Google impressed us all at least a little bit during the Super Bowl with their “Google Search Stories” series of ads: a screencast of a series of Google Web Searches that, when viewed in sequence with accompanying music, told a kind of a story about the searcher.  Parisian Love is probably the most well known.

Now Google is hoping we’ll all get in on the Search Story act with the release of its Search Stories Creator, a web tool that automates much of the screencasting process (it even provides a set of a couple dozen short music tracks to choose from) so you can make your own Search Story.

The tool itself is pretty limited (only 7 search strings, and the last one must be text search instead of one of the other five options like image search), but the overall idea is an excellent one and really highlights the potential for digital networked storytelling today.  Part of this is because so many of us are so familiar with the way Google Web Search auto-suggests possible searches to help you complete yours more quickly, a feature that has been a part of the tool for a while.  This familiarity makes the idea of telling a story using the tool a more reasonable affair — we can fill in the cognitive gaps that might appear between search strings.

The concept of a “search story” is something that probably started as something closer to what the web community has been calling a “meme” (a term taken from Richard Dawkins book The Selfish Gene) in that it was a name we could put on a certain kind of a thing many folks were seeing on the web after the Google ads aired.  When such a thing develops into an established set of principles for making something new that moves beyond its original context in a significant way, we might begin to refer to it as a “genre.”  And once those tools develop a degree of depth and breadth and spread widely enough through society, we may even begin thinking of it as a “medium” in itself.

This continuum from meme to genre to medium is one that in the past was likely to develop very slowly.  Imagine how The Great Train Robbery must have seemed in 1903: a clever new way to bring certain story-telling tools together in a compelling package, but certainly not to many the start of a new toolkit for storytelling.  But soon enough, others found that set of storytelling and meaning-making tools so useful (practically, culturally) that it moved from momentary coalescence to persistent genre.  And animation, which at some level is simply an appropriation of the tools of cinema for a more specific purpose, is today pushing our conception of filmmaking so thoroughly that it’s hard for us not to think of it as a separate medium instead of a genre of cinema.  Many if not most already do.

But this process has accelerated like so many others, with the advent of digital networked technologies themselves.  The flexibility of production and ease of distribution has brought huge numbers of new creators into the field.  These creators have brought a surge of new ideas, not only about what to say in their stories, but how to say it, proliferating memes everywhere.

Some of these memes turn into genres of digital networked storytelling, and it will not be long before we are thinking of them as media unto themselves.  Digital Storytelling — using still images, voice, and music in a video package — already may be there.  Remix video — appropriating material produced by others and transforming it into something new — may be there as well.  It would probably be hard to make a case for Search Story as a genre of digital networked media just yet, but the form is still quite early in its potential development.

The time may have come for some person or group to begin cataloging and curating not only the vast field of whats but the steadily expanding realm of hows.  Any takers?

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