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Storytelling in the Web 2.0 Universe

By November 2, 2016Reading response

My reading response is on Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre by Brian Alexander and Alan Levine (2008). This was a little back researching for me to understand the genesis of the Web 2.0 literacies, and more specifically, storytelling in the Web 2.0 universe. You see, I thought digital storytelling was the same as Web 2.0 storytelling.

It’s not.

Not any more than a pumpkin spice latte is a pumpkin cream cheese muffin. Not the same at all. Well, just the flavor. Or maybe Web 2.0 is the whole pumpkin itself. . . . Okay, enough bad analogies. There’s a distinct difference and I thought I’d get it straight in my mind in light of the many educational applications.

So What is Web 2.0 Storytelling?

Telling stories have been around since the dawn of time and hasn’t changed much. So doesn’t the internet just take the same old story arcs, settings, literary characteristics and so forth and just throw it up into a digital environment for all to see? No, as the authors point out, it’s the telling of stories using Web 2.0 tools, technologies, and strategies, which is defined by two essential features: microcontent and social media (p. 1).

Microcontent is just how it sounds; it’s small chunks of content, with each chunk conveying a primary idea or concept (p.1). This can be anything: a blogs post, YouTube video, wiki entry, Flikr images, a podcast – any small piece of information separate from the context that houses it. Think all the small components that make up a website, but not the “large” website itself.


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The second essential element to Web 2.0 is literally what we call the “social software” (p.1), or platforms (mediums) for social interaction. These platforms are structured to be organized around people, rather than mere databases of information that previously defined the internet in the 1990s. Web 2.0 tools are different in that it is built expressly to combine different microcontent from different users with shared interests, e.g., a group Flikr page interested in Civil War reenactments or a wiki page on the TV show Lost (Lostpedia). A Web 2.0 project is distinctive in that it is touched by many people (p.1).

The Web 2.0 Soup

Digital storytelling dates back to the early days of the personal computer, and people were writing entries in the form of HTML hand-coding on website pages from the outset. With the advent of video production, storytelling took on a whole new dimension. Teachers and students alike jumped on board to learn a powerful form of expression through digital tools in video production and the StoryCenter emerged. But the tool was still linear in scope; an active creation tool but a passive audience experience.

Then the “linked lexia” was born, which literally means connected words, i.e., the hypertext. Alexander and Levine assert that hypertext now offered new forms of co-creation, and as it’s use became more prominent, storytelling via web pages exploded (p. 2). Stories could now be multi-linear, with connections going backwards and forwards or in any kind of direction, such as the stories compiled on the Dreaming Methods project.

And with more and more embedding capabilities, text was not alone. Audio/visual creation tools added more dimensional layers to the storytelling process and the “user generated content” phenomena emerged: the narrative is no longer controlled by one author, but driven by audience participation. Posts and comments can be added to a blog, video diaries on a YouTube channel, or characters tweeting daily log entries (see this great zombie attack diary).

Web 2.0 now becomes central to the online storytelling universe:


What This Means for Education

Web 2.0 storytelling has interesting implications for learning communities from gathering learning objects to content creation. It’s ease-of-use, ready accessibility, familiarity with students, and personal benefits make it an ideal tool across subjects and grade levels. Alexander and Levine cite many examples of this, one being a creative writing blog called Project 1968, a compelling docu-novel about the lives of two young women on their way to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. I love reading the dramatic posts surrounding this political event, but especially like how the entries link to all kinds of historical events and persons around the web. It ends up being this rich, layered story hunt that brings the events surrounding this time period to life.

Alexander and Levine end their article inviting all of us to jump down the rabbit hole and give Web 2.0 a try. They leave us with the prophetic thought as it was written eight years ago, the truth ringing out today:

“Web 2.0 storytelling is a rapidly evolving genre, developing as new platforms emerge and moving in pace with the creativity of the human mind. We anticipate that new storytelling forms will emerge from today’s tools for microblogging, social networking, web-based presentations, and microblog-like videos. We expect to see new forms develop from older ones as this narrative world grows—even e-mail might become a new storytelling tool.” (p.7)

Visit 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story and discover some spiffy tools to craft your story in a new way!


Alexander, B., & Levine, A. (2008). Web 2.0 Storytelling: Emergence of a New Genre. EDUCAUSE Review, 43(6).

One Comment

  • hani park says:

    I’m glad that I learned my new buzzword, Microcontent. When I work with teachers or instructional designers as a UX/UI designer, I feel frustrated sometime because the concept is not yet familiar in eLearning industry. Studies show that users(learners) quickly lose their interest while reviewing through contents on the web. Heatmaps show that only half of content usually exposed to users. I think microcontent is the key to grab users’ attention. In the web 2.0 world, being able to find and utilize different web tools to make content more interesting and creative, is getting more important.

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