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Managing Our Storyworld
with WordPress:
Part 1

by Mark Harris

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This is going to be basically a four part series on how I am going to use WordPress to manage the storyworld of our project THE LOST CHILDREN. I’m hoping to deliver these parts about once a week. Might be a little off, since things with the film are very busy, but in general, I am trying to document what we’re actually doing for the film as we go, so…

Organizing Our Data

The first thing I need to say is I am no expert on Transmedia or ARGs or anything like that. There are many other people who are. So this post is not meant as me preaching The Truth down from on high. This post is meant as an exploration of what I am working on now, in the hopes that it sparks some others’ imaginations. In the interest of us all learning, I’m simply sharing the process we’re going through right now.

The second thing I need to say is that this is not a tutorial, and not something that just anyone can do. I’m actually writing some software for this, and the things I’m talking about here will require more custom software to deliver to users. Eventually, if this works, I will likely write a set of WP plugins to simplify this process and make it something anyone can use. But for now, I believe that ideas are what count, and I think many people will be able to understand the ideas here and maybe contribute some of their own.

Bad Diagram of Data Relationships.

The goal here is to see if we can use WordPress as a place to maintain our entire storyworld, and then feed that storyworld out to our various platforms; Tweets, Text Messages, Phone Calls, Location-based content, blogs, etc. The benefit here is that all of our data is in one place, it can be queried, analyzed, related, tagged with metadata, etc. Another benefit is that we are using a good deal of free tools.

What we want to end up with here, is a matrix of our related data, so we can easily know which characters are involved in a which storylines, campaigns, etc., or all of the platforms a certain character is involved in, etc.

There are some various groups out there writing Transmedia software systems right now, with the idea of licensing the technology. I’m sure these systems are far, far superior to what I’m doing. But another goal here is to encourage the lowest of low budget storytellers to think about these things, and know that you too can do them to some degree. Don’t be daunted by your lack of budget. Yes, I have software skills that save me money on a number of these things, but I am also using a lot of free software. Essentially, if you don’t count my time, and say hosting costs and the cost of asset creation, I am spending $0 on this.

I wrote a previous post about how to use WordPress to feed data to your mobile apps. In a sense, this is a follow-up to that post. Or more accurately, it is a prelude to that post. In part 3 of this series, I will loop back around to that JSON post and show you how it ties in with these.

WordPress 3.0

Many of you know WordPress as blog software. In recent times, it has grown in popularity to be more like CMS software. In reality, there is no difference between the two, it’s all just organizing data. But WP has added more and more features that can make it useful for far more than just your blog.

In 3.0 WP introduced a couple of very important concepts. The first concept is the Custom Post Type. This means in addition to “Posts” and “Pages” you can now create “Books,” “Songs,” “Dogs.” “Cats,” whatever you want.

The second concept is that of Custom Taxonomies. A taxonomy is just a big word for categorization(which I guess is a bigger word), it’s just a way to group stuff. WordPress comes out of the box with “Categories.” Now you can create a taxonomy called: “Buzzwords,” and then tag your content with Buzzword->Transmedia. That means you can now query your content and look for all of the content that tagged with the “Buzzword,” “Transmedia.” Make sense?

What I’m Using
  1. WordPress 3.0. This is the newest version of the software and you probably should be on this anyway.
  2. 2 Plugins. So far, I have been doing what I’m doing with available plugins. Sort of. In a couple of cases, I made changes to those plugins for what I needed. But generally, I submit those changes back to the creators and they generally include the changes in their next release.
    1. The First Plugin is Custom Post Type UI by WebDevStudios – allows you to have an admin interface for managing custom post types, then puts those in your admin menu on the left hand side of the Dashboard.
    2. The next one is Related by Matthias Siegel – allows you to manually relate posts to the current post you are editing. I altered it to call up all post types. Have not submitted this back to creator yet, but will do so probably this week.

Plugins Menu With Plugins Highlighted.

I also make liberal use of what WordPress already comes with: The ability to add custom fields to a post, the ability to add media to a post, like images. This is all built in, saving us untold numbers of hours writing it ourselves.

Data is just Data

So what do we mean by data? A character is data in your storyworld. Their backstory, upbringing, photos, relationships, etc. Locations are data. A storyline is data. All of your content is data. The thing you have to understand is data is just data. A “post” post type is the same thing as a “page” post type as the same thing as a “character” post type, as a “text message” post type. These are all just buckets with different names.

So here is the content breakdown I’m working with for THE LOST CHILDREN:

Post Types available with WordPress install:

  1. Post – Main Site
  2. Page – Main Site

These are the types that come with every WordPress install. So I am allowing these to populate the main site: Simple enough. Along with the built in Categories, this allows me to serve up content just like any other WordPress site.

Custom Content Types:

So once we’ve installed the Custom Post Type UI plugin, the left hand nav of the admin screen will have a new option for managing Custom Post Types. It’s at the very bottom. When you click add, you come to a screen for creating Custom Post Types.

Create Storylines Custom Post Type.

As you can see on this screen, we are able to determine which standard post fields are available to this new post type. I usually just add them all. You never know when you might need something. You can also choose to mark a custom post type as “hierarchical.” This means that these post types can have parent post types and child post types. This too might come in very handy. So I mark it as true.

Bottom Half of Create Post Type.

Here are the Custom Post Types we’re starting with for THE LOST CHILDREN, along with some of the custom fields that affect their functionality.

  1. Storyline
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
    3. CUSTOM FIELD: StartDate
    4. CUSTOM FIELD: EndDate
  2. Character
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title ( for the character’s name )
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
  3. Shadowman – We have a character in THE LOST CHILDREN called a Shadowman. No one knows how many of these there are and they can pop up at almost any time. Our first ARG will be based on these guys. The idea will be that they can be scattered around a city, and you go find them, and figure out what they really are. So I wanted to create a type that represents a character that may not really have a name or an identity of his own, but be available when we need him any number of times.
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
    3. CUSTOM FIELD: Latitude
    4. CUSTOM FIELD: Longitude – These fields make it possible for us to place this character on a map for location-based stuff.
  4. Short Film – We’re assuming in our case, that any short films will be online, so we will give them a URL.
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
    4. CUSTOM FIELD: StartDate
    5. CUSTOM FIELD: EndDate
  5. Text Message
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title ( maybe for the subject field? )
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
    3. CUSTOM FIELD: From
  6. Phone Call (A phone call you receive in an ARG, say)
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
    3. CUSTOM FIELD: URL – Perhaps to the audio file?
    4. CUSTOM FIELD: Phone Number
  7. External Blog – In THE LOST CHILDREN, some characters keep outside blogs on the web
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title ( for the title of the external blog )
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
    3. CUSTOM FIELD: External URL
  8. Talisman – in our ARG, you can find certain talismans which help you discover, fight off, subdue and interrogate the Shadowmen for information
    1. BUILT IN FIELD: Title
    2. BUILT IN FIELD: Body
    3. CUSTOM FIELD: Latitude
    4. CUSTOM FIELD: Longitude – Make it possible to place this object on a map for location-based stuff.

So once you have created these custom post types, you’ll start to see them show up in the left hand admin nav. You can see the highlighted “Storylines” type in the image over there.

So, I’m still not sure if we are actually going with the idea of a “Storyline,” but it demonstrates a couple of things you can do with WordPress. Another word for this might be a “Campaign?” But I think the central idea is that it is a piece of content designed to last over a certain period of time. So I go to add new.

The Hector & Celia ARG

So here I create a storyline called “Hector & Celia.” The ARG we’re creating is about a young man and his sister, who are abducted by the Shadowmen. In the ARG, you will receive messages from Hector, you will chase down Shadowmen at actual physicallocations, snap photos of them( through Augmented Reality ), gather talimans to fight them, interrogate them for info, and hopefully find Hector & Celia before it’s too late.

So this entry simply defines that particular storyline.

Create or Edit a Storyline.

As I said above, a storyline will have a start date and an end date. WordPress posts already come with a publish date, meaning, you can set something to go live at a certain future date. But there is no concept of an end date. And if we’re doing a “storyline” or a “campaign” we want that. So I am using the Custom Fields capability available to every WordPress post type:

Custom Fields for Storyline Start and End Dates.

Okay there’ s a lot of information here. So I think I will cut off part 1 at this point. In part 2, I will pick up with creating other content types and relating them all to one another. In part 3, I will show how we are going to actually send this data out into our Transmedia elements. And I think in part 4, I will start to look at metrics and gathering user responses.

As I said at the top, this is an ongoing work in progress, what I am trying right now for my film’s launch in 2011. So I welcome any and all dialog.

(Reprinted with permission. Originally posted at NEW BREED.)

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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