Twitter Trench Run

StarWars.com Team | March 18, 2009

If you happened to be hanging out on Twitter over the weekend, and follow prominent bloggers like Sean Bonner, Rudy Jahchan, Tara Brown and Veronica Belmont, you may have witnessed a virtual trench run on the Death Star.

The Twitter trench run is the idea of interactive storytelling consultant Jay Bushman who decided to do a social experiment online to see who indeed is strong with the Force. Starwars.com chats with Bushman about #Sxstarwars.

For non-Twitterers, what the heck is SXStarWars all about?

It was like a guerilla improv theater performance, but instead of being done by actors speaking lines in a theater, it was done by people writing lines over a live updating chat room. It was performed during the SXSW Interactive festival; playing on that, all the Twitter posts have the tag #SXStarWars, so you could filter those entries out of the main stream of everything posted

Why did you decided to do SXStarWars on Twitter?

One of my ongoing projects is producing adaptations of classic literature, reconfigured and re-imagined for different forms of web media. I’ve done a sci-fi version of a Melville short story using Twitter, Goodcaptain.com, a contemporary Spoon River Anthology as a group blog and I’m working on a modernized Pride & Prejudice using Facebook. So I’m always thinking of ways to retell familiar stories in new ways, using wide-reaching interactive media tools. I was also involved with a Halloween retelling of War of the Worlds which used Twitter, Google Maps and other web services to allow hundreds of people to recount a Martian invasion, and that got me thinking of how Twitter could be used for live story events.

The specific idea for doing a Star Wars story came from a tweet by Wil Wheaton. One day he wrote, “This is Red 5 standing by,” and was deluged with replies of Star Wars quotes from his followers. In a follow-up, he said that we could mount a serious attack on the Death Star just from people on Twitter, and I instantly thought “Why don’t we go ahead and do just that?”

I offered Wil the role of Han Solo, but unfortunately he had a previous commitment. Actually, I believe what I wrote to him was: “I have a question for you that every man of our generation wishes he’d get asked: How’d you like to be Han Solo?”

What was the response like from people following you on Twitter?

It was overwhelming. I intentionally left characters out of the script, and was hoping other people would jump in to provide. Did they ever! I think we became the #2 trending topic on Twitter that day. And after we concluded the attack, blew up the station and handed out the medals, other folks kept going, doing the Hoth Attack, using the tag #SXStarWars2. I still haven’t finished going through all of the contributions of the folks who joined in. It took on a life of its own.

What was the best part of the experience?

Seeing how much joy it brought to everyone — the participants, the people who joined in, and those who followed along. Some of my favorite tweet reactions:

@sarahkotlova: These aren’t the droids I was looking for. Or were they? Too crowded in the developer sessions anyway. #SXstarwars
@katiejeanne: Thanks you #sxstarwars for entertaining me, as I am stuck in bed feeling miserable.
@markbate: I think I can safely say #sxstarwars was the worst thing to ever happen to my twitter feed. read: wishing I was there too ;p

Any plans for more SXStarWars events? May I suggest the Battle of Endor?

I’d LOVE to do more. Endor would be tons of fun. There’s a whole new medium for storytelling here that is just beginning to be tapped, and I’m looking forward to finding out what can be done with it. I’ve been so energized by this experience and by SXSW that I’m starting a company called Alchemy Storytelling to do these kinds of interactive story services for others.

None of this would have been possible without the folks who signed up to play along with me, the mass of Twitter users who joined in. Or of course without George Lucas, the whole tapestry of the Star Wars universe that we love so much, and the geniuses at Twitter who gave us this great sandbox to play in. The whole event is going to be archived at A New Group of Signals. Right now, that redirects to the Twitter search page for #SXStarWars. But we’re planning to clean it up and make it easier to follow chronologically. I’ve also got all of the planning resources we used on a wiki, which we’ll but up there. For now it can be read at Stay On Target Wiki.

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Read more about it here:
From SXSW: Death Star Attack Kicked Off on Twitter (via Variety)

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