What did I learn from this year’s The Story conference (can we technically call it a conference? Event? Fun gathering of creative nerds?)? As ever, lots but, as ever, I mostly took away inspiration.

This year I tried to spend less time tweeting/taking notes and more time just listening. As such, I’ve taken the lazy route: here’s a Storify of some of the #story2013 tweets as my ‘notes’. No doubt there will also be the usual podcasts and blog coverage (check The Story website over the next few days/weeks). There’s also a good collection of all tweets, Instagrams etc. put together by Eventifier.

My highlights in brief though:

Alex Balfour, “Former Head of New Media” (great title) for the London 2012 Olympics, talked about his experiences in four years waiting for one big event. This touched everything from the difficulty in staying true to one simple message when corporate communications plans come into play to how technology overtakes you as you’re waiting. In the 4 years they were planning everyone got access to broadband and smartphones so their initial sketches of ‘push button’ phones were somewhat out of date, although their foresight in predicting dual screens and sharing user-generated content was spot on.

Molly Crabapple gave a stirring talk on what artists can contribute to activism in the digital age.

Ben Boucquelet‘s Gumball is officially my new favourite show. A great talk on the painstaking process of pitching and development that goes into a Cartoon Network show and what you can do when you strip back the world’s ideas and take then somewhere a little tangential. Incredibly inventive and full of in-jokes and intelligence in the way Genndy Tartakovsky cartoons are. I loved their side-material, which shows what the characters do when not on TV. This is really just an excuse to show this:

In fact, the animators threatened to run away with the show. The wonderfully named Mikey Please talked us through his wonderful animation The Eagleman Stag, his thesis film that is also up for an Oscar. It’s a fabulous look at the relativity of time as we age and Please gave an interesting analysis of this based on his experience of making the film. Animation, he said, was like a metaphor for this as you work for ages on something that only animates a few seconds. “Like running through treacle,” as he put it. The opening anecdote of his talk, and his film: “When I was 4 I was told I had to wait a year for my next birthday party – a 1/4 of my life at the time. I flipped out”.

Fiona Romeo gave an articulate talk on narrative in interactive museum exhibits and introduced me to the term “Imagineer” (as the guy who designed Disneyland was called – I want this job title). Diane Coyle made economics sound interesting. My friend Alice Bell gave a very passionate 20 mins on children’s books about poo and (separately) Captain Planet (she also managed to get the F-word in twice within the first 2 minutes of speaking). What I took away from her talk was the power of making children’s material ‘hands on’ and how Captain Planet’s true message was not “a superhero will save us from climate change” but how mass cooperative action (“by your powers combined”) will.

Then there was Rob Manuel, the co-founder of B3ta. I’ve spent a lot of time at work recently arguing with people about commenting and communities. So his talk on ‘the bottom half of the internet’ and how it is basically the class war in another guise was interesting. I learned that TV execs call reality TV participants “pond life” and loved his metaphors about the proletariat commentators resorting to ‘lobbing word bombs’ at the petit bourgeois journalists in the space above them. And I thought a bit about the move to apps, mobile-responsive websites and Kindles that strip out the comments. He also raised a good point about moderation – comments are costly not just in staff time but in legal ramifications. And it takes effort to massage a community but no-one pays people well to be a good moderator. By ignoring the comments, are we losing touch with the very people who make up most of society? (of course, he ignores the fact that 80 per cent of users don’t comment and many of the commentators are, let’s face it, weirdos…).

Plenty of food for thought. Once again the ‘story’ of the day – its running order – was spot on, with all the right crests and pick-me-ups in the right spots. As ever, kudos to Matt Locke and his team of helpers. Thanks for all your hard work and another great day.

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