Thoughts and Opinions about Micro Fiction

Social Media has provided a global platform that people use to express themselves. It has also shaped the way information is disseminated throughout the world. Different platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide different ways to share information and communicate,  and at times impose certain constraints on how people communicate with each other. Sometimes, these constraints drive creativity.

Twitter’s 140 character limit for example, helped popularize micro fiction 1. Today, communities like Terribly Tiny Tales and The Scribbled Stories have thousands of followers and contributors. Trying to convey as much information and emotion in as few words as possible has been around since a long time, of course. But the micro tales format, its acceptance and widespread popularity is symbolic of the social media phenomenon and how it affects us all.

The widespread success of these communities and these works of micro fiction got me thinking about its origins, its rise to popularity, and like any massively popular meme or internet trend, and why there are so many people who think it has “lost its touch”.


What is micro fiction, and who are these communities?

The origins of micro tales can of course be traced to Twitter, founded in 2006, a social media platform that allows users to share short posts (140 characters or less) called tweets. The aforementioned “Terribly Tiny Tales” started of as a Facebook page in 2013 2. The about page on their official website, terriblytinytales.com, says

“terribly tiny tales brings together a diverse pool of fantastic writers to create one tweet-sized story, everyday. We invite readers to contribute a word from which the writer picks a word of his/her choice.”

Another popular micro fiction community is “The Scribbled Stories”, which started off in 2015, and seems to have a similar format, but describe themselves as

“… a collective of amateur writers and serves as a storytelling platform for writers across the globe.”

As such, the latter does not seem to be limited to micro fiction as can be seen from their website, thescribbledstories.com. However, their most popular content seems to be in that format, most often shared as an image with white text on a blue background 3.


Why is Micro Fiction so popular?

1. Easy to Share

The character restriction lends itself to the creation of short tales, snippets or even poetry, often with complexity and nuances that force the reader to “read between the lines”. As these works of fiction are short by definition, they are often shared as an image rather than in text format, which makes them easy to share. The combination of being easy to consume and easy to share can often create a snowball effect of viral internet success.

2. Easy to write, and your work gets validated

Writing, and creative writing especially so, is often perceived as being the domain of the creative. It is looked upon as something that you need to have an innate knack for. Terribly tiny tales started with a group of 15 writers, but it has since then been opened to the public. The Scribbled Stories also has a similar system, people can submit their creations via the submit page on their website. They even mention various categories based on word limits.

Once you submit your work, it’s looked at by a team, and shared on social media if it’s accepted. This is the modern equivalent of writing to a newspaper, a radio show, or your school magazine. The convenience of being able to submit your work online, and the validation of your post being read and accepted by someone and shared on social media for thousands of people to see is the ultimate reward in today’s world. The relative ease of writing something in the micro fiction format, combined with the anticipation, waiting to see whether or not your post will be selected, and the reward of having your post shared with thousands of people, and indeed even being “liked” and “shared” by people is a massive validation of a person’s writing capability.

3. In tune with our short attention spans on social media

This post by Mark Manson explains this very well. In the world of social media our attention is at a premium- and anything that grabs your attention is shared, and in most cases, forgotten about soon after. Micro Fiction communities generate so much content that spans across so many different topics, that any given piece of content has a chance of resonating with a certain section of the general populace.

Most people, when asked about why they share certain things, often reply with “I don’t know, it just felt nice at the time…”


If it’s so popular, why do some people hate it?

When something resonates with people, as is the case with internet memes and viral trends, there’s always a saturation point, where the interest begins to wane, or even turn into a dislike due to it being repeated many times. In this post I’ve mentioned only the two most popular platforms for micro fiction, but in reality there are a lot of such pages out there, and while Terribly Tiny Tales does touch upon the problem of curating so many entries 4, there are so many other spin-off communities around which perhaps look only for viral success via post volume, rather than post quality.

I think that this lack of curation is one of the key reasons why some people are annoyed. With so many people getting to post their micro fiction and get published, with little to no curation, these communities become less about getting your work accepted, appreciated and understood, but more about being cannon fodder that feeds the social media machine. This might sound cynical but it does seem like the move away from a small group to an open community with no moderation, no community feedback mechanism and no centralized curation is a deliberate move to gain followers, gain likes, shares, and perpetuate the aforementioned social media machine.

What do the owners of these pages stand to gain from this perpetual social media juggernaut? When you have a massive social media influence, it can be used to make money, and brands have already begun to utilize these communities as a platform to gain some traction.

hotspot

This image shows how blatant the brand tie-ins can be at times.

 


Objectively analyzing micro fiction

What constitutes good micro fiction is highly subjective. What some people might find appealing in a cute, smart or funny way, might not be looked at the same way by others.  Personally, I feel like good micro fiction should have multiple layers of meaning, requiring you to “read between the lines”.

However, looking at a lot of these works, I find that many of these “stories” have simple, linear narratives. They are often simple anecdotes which while a lot of people can relate to, aren’t really very complex. A lot of these are based on common events and are thus regarded as unoriginal. When a lot of seemingly trite content floods social media feeds, it leads to an inevitable negative reaction 5. Anecdotes are easier to write, as they are based on real life events. They are easy to read because of their linear narrative. They are easy to relate to because most of these anecdotes are based on very common events that occur in most people’s lives, such as getting bad grades in an exam, for example.

This brings us back to the broader issue of categorization and curation. The micro fiction communities have broadened their scope, and their definition of what they consider “tiny tales” or “stories”, for the reasons mentioned previously.

What can they do to improve?

I feel like the key component missing in this whole micro fiction “community”, is the lack of any feedback. There is no community moderation. A sign of a healthy community is discussion, and constructive criticism, which I find completely lacking in any of these Facebook pages. People are expected to submit their work, and hope that it is published. There is no feedback from the people who run the pages, and there is no way to garner feedback from the other members of the community 6.

One of the ways to provide constructive feedback is to connect these prospective writers with established ones. Of course, this seems like an idealistic solution, but I do believe that social media is an extremely powerful tool that can make this happen. If a community focuses on the core group of people that actively want to improve, and aren’t just there to feed off its popularity for personal gain, I believe that it could be a great tool for people who want to be better.

A few points in conclusion:

  • The topic of micro fiction and it’s popularity is full of nuances that I wish to capture, and I’ve just scratched the surface. I would love to have a hear from others about their opinions and experiences, so I can see things from all possible points of view.
  • I would love to be able  to know how these pages/communities are run to get a better understanding or appreciation of the challenges involved in bridging the gap between the current and ideal state of the community.
  • Feel free to criticize, but keep it civil. I may even create another post where I respond to your comments.
  • While criticizing, poking fun at  or even hating these micro fiction communities is fine as a personal choice, having a “holier than thou” attitude is not. What I do not like, are people who try to act like the gatekeepers of “good writing”, which may demotivate people. Say what you will about micro fiction, but I like to think that there are at least some people there who want some positive affirmation, some validation of their creativity, people who just need someone to provide feedback and maybe even guidance. Don’t be like this guy.
  • It would be great to look at Micro Fiction in the backdrop of our social media culture as a whole and how it can be used to explain our behavior on social media.
  • Shout out to @thewisecrab and @twatterbaba on Twitter who listened to my ideas and provided feedback.

Footnotes:

A few good examples of micro fiction on twitter are Instant Fiction and @ThePatanoiac

  1. This Quora post talks about the origin story, and it is as follows:

“Terribly Tiny Tales started off as a Facebook page back in 2013, conceptualized by Anuj Gosalia, and later joined in by Chintan Ruparel. The platform consisted of a team of 15 writers who contributed regularly. 3 years later, we are a community of approximately 100 writers who work closely with us as well as over 50,000 writers who share their work with us from all over the world.”

Anuj Gosalia also has a Twitter page in which he describes himself as the “Co-Founder/CEO – Terribly Tiny Tales”, which gives credence to the above.

  1. As such, Terribly Tiny Tales also seem to have a distinct style of white text on a black background, but they have often deviated from that style for collaborations with various websites or for particular topics. This can be seen on their website under collaborations.
  2. On the topic of curation, Terribly Tiny Tales had this to say, to one of the commenters on their website:curationttt
  3. In fact, there are a lot of people who openly poke fun at this trend. One example is Stand-up comedian Sahil Shah who often shares “terribly tatti tales”, like this one.
  4. Perhaps getting feedback from others does not make too much sense in the case of micro fiction, as the amount of words used are too less, and it is not too easy to critique something that is meant to be interpreted in multiple ways. But I am open to more suggestions!

 

Peeple, Self Presentation and Redefining “Weak Ties”

Peeple is an app that’s been in the news recently. It’s an app that would let people rate other people, publicly. There has been quite a bit of outrage about it on the internet, because of what it stands for, and the potential of disastrous things happening to people and their reputations. Let’s peel back some of the layers and try to see the implications of this concept.

What is Peeple

Peeple as I mentioned before is an app that would let you post reviews and rate other people that you know. You can post about others, and others can post about you. Just about anyone that knows you, your neighbor, colleague, etc. could simply give you a rating and write a review about you, like you would on Yelp.

You cannot opt out of this, meaning that if someone decides to post a review about you, it will be on the system. On the other hand, you would get 48 hours to contest any review that you have received.

And the internet responded

There has been considerable backlash on the internet over this app idea. (Not to mention they stole the branding of another legitimate business.) When it comes to presentation of self, nobody wants other people to control it. Our self image is something we are very conscious of, and we take immense care to maintain a particular public image. This image changes based on the context, or group of people as well. There are a lot of dynamics involved in social communication.

Presentation of Self in the age of Social Media

These days, most of us have profiles on numerous social networking websites. We use them to connect and communicate with other people, but that is a secondary purpose. The primary reason for these profiles to exist is to “claim your name”, to project an image of oneself on the web, via posts, communications, messages and so on. We connect with other people, and affiliate with groups and other such entities as a statement of intent. On a surface level, it is a communication platform. But beyond that, it is a means of generating and projecting a certain image of yourself on to others.

To this end, we are often careful of what we post, what we “like”, what we share, and with whom. We delete or modify posts in order to keep a certain image intact. We carefully curate our profiles, to varying degree. Some people take this more seriously than others, of course. But at some level, this curation of social profiles takes place.

Weak ties and Networking

Another purpose of social media is to create and maintain “Weak Ties” – as the name suggests, these are acquaintances, friends, etc. that are not “close friends” or family, etc. but are affiliated to you, often via other people. Friends of friends, acquaintances, people you’ve met at social events and so on, that you may not really know a lot about, but have heard of or met a few times. The “friend” metaphor on Facebook lost it’s significance a while ago, in this regard. We “friend” so many people on Facebook at times, that it is generally more like an extended network of people. Even LinkedIn is a connection based social network, which directly uses such metaphors as first second and third connections.

The significance of weak ties is that they are often very useful when it comes to gaining professional opportunities, or being a part of social and cultural events. Even more so than strong ties. The more people you know, the easier it is for you to “get things done”, so to speak. That’s why there are so many networking events and meetups where people meet new people and get acquainted with people for professional or personal reasons.

Peeple as a threat to Weak Ties and Self Presentation

Of course, the concept of a People rating app has obvious negative connotations. Most importantly, people that do not like you would be free to post negative reviews about you. People who are in competition to you might use it as a means to slander. Personal attacks could gain an even more potent dimension.

As I mentioned before, people spend a lot of time maintaining and worrying about their self image. The Peeple app would mean losing control over this deeply personal component of social engagement. There would be some that like the idea of things being thrown into chaos, and the added layer of tension that the proliferation of such apps would bring into society.

In the professional world, this may not seem to have a direct impact, however it may come up in employee and candidate background checks.

Creating new “weak ties” could thus become very difficult for people if there are certain ideological or preferential differences between people that would not have mattered if not disclosed. If your “character” defined by a star rating becomes public knowledge, it could lead to losing out on networking opportunities.

Peeple as an opportunity

As all of us have learned how to make social media work for us when it comes to presenting ourselves to the world, in time, people could also find ways to leverage apps like this for their own benefit. Tacit agreements between people regarding reviews is one way. Using these apps to heap praise onto prospective employers or other groups to influence their decisions could also be possible. This app could also be, therefore, assimilated into the pool of ways in which you project your own self image. Today we curate social profiles to create a self image, maybe in a future where these apps exist, we would have to curate these profiles through other people. People who know how to influence others directly or indirectly could use tacit agreements or discussions to mitigate the negative effects of any “bad reviews”. For example, if someone posts a bad review about you, you could ask someone to counter it by posting a good review, or posting a counter-review on the other profile. Perhaps, a reply to the negative review with some context, and leaving the viewer of the profile to make conclusions.

This is the side that the co-founders of the company would want us to see- a means of getting feedback from people you know, so that you can improve upon it and be the “best person you can be”. I personally don’t buy it, because it’s a pathetically simplistic solution to a complex topic of social interactions, which is inherently nuanced and contextual in nature.

Of course, this could get very messy very fast. This does have a “he-said-she-said” feel to it, kind of like some kind of high-school drama. If apps like Peeple do get into the collective mind-space of society, there would have to be tacit agreements as I mentioned before, not to use such applications. People could decide not to use this app, or to disregard any reviews left on them.

The idea of the Peeple app is inherently invasive. It could lead to proliferation of gender biases, race biases, and so on. It could lead to creation of inequality – an “elite” class and a “lower” class separated by their star ratings. It goes against the very fabric of modern civilization – the fact that there are certain unspoken rules, often called the social contract. A part of me really hopes people don’t fall for this obviously terrible idea of reducing a person to a number value, but another part of me is really intrigued to see how society would adapt and react to this if it were ever to see the light of day.