By Mark Harris, September 12th, 2010

Sorry it’s been a couple of weeks, but editing, client work, and wedding plans have eaten up my life. This is part two of a small series I’m doing on how we’re experimenting with Wordpress as a platform for managing our whole storyworld. In part 1, I talked about data types, or custom post types, as well as the UI for creating those. I went on to discuss some of the fields each post type would have assigned to it, and how they would help the functionality of those fields.

As I said in part 1, this is not a tutorial so much as us sharing our process in real time. So here I’m going to show you a mistake.

Building the Relationships in our Data

We’re going to start here with Data Relationships. There are any number of ways to do this, but in keeping with our goals of leveraging as much existing code as possible, we searched for WordPress plugins we might use. And we came up with Related by Matthias Siegel. This plugin allows you to manually relate posts to the current post you are editing.

Plugins Menu
Plugins Menu With Plugins Highlighted

When I got Matthias’ plugin, it only had the ability to relate posts to other posts. Obviously, since we are creating all kinds of other content types, this wouldn’t be enough. So I altered the plugin to give it the ability to relate a post of any content type to a post of any other content type. The whole point of this is that if we now have¬† a content type called “Short Story,” and another called “Short Film,” and both of those have the same character, we can now create a “Character” content type, and relate it to both the short story and the short film. This way, we can later query our data and report by character, say, and see all of the Transmedia elements a character shows up in.

So now, with my altered version of Matthias’ plugin installed, every post you edit of every content type¬† has this new section:

Related Plugin
Related Plugin on Post Edit Page

That’s kind of cool. Nice. Simple. Explicit relationships.

D’Oh!

Okay, so once I got Matthias’ related plugin installed and altered, I made some relationships and was happy. Then I realized something bad. This plugin does not make bi-directional relationships. Meaning, when you relate a post on one edit screen, if you go to the related post’s edit screen, the first post is not related there! Wha??????? But nope, I took a peek under the hood and that is in fact how the data model is set up. Bummer. This renders this plugin useless for my needs. I was just about to set out altering it further, when I discovered another related posts plugin. This one was by someone named “Microkid.”

Microkid Related Plugin
Microkid Related Plugin

Not only does Microkid’s plugin include bi-directional relationships, but it also handles custom post types out of the box, and has a more attractive interface to boot. When you install it, each post edit page adds this:

Microkid Related Posts
Microkid Related Posts

As you can see, the interface is very nice. It breaks up the custom content types and shows you how many of each is related to this post you’re working on now. There is a fancy little AJAX search box that allows you to look up posts by name, so it keeps things clean and organized. Nice little plugin. And once again, saves us the work of having to write it ourselves. And the lesson here is that I should have looked a little harder before I focused on the first one.

One thing to note about this plugin is that it has an options panel. And when you add new custom post types, you have to go to that panel and tell it you want to include them in the relatable types.

Microkid options
Microkid options

This options page also gives you the option of showing related posts automatically on your blog, or turning that off and placing them where you want with a widget. Since we’re not really using this for its intended purpose anyway, we turned it off.

Now that we have relationships among our data, what do we do with them? Good question. Well here’s one example besides THE LOST CHILDREN, where this might come in handy.

Neal Stephenson’s new venture is called “The Mongoliad.” This is a “digital novel.” You sign up for a subscription and get new installments every week. But it will also include other media, as well as user submitted content. They have a wikipedia type thing where users can go contribute to the world. And they say if you write something great, it might even make it into Canon. I like this idea, It’s inherently Transmedia. I think it actually has a decent business model about it too.

I don’t know what their back-end is, but it looks like something common. The “‘pedia” has “tags” just like Wordpress, or typepad, etc. But the system I am developing here would pretty perfectly serve their needs. If you go to the “stories” section, you will see they have things called “Content” and “Illustration.” Those are content types. Relationships can be made and so you can sort of generate your own “wikipedia,” or world dictionary, automatically.

And I like this idea. Whether you’re in a world created by SABI, or one created for Hotwheels, I like the idea of spending hours thumbing through a world’s dictionary, then dipping into a story linked off of a certain character bio, sinking into that story for a while, then coming back up to the “dictionary,” thumbing through some more. Or getting into one story, then finding a link to another interesting character and following that. Like, imagine going through the “Fringe” world, then deciding to go off and watch or read some stories about Walter’s past at Harvard. I kind of dig this. And again…is there a business model there? Just selling subscriptions to the world of the story? Low cost. Levels of access and access from anywhere, because you were smart enough to document your world with an online tool like Wordpress? Again, as indie folks looking for the edge, I think this stuff is worth really thinking about.

Though, as the Romans would say: “nihil sub sole novum.” In Andrea’s post on interactivity, I remembered a “novel” from the 80s, written like a dictionary. And beautiful, moving, and subtle.

What I also like about this “dictionary” road, is that it doesn’t have to reduce the quality of any one piece. If a video game is not right for your world, then for God’s sake, don’t make a video game. But I see nothing wrong with cross-linking between, say HEART OF NOW, and a short film about some other part of Amber’s life made by another SABI director. And I think that can be done without violating the integrity of that world.

Continued in Part 3.

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Posted in Storytelling The Lost Children tools and services transmedia

Mark Harris is a filmmaker and technologist in New York City. In addition to producing several shorts Mark is currently working on his first feature film, THE LOST CHILDREN. Mark also runs Gowanus Software, a technology consulting firm in Brooklyn, NY focusing on enterprise and mobile solutions.

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