In another article, I’ve discussed the idea of the WIDE WORLD Web — the idea that people with significant connections outside the US have made disproportionately large contributions to innovation and quality on the Web. I suggest in that article that one reason for this is that Wide World people seem to have a particular appreciation for Storytelling. Here, then,I’ll discuss examples of this from articles I’ve written.

The outstanding example of resonance between the Wide World community, storytelling, and the Web is certainly British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie’s tantalizing word picture in Haroun and the Sea of Stories that I see as an envisioning (prediction?) of  the Web. Rushdie, of course, was raised as a Muslim in India, and his “stories within stories within stories” style in Haroun resonates equally with One Thousand and One Nights and with the Web that we experience, with its “liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity,” to borrow Rushdie’s words.

I’ve gotten new insights into storytelling and the Web in following the active brain of Bulgarian blogger and storytelling fan Maria Popova. She coined the phrase “controlled serendipity” that spread virally last winter after being headlined in a NY Times article by Nick Bilton. As I wrote in my commentary about that article, I think the reason the phrase resonated so strongly with people is because it captures the essence of how we use the Web — To follow stories, and make new stories ourselves. So I see Popova as another example of a heightened appreciation of storytelling from the Wide World community.

Popova combines her interest in storytelling with a strong interest in TED conferences (popularized on the Web as video stories told by prominent people), and I learned to see the TED-Storytelling connection from her. Beyond Popova, TED provides another example of the Wide World community and storytelling — TED Curator Chris Anderson grew up in Pakistan and India — the land of Rushdie — and it certainly seems possible that this experience helped to foster his building TED into a prime Web storytelling spot.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

After hearing Daniel Pink’s keynote at the recent Medical Library Association meeting, I watched his TED talk (The surprising science of motivation) and I found it at least as inspiring as his words at MLA. Pink’s ideas on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation are well-known — People doing creative tasks, he says, are more highly motivated by inner drives than they are by external rewards — I won’t go into detail about his thesis here — I’ll just talk about a couple of stories — One that Pink tells and a little follow-up of my own.

Pink’s story that I found especially interesting is about Wikipedia and Encarta. I’m transcribing it since I don’t find that anyone else has done it. Here’s a link to the segment of the video with the story:

In the mid-1990′s Microsoft started an encyclopedia called Encarta. They employed all the right incentives. They paid professionals to write and edit thousands of articles. Well compensated managers oversaw the whole thing to make sure it came in on budget and on time. A few years later another encyclopedia started — A different model — Do it for fun. No one gets paid a cent or a euro or a yen. Do it because you like to do it. Now 10 years ago if you had talked to an economist … anywhere … and said “Hey, I’ve got these different models for creating an encyclopedia — If they went head to head who would win? 10 years ago you could not have found a single, sober economist anywhere on planet earth who would have predicted the Wikipedia model. This is the Titanic battle between these two approaches. This is the Ali-Frazier of motivation, right, this is the Thrilla in Manila, alright — Intrinsic motivators vs extrinsic motivators — Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose versus Carrots & sticks – And who wins — Intrinsic motivation, autonomy, mastery and purpose — in a Knockout.

Great story, well told! Indeed, who would have predicted Wikipedia? Or, in the same vein, who would have predicted blogs and Twitter threatening to replace paid journalists?

My own little story — After returning from a long week at MLA, I watched the Pink video on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. Partly inspired by Pink’s words and partly by ideas from MLA, I decided I’d spend some holiday time on Monday Twittering about the BP Gulf oil disaster — A subject out of my usual more “serious” use of Twitter but — Intrinsic Motivation ;-) –  It’s an area of personal interest, and a chance to put my Twitter skills to work to do a tiny bit to help save the world, maybe?

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

As I’ve been thinking about TED and storytelling recently, I got a couple of serendipitous nudges yesterday that put librarians into that mix. First, I got a comment from Roy Kenagy on my Controlled Serendipity & Storytelling article, in which he talked of his long experience in public libraries, and his idea that stories and serendipity are a good metaphor for what goes on in public libraries:

I’ve been following your controlled serendipity thread attentively, and I’m much taken with the way you’re now weaving story into the flow. One of the themes that I’ve been exploring over the past few years is that of the public library as fundamentally a “story” resource (and a democratic story itself) rather than an “information” resource – and the further thought that the public library’s primary “information” function is not directed search, but serendipitous browsing. All of this based not on theory but on my 33-year experience of what actually happens in public libraries.

Then a bit later I came across a tweet and web page about TEDx Librarians — A TED spinoff by and for Librarians, which is planned to have its first conference in Ontario in Summer 2010. So of course, it occurs … how about having someone talk about Roy’s idea of “The Storytelling Model of the Public Library”? What do you think, Roy? …


Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

On Friday nights, my wife and I often watch a movie at home. A couple of weeks ago, I picked out 5 possibilities from the public library. At home, we “looked under the hood” for these titles on the Web, and none seemed too exciting, so I suggested that we look at some TED videos online instead. And that turned out to be just the thing for an enjoyable evening.

Part of the reason I had TED on my mind that evening is that I was in the middle of working on the Controlled Serendipity & Storytelling series of articles I was writing, based on the work of Maria Popova, who coined the term “controlled serendipity.” Noting that two of Popova’s strong interests are TED and storytelling, it occurred to me that that’s what’s so appealing about TED — It’s storytelling at its best — Good talkers sharing their passions — “Riveting talks by remarkable people” (See below for more about the stories on TED, and the stories my wife and I especially enjoyed …)


I think TED is often thought of as being rather geekish, but it has a wide variety of compelling topics and presenters. Keep in mind what TED stands for — Technology, Entertainment, Design. My wife is far from being a geek, and she has plenty to choose from. Here are the talks we liked from the Best of TED talks

Did the TED storytelling spirit come from India and Pakistan? I was sensitized to the centrality of storytelling – Age-old & modern – in South Asian cultures when I wrote about my idea that master-storyteller Salman Rushdie envisioned the Web. So, seeing that TED developer Chris Anderson “was born in a remote village in Pakistan, and spent his early years in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan” certainly makes me wonder — Did he learn to love story telling from that experience?

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The memorable phrase Controlled Serendipity, from the title of Nick Bilton’s recent much-discussed NY Times article, keeps going through my head. That phrase, as well as other catchy language, is attributed by Bilton to Maria Popova (@brainpicker). Surprisingly, Popava has not been mentioned much in the buzz, so I’m excerpting her striking language


Here’s Bilton quoting Popova (with my boldfacing of the Librarianesque, Meta-ish phrases that stick in my mind):
“Another purveyor of fine content is Maria Popova, who calls this curating ‘controlled serendipity,’ explaining that she filters interesting links to thousands of strangers out of her thirst for curiosity. Mrs. Popova uses a meticulously curated feed of Web sites and Twitter followers to find each day’s pot of gold. She says, ‘I scour it all, hence the serendipity. It’s essentially “metacuration” — curating the backbone, but letting its tentacles move freely. That’s the best formula for content discovery, I find.’ ”

Looking at Popova’s Twitter page and blog, more creativity jumps out (again, boldfacing some of my favorite words):
… From her Twitter Bio: “Interestingness curator & semi-secret geek obsessed with design, storytelling & TED” … And the byline for her blog: “Curating eclectic interestingness from culture’s collective brain.” (What a lot packed into that!)

Beyond America: The *Wide World* Web – Maria Popova is apparently a native of Bulgaria (although her Twitter page says she lives in LA) — Which brings up something I’ve noticed for many years — Often some of the most creative, innovative work on the Web comes from countries other than the US. I thought about this again recently, when researching an article on Apple honchos Steve Jobs (whose biological father is Syrian) and Jonathan Ive, who’s from Britain. Leaving aside the question of why this non-US strength in quality web-work happens, I think it’s worth noting that it does. I’ve been thinking about making a tag to describe this (which I can use for several articles already), and I’m thinking about what to call the tag. Surprisingly there doesn’t seem to be a smooth, non-negative phrase for this (offshore, international, non-US don’t feel right). So I’m thinking of using the tag Wide World — Not strictly accurate, of course, since the US is part of the world, but I think it communicates the sense of the idea. I’m open to suggestions, via comment or email.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey