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A Barbarian at the Gate: Five Ways to Protect Twine’s Village from the Coming Invasion

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This article originally appeared at Storycade on October 7, 2014

I’m not the most curious pup in the litter. When Michael Lutz’s “My Father’s Long, Long Legs” hit MetaFilter last November and scorched my brain stem, I assumed it was the thousand-hour effort of a lone HTML5 gunman. I even glanced at the source, thought, “Huh. Never heard of ‘Twee’,” and didn’t even bother to Google it. This pup stayed in the crate.

Imagine my shock this month when a more astute acquaintance explained that, like MyFLLL, hundreds of enhanced fiction experiences are being created on the open-source, beloved, and blossoming platform of Twine. The possibilities of Twine are exhilarating. Its future is glorious. I’m convinced teeming hordes are going to want in, and they’re coming. If a late adopter like me is at your gate, the barbarians are on the march.

You, as a member of the Twine village, may already suspect this. Your blogs and forums may have registered an uptick. You may have noticed that attention from Tumblr, Twitter, and MetaFilter repeatedly hugged Lutz’s server to death. Consider this post both a love letter and a Buzzfeed list: five things you can do, today, from your workstation, to protect your village from the coming invasion.

1. Want to be paid for your labor? Center stage your Patreon links and tip jars.

Yes, most people will pass a tip jar by. Some may even ask, “Why do you have a tip jar?” But others won’t pass it by. Excited people get spendy. Give visitors the chance to show their appreciation in a meaningful way.

If you choose PayPal, this tutorial will walk you through adding a “Donate” link to your site. Other payment systems will have their own tutorials for making links. Placing these links on the front page will help remind readers that what is libre need not be gratis.

2. Want to keep parasites out of your talkback? Update your spam-blockers.

If you’re using WordPress, make sure your Akismet is up-to-date. If you host a forum, investigate what anti-spam plugins are available for your forum software. You might also consider adding sidebar rules so that barbarians can’t act surprised when their offending comments are removed.

3. Want to keep your story platform open, gratis, and libre? Include a software license in your work.

You may be asking why the heck a piece of free code needs a license. You’re not trying to make money off of it, so why be concerned about how other people use it?

What a public license does is protect you from someone pulling an Edison on your Tesla–taking your awesome code, slapping their own license on it, and snatching it away from public life.

There are a few licensing options:

I use Creative Commons for art and GPL for software. An Open Device repost of an OS news comment articulates why better than I could:

“[S]oftware released under the GPL is not free: if you choose to copy and paste GPL code into your own program you have to share it. This is how you pay for GPL code. This is a very egalitarian idea: I share my code, and if you use it in your own program, you pay me back by sharing your code or else you ask me to relicense the code under a different license to suit your needs (which was always possible).” … GPL is a licence made to mimick, in the copyright world, what would be a copyleft world.

If you host your code on github, they throw the latest GPL in your repository by default. I use github for a variety of reasons–bustling community! off-site backup! version control!–but I’ll save those for another day.

4. Want to make the Twine platform accessible to more content creators? Document it.

  • Add links to your Twine work. Whatever you want readers to find–downloads, tutorials, your blog, your Twitter, your Patreon–put a link in the story that just blew their mind. Audiences already expect credits after “The End,” so give it to ‘em. Direct barbarians where you want them to go.

  • Be the document you want to see in the world. If you discover a bug in Twine, report it to the Twinery forum. If you know the answer to someone else’s forum question–and even if you don’t!–chime in. If you can’t find basic information in the Twinery wiki, ask for access and add it. Possession is 9/10ths of the village.
  • Begin writing the history of Twine itself. Document not just the software, but also the people, the dates, the events, the turning points. If you haven’t already, write the story of how you personally discovered Twine. If you don’t write that history for Twine, someone else will.

Is this a helluva lot of labor to ask of someone with a day job and creative projects and home life? Absolutely. So network. Brainstorm. Delegate. Suggest ideas to each other, and, when you can, act on those ideas. Let’s work together to make Twine human-accessible and human-rewarding.

5. Want Twine work to reach a larger audience? Give Twine work a name.

No one outside the Twine community will understand what Twine creations are until there’s one simple word for it. As the above-mentioned Astute Acquaintance also pointed out, no one understood what blogging was until there was the word “blog.”

“Interactive fiction” is accurate, but it’s not precise. A Twine creation need not be a text adventure, Choose Your Own Adventure, game, or even meaningfully interactive. To describe Twine creations to other people, I’ve been using enhanced fiction, which covers the idea of any fiction that functions only on a device. I also kind of dig chimeralit, but both those terms are pretty unwieldy. What’s the best word for the work? Don’t let me keep trying to make “fetch” happen if it’s not going to happen.

In conclusion

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a running start. Maybe your village already knows everything I’ve had to say here. Maybe your village disagrees with my unsolicited opinions. I’d love to hear what you think. Comment here at Storycade or ping me on Twitter @toryhoke. I hope to see you here, there, on the Twinery.org forum, IndieCade (Night Games and all day Sunday), and whatever comes next.

Until then, take care, and Twine on.

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