

Rose Holley, Manager of the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program, National Library of Australia, presented the final talk of the morning at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009. Her talk was entitled “Enhancement and Enrichment of Digital Content by user communities: The Australian Newspapers experience”

Katie and the podcasts will help me as I left the Forum after Rose Holley’s talk. I did follow up her talk in her Many Hands Make Light Work: Public Collaborative OCR Text Correction in Australian Historic Newspapers report available here.


What I enjoyed about Rose’s presentation was her careful discussion and acknowledgement of the work of a small team (6 members) at the NLA responsible for delivering a remarkable project. My principal take home message from Rose’s talk was the power of community involvement in the enhancement process. A secondary one was her delightful discussion of the tag fog potential of tag clouds.

I thought Rose did an outstanding job at the end of a morning of illustrious speakers. Her humour and her profound knowledge made the time fly by. Her report provides all the detail included in her presentation and I recommend it to you.

I left the Forum highly impresed by the ideas shared and the possibilities that arise from social networks. I will follow up the iif2009 links on Slideshare too.

Marcus Gillezeau Innovative Ideas Forum 2009: National Library of Australia

The National Library of Australia hosted the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009. I found the Social Networks page of the program fascinating. Items were being added as the forum progressed including SlideShares.

Jan Fullerton opened the NLA Forum and talked about the NLA as an early adoption organisation. She underscored the importance of the Innovative Ideas’ Forum to stimulate creativity and jolt thinking. The Forums have been important NLA staff development resources but they have become a significant open forum too. Jan confirmed that the NLA encourages exploration and has established some boundaries for ‘non catastrophic experience’.  She summarised the content of the 2009 Forum and emphasised the dynamic and increasingly mainstream use of social networks.  She concluded her introduction with a reminder that many NLA users want a ‘traditional experience’ of the Library in addition to the emerging digital relationships.

Warwick Cathro (Assistant Director-General, Resource Sharing and Innovation, NLA) chaired the first session of the Forum. He introduced Marcus Gillezeau as the first speaker. His presentation was entitled “21st Century All-Media Storytelling – The freedoms and challenges of a multi-platform universe“.


Marcus’s presentation told the story of Scorched from November 2003 to March 2009. He shared with the Forum delegates the all-media approach to Scorched and presented a summary video of the production process that has led to an Emmy Awards nomination.

Marcus described the three-month lead into Scorched via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Faux websites were launched to support this approach. He presented examples of this approach from Scorched TV.  The project had a four-year research and development phase that included In the Line of Fire.

Marcus illustrated the all-media approach to Scorched with examples from Cassie Hoffman‘s role in the story (and the influence lonelygirl15 had in Cassie’s emergence).


Marcus noted that social networks were the key to audience engagement in Scorched.

See the Library Labs’ blog of Marcus’s talk here and this post about the development of Cassie’s role here. This post has the questions posed at the end of Marcus’s talk.