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.

Mark Scott Innovative Ideas Forum 2009: National Library of Australia

Mark Scott was the third speaker on the program at the Innovative Ideas Forum 2009. Mark’s talk was entitled Connecting with Audiences in the Digital Age.


Mark Scott has been the Managing Director of the ABC since July 2006. His talk explored the ways in which the ABC was exploring new ways to connect with audiences. He noted that the ABC is a vast network and operates the second largest media site in the world (after the BBC). Mark suggested that the ABC has a reputation for innovation in media space and prides itself on being Australia’s town square. This town square is located in new media opportunities including mobile technologies (see iView and ABC Mobile, for example). Nielsen’s (2009) Global Faces and Networked Places exemplifies the changing demographics for broadcasters.

Mark observed that the ABC creates content and uses whatever devices available to share this content (MySpace, Facebook, Twitter). He noted that the ABC has a very strong service for young people and accesses returning older listeners through local radio.

Examples of the ABC’s use of social networks include YouTube Summer Heights High and Ja’mie King’s MySpace page. This site acquired 67,000 friends in three weeks. Ja’mie’s Facebook page has  14,000 friends and exemplifies the power of viral engagement in social networks.

Mark noted increases in Facebook traffic (149% groth per annum) and the popularity of Twitter. Mark exemplified the potential of Twitter with a discussion of ABC Melbourne 774’s feed on Black Saturday. During the day there were 2500 followers but the multiplier effect meant that 300,000 people received messages originating with 774. He noted too that the ABC’s Q&A show generated significant amounts of Twitter traffic. It is exploring innovative ways to engage audiences. Like the Gruen Transfer, Q&A is using video for a range of purposes.

Mark discussed the strategic and operational implications of using digital media in innovative ways. He noted the ABC’s strict rules of operation and detailed editorial policies. The ABC has user generated content guidelines and is the first media organisation to do so in depth and online. These guidelines are receiving significant attention by international media organisations.

Mark affirmed the ABC’s responsibility to enable communities to share their stories through ABC Contribute. Other examples of this approach include: New Media Showcases; oral history projects for The Making of Modern Australia; Art on the Street uploads.

Mark argued that the ABC is reinventing itself to take advantage of new media. The future offers inclusive, interactive participative environments.

Library Labs’ post about Mark’s talk is here and questions posed to Mark are here.