web storytelling — June 23, 2012 at 4:22 pm

HTML Storytelling


smarterstorytelling.com htmlIt’s easy enough to wrap your mind around the concept that your Web site, and each individual page or other active element within this site, should tell a unique story whose properties must include a unifying idea, direction, drama, and a conclusion.

The more difficult mental task is to create such an element in a way that it fully addresses the needs of two categories of audience: one human; the other a machine. While the end goal of any creative online endeavor is to put your story in front of a human being, the means by which such a goal is accomplished entails fully engaging the machine on its own terms.

The machine understands the story you are trying to tell in the language of HTML, a text-based, tag-oriented, hierarchical, markup language that is the fruit of more than sixty years of structured document research. Unlike a human being, the machine’s brain cannot creatively interpret your story in any connotively meaningful way through categorization and contextualization. The onus is upon you to provide this meta-level of meaning to your text through the express, denotative process of declaration. Put another way, the job for the modern storyteller is not just to create and tell the story, but to tell the machine exactly what it means and where the narrative belongs alongside the corpus of other pre-existing narratives.

One reason that HTML became the foundational language of the World Wide Web is that it is a “lightweight” markup language with a limited set of descriptive elements. There are only a handful of structural elements required to produce a valid HTML document (DOC TYPE, TITLE, HEAD, BODY). Additional but nonrequired elements include META descriptors, tags for embedding/linking, and presentation-level formatting commands. HTML elements are parsed by Web spiders and other automated machine scouts from top to bottom and left to right, much as a human reader would parse a printed page.

But there the similarity ends: a machine, unlike a human, has no way of knowing that a picture of a flower is in fact a picture of a flower, what emotions such an image is meant to conjure up, or the synergetic effect such an image is meant to have when assocated with a particular section of text. You must explicitly define what each of these elements mean in advance, and spoonfeed the machine with tags and/or other elements in order to establish meaning within the machine’s hive mind. Doing this successfully means thinking about storytelling in an entirely new way that puts “text” on an equal footing with “context” and acting in a way that systematically eliminates ambiguity from your story’s execution. The tactical modalities used in any execution of HTML storytelling include the correct construction of the canonical category of “text,” proper use of relational elements, and the correct application of meta-data and micro-data descriptive elements.

At SmarterStorytelling.com, our philosophy is based on the proposition that the severe constraints and added definitional workload imposed on storytelling by the semantical requirements of the World Wide Web should not be understood as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to unleash new, more relevant, and engaging strains of storytelling. Being able to do this means being able to understand storytelling from both macro and micro perspectives. Having an idea — even the biggest, best idea in the world — means nothing if its execution cannot navigate through the machine’s invisible terrain. Mapping this terrain, and creating appropriate storytelling vehicles to transit its surface, is what we are about, and our pledge to you is to issue regular communiques from this new world in a way that will supply you with tactical and strategic guidance for your own successful journey.


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