December 9, 2004

TurtlePox and The Quillion

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 5:00 am

I’ve just been shown two new approaches to collaborative networked writing. TurtlePox (on which Jill scooped me) makes a collaborative writing game out of social engineering email viruses, and pushes the virus metaphor. So, for example, last week I got an email with a story about a turtle that needed my help, with a link at the bottom to “participate.” I changed my strain to infect more people each round, and then passed it on to a few people, including “someone” @gmail.com. She changed the order of the initial email’s paragraphs, and then passed it on to folks, including someone @danah.org. That someone passed it on to people, including someone @mail.rit.edu, and lowered the number of infections per round. The someone @rit then rewrote the first paragraph to make it a proclamation of the iconic nature of the story in the following two paragraphs, then passed it on, including to someone @usc.edu. Each of us was making only the types of changes the system allowed us. On the site you can see the strand transformations (which are being reset, except for the strand sent to me) and also a map of its spread across the U.S.

The Quillion is a quite different type of collaborative networked writing. As the author puts it, “I took my favorite things about LiveJournal, Wikipedia, SorryEverybody.com, and Lowbrow.com, and smashed them together into a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster, except without the tragedy and death. Yet.” In a sense it’s like a wiki with no meta-navigation, and no search. You just follow links between the pieces of writing that are there — rewriting if the page author allows it, adding/changing links if the page author allows it, and commenting if the page author allows it. The system keeps track of every place you’ve visited, so you can always get back, but you can’t find anything except via further browsing. The system author has seeded it with some evocative writing of his own, and an audience/author community has already started springing up in the couple days since it launched. And there’s already a meta-discussion in the comments about people doing excessive linking to their pieces. And the start of a collaborative story. And…

Finally, it’s a pleasure to report that both projects were developed as final projects for my electronic writing workshop this semester. There’s also a nice (virtual) “book of poems” forthcoming (which I’ll post about later) and a semi-secret non-virtual book binding project. The secrecy around the book binding has to do with the fact that the books have been altered to contain fictional marginalia and refer to one another, and they’re being bound to match the binding of a certain library into which they will be smuggled and deposited.

This is what makes teaching a pleasure.

2 Responses to “TurtlePox and The Quillion”


  1. andrew Says:

    Exciting! These both look like really interesting experiments. I’m going to sign up to get infected by TurtlePox, and starting messing around with the Quillion.

  2. nick Says:

    Both projects seem quite interesting. I’ll return to both to check them out in greater detail later. I’m interested to see what will distinguish Quillion from the Web in general in the long term, once it has been spidered by Google, once the bot strikes begin. It does have a different mix of permissions systems and wikification abilities, and a different constituency.

    I built up an immunity to TutlePox before getting the email, I’m afraid. I had to sign up for various social networking sites as part of my work as a teaching assistant in a class that dealt with such things, so I’ve had more than my fill of viral and small world-style projects in general. I also couldn’t figure out quickly what “participate” meant – I felt (due to the email and site or due to my own failure to read thoroughly) that I was being asked to agree to participate in a project without knowing what that entailed, and that it might entail sending messages to other people of the sort I got, and that I wasn’t sure I would do that. But despite pox-scarred people such as myself, it’s good to see that there’s some creative writing being injected into the memey infectious mix.

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