“Building a universe worthy of devotion” is an ambitious task, even for a deity. Yet this is what multiplatform writer and producer Brent Friedman suggests be front-and-center to the foundation of a networked community. For Friedman, the ecosystem precedes and determines its inhabitants. As much as this seems instinctual in our biological and social structures, our information organizations often emphasize the content over the community in which it is contained. As Kevin Kelly explains it, “The network economy is founded on technology, but can only be built on relationships. It starts with chips and ends with trust.” This trust is established through the quality of content presented within a strong community, rallied around a strong narrative–but the community is the Petri dish in which a culture grows.
Slavish dedication to particular platforms is fairly common in the tech industry: after all, Apple and Android fanboys hold their own opposing corners of the web. And using technology to create alternate universes for gaming and entertainment seems like such a natural evolution that science fiction has long anticipated the arrival of virtual realities eventually deemed preferable to our own. For gamers, allegiances to alternate realities often do arise. However, multiplatform and social series such as Valemont (Friedman’s own production) and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries still comprise just a sliver of the available visual programming, even as computers overtake TV in screen time among young adults.
As a society have we been slow to make the leap to networked entertainment communities because of social stigmas and scary science fiction scenarios? For most of us—this writer included—the prospect of interacting predominantly online is a grim one. (Spike Jonze’s new film Her explores some of the emotions we extend to our technology, with pathetic overtones.) And yet, haven’t we already moved most of our social interactions to the digital sphere? The leap that needs to happen is in the realm of community. A threshold of members must be met for these interactions to be valuable–in theoretic terms, Metcalfe’s Law must meet its tipping point. These interactions must also seem authentic. Whenever a new platform first unfolds, its new format can seem gimmicky.
Perhaps the content of many multiplatform experiences just haven’t quite achieved that halo effect worthy of devotion.