Choosing My Own Adventure

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Growing up, I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’d been thinking about doing something with CYOA principles for a while, and during a 2009 vacation I started the project. Over the next couple of months it became a "20% project" for my free time. Here’s the result: A Tweet Your Own Adventure … on Twitter! I'm SteveD503 on Twitter, and this post explains how TYOA came to be.

Choose Your Own Adventure is cool

Choose Your Own Adventure seems to be experiencing a resurgence lately. It was just last year that the series turned 30. This amazing animation of the several CYOA books by Christian Swinehart appeared last year, and I’ve seen a couple visualizations of CYOA books recently. The Choose Your Own Adventure people even have their own Twitter page now. Interestingly, they chose almost the same logo as I did, but with the distinctive “A” from their font. It also looks a little like they took the “O” (and design/color scheme) from Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture. I was a little less inspired – I just wanted to fit all four letters in a square and used Arial because it was my default typeface.

Getting started

To prepare, I graphed out the story from Choose Your Own Adventure #98: You Are A Millionaire to understand how the stories worked. It looked like most threads had 6-9 choices and there were about 20 endings. There was one place where you could rejoin a storyline, but most of the threads continued straight to their end.

On my vacation, Matt Couch and I went to the library and brainstormed all the things that we’ve had happen or almost happened to us on Friday nights out to come up with a list of ~30-40 endings. We weeded out the unreasonable ones, grouped the remainder into endings that could be reached through similar evenings, and built a tree of choices that led to each:

The final result was a neater tree that looks like this (the page numbers don’t match up because I randomized them before I published on Twitter to give it more of the CYOA feel):

The story ended up having 91 pages and is made up of 1,350 tweets (It’s not Page_01 to Page_94, though – some of the pages were already taken when I started).

Other TYOA attempts

After writing the story, I went back and thought about the mechanics of how I wanted to publish it. I wanted to use Twitter in an unconventional way. There are a TYOA efforts already out there, but I thought there was room to innovate. There’s one person publishing a choose your own adventure using a single account and relying on user feedback. It only lets you go through one thread, though, and requires the reader’s attention over a long period of time. I wanted to let users find their way at their own pace. There’s also a group that tried to let people roll their own adventures on Twitter using its search function. Unfortunately, this requires an enormous amount of user-work, and reliance on the Twitter search function means that the stories only persist for about two weeks. As of this writing, their hashtag (#TYOA) did not appear in Twitter’s search results. Jonah Peretti did his own version, but it looks a little more proof-of-concept than fully-baked story. It has some neat ideas, like using links to make each ‘page’ a new webpage, which allows easy (if messy) backtracking. It also eats up almost 40 characters for the 'next' options.

The nuts and bolts

I did a few things to make the story more engaging. In addition to the main storyline, each page has a link to something related where people would normally put their “Web” link. I also tried to include an occasional link or picture instead of just text, and shortened all the pages so that none of them were 20+ tweets (after 19 tweets, hides the remaining tweets, forcing you to click “more”). There's also extra content, both in the 'bio' links of every page and in some hidden pages.

After putting up the first few pages, I realized I hadn’t given much thought to virality. I believe in the idea that virality is all about making your users look awesome in front of their friends and thought about ways that readers could publish their experience to their friends. I settled on a retweetable conclusion that users could retweet from their stories.

I know that most of Twitter’s traffic doesn’t go through the website, so I tested out TYOA on a few different platforms. It works better in some than in others.

I hope you enjoy the story! Send me feedback if you’re interested. I’m SteveD503. If you’re ready to get started, go ahead and Turn to @Page_01!


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