The WMF Inuka team has been exploring meaningful ways for readers to engage with Wikimedia content. Wikistories – a MediaWiki extension for creating short-form content was released in July 2022 on the Bahasa Indonesian wiki, and used by several editors to create stories as part of the Indonesian community and Indonesian GLAM campaigns. During this period the team interacted with several users and also conducted research that provided insights into how the tool was being utilized, potential gaps, and possible improvements that could help in formatting a story narration. At the same time, the team also wanted to follow the methods of experienced storytellers and learn how they were able to creatively reuse the rich content already available on Wikipedia.
To take this approach forward we initiated a storytelling collaboration with Paperclip Media & Entertainment Private Limited (aka The Paperclip) – a digital media house from India that runs a project of collecting stories from the Indian subcontinent. These multi-part stories are narrated in threads over social media, have a captivating flow, and are appropriately cited. Content from Wikipedia articles and media from Wikimedia Commons are frequently part of these stories.
The main objective of this collaboration was to see how the current long-form content of Wikipedia articles could be truncated into smaller bite-size, easy-to-consume formats that follow a storytelling approach and narrative.
As a pilot, before formally launching the collaboration, an experimental story was prepared using a featured article from the English Wikipedia – the story of the bird Nilkanth. It featured a variety of fables and information related to this bird and all information and imagery came from Wikimedia Commons. A key learning from this particular experiment was: storytelling from one article may not be consistently viable if the topic did not have the depth of variety similar to the featured article that was used. It was decided that going forward multiple articles may have to be tapped to string together the story, and in the coming weeks, 4 stories were created as part of the collaboration titled Football Unheard where we saw 4 story threads emerge from Wikipedia.
The stories were published on Paperclip’s Twitter handle (stories: 1, 2, 3, 4), and can also be read on their website. These stories were published during the 2022 Fifa Men’s Football World Cup tournament for relevance. We observed the creation process of the Paperclip team, and the engagement of their readers, and noted some observations and takeaways.
TRANSFORMING ENCYCLOPEDIA CONTENT INTO STORIES
A storytelling flow has several key parts and becomes more challenging with encyclopedic content as a retelling of the same content focuses on a linear narrative to hold attention.
Sheikh Zain ud-Din, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In their own words,
We tried to curate stories of different flavors with a strong Indian connect and a unique perspective that delight or surprise our readers. The biggest challenge was how to transform a slice of encyclopedic fact to a well narrated story that will attract and retain readers. We needed to add:
The Paperclip team
- a suitable context (for example history or society, details of war or revolution) to set the premise
- Use an engaging peg in the first paragraph to attract eyeball
- Narrate a human condition or social justice story
Football in India has seen growing interest and recognition and the stories we selected from the sport had less obvious connections with the FIFA Men’s World Cup tournament at the time. Multiple articles had to be connected topically to provide an enriching narrative with some unusual connections. The Paperclip team also acknowledged this challenge and explored ideas to hold the reader’s interest
Finding the stories of international football and a unique connection to India was definitely challenging but we went above and beyond to find such connections and weaved them together. For example, Reference of Wayne Rooney in the Kolkata ghat story was a technique we used to make the story very relevant as Rooney has been a regular face on the television as the World Cup expert host. We also attempted to connect FA Cup football with India’s first war of independence – which is a totally unexpected moment of truth for any English football follower.
Our finale story (about Fred Pugsley) was of how a refugee from Rangoon lit up Calcutta football scene – it was a story of human condition and resistance and sparked a lot of relevant emotion among the readers including a few of them who shared personal anecdotes of their parents and grandparents who also suffered similar war experience and traveled to India from Rangoon on foot.Srinwantu Dey, Co-Founder, The Paperclip
Interpretation of the content is part of the storytelling process and Wikipedia content policies provide guardrails to avoid the insertion of bias. Attributions and references are important acknowledgment of the authenticity of the content and upholds the integrity of the topic being narrated. At the same time, stories about difficult topics need careful handling, including the use of appropriate language for these to be inclusive to the wider audience. During the collaboration, the teams learned from each other about sensitive storytelling and balancing encyclopedic authenticity. The Paperclip team commented that they particularly learned a lot about citation methodologies for the creative commons license.
The story about Pugsley eventually also made it to the Indian mainstream news with an article in the Indian Express: The greatest refugee story Indian football ever had: Fred Pugsley, who travelled 500 km on foot from Burma, wins hearts online. This was an encouraging outcome of the exercise that demonstrated potential opportunities for the presentation of encyclopedic content across media for a variety of audiences.
The stories raked in a mixed level of impressions on the primary channel of distribution. While the 1st story was seen more than 240,000 times, the 4th story was seen more than 730,000 times. The combined viewership of the 2nd and 3rd stories was relatively less and a little above 150,000. Besides the over 1 million views, the stories were liked by nearly 7,000 unique visitors, and retweeted by more than 1700 users. Details of the impressions can be found on our project wiki page.
THE POWER OF COLLABORATION
The WMF Partnership and Communications team came together with the WMF Inuka team to work on this collaboration with Paperclip Media & Entertainment Private Limited. We are truly grateful for the time and effort that The Paperclip team’s story writers – Srinwantu Dey, Indranath Mukherjee, Trinanjan Chakraborty, and the team put into carefully crafting these stories by diving into details across topics and connecting them into engaging narratives.
This collaboration with WMF has been a wonderful experience. Every interaction have been thoroughly professional yet deeply touching and learning.
Indranath, The Paperclip
Going forward we see opportunities that a tool like Wikistories can offer for storytellers to follow their narrative styles, while at the same time being able to balance the depth of details and references of encyclopedic content for the readers to trust the source of the topic. It has been a truly engaging collaboration with The Paperclip team and we hope to bring more stories from Wikimedia again in the future.
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