Why I'm Not Jumping On Your Transmedia Platform

Every once in a while, I get an invitation or press release from another new technology platform promising to be the future of transmedia storytelling. I always receive them with a rapid-pulse surge of enthusiasm, and sometimes even with fervent promises to check them out and make something for them right away. (No specific platforms named here to protect the guilty -- that's me!)

But then days and weeks go by with the invitation sitting in my email inbox, and I don't look at it... and I don't... and I don't... Finally, after a certain amount of time and guilt has passed, I reluctantly conclude that I never will and archive the thing before my office carpet swallows me up from the shame of putting it off so long.

It might be helpful to the creators of these platforms for me publicly examine why that is, exactly. So here are my top four reasons for not flexing my muscles on someone else's transmedia storytelling platform.

1. Learning curve. Creating a story on someone else's platform first requires spending precious time and mental energy learning a new toolbox. But I already know how to use the media that are already out there, so a platform that wants to win me over is going to need to convince me that the time spent learning is going to have some payoff by letting me do something I can't do already with HootSuite, WordPress, Django, Skype and Gmail -- or by making something very easy that used to be hard.

Note that UX really matters, and a clunky CMS that aggregates several functions (but where I can't figure out how or where to do what I want) is no substitute for several sites I'm already comfortable with.

2. Structure restrictions. A platform designed for transmedia is by necessity throwing its lot in with a specific structure of transmedia -- a particular method for how they expect a story to unfold over pre-defined media. That dictates a lot regarding what kinds of stories one can tell and how to tell them right out of the gate. One of the most appealing creative elements to doing transmedia work, though, is being able to mash up structural elements -- sometimes you'll use Facebook but sometimes you won't; sometimes you'll use a mobile app, but sometimes you won't.

If a platform doesn't incorporate something I find key to a particular story, then it rapidly loses utility as a central control panel, one of the key promises of many platforms.  And there is not yet a platform in the world -- nor may there ever be -- that accounts for every possible medium I might choose to use. Or even all of the most common ones.

3. Shelf life. Some days, it seems like there are more transmedia storytelling platforms launching than there are actual projects being created for them. But how long will they exist? How long will they be supported? What happens to my body of work if the platform developer goes poof? There's just no way of knowing. Why would I risk customizing my magnum opus for a platform that might not even exist next year?

4. Zero upside. At the end of the day, none of the many, many transmedia platforms out there has made a great case for making the leap. Why exactly should I spend my best ideas experimenting on someone else's platform (and providing them with a proof of concept, I might add)? To be completely blunt about it: what exactly do I get out of that deal?

The press releases and emails often promise me ease of use or metrics or amazing creative possibilities, but the concrete specifics tend to be unconvincing at best. I've never once received a pitch with screen shots of intuitively easy admin panels. Never any compelling examples of baked-in monetization structures. Nothing, really, but some vague buzzwords about the possibilities of transmedia... that I can make perfectly well without anyone's proprietary platform.

So when it comes time to actually make something... well, I remain unconvinced. And so I stick to platforms I control or develop, structure for the story I'm telling, and own my creation whole when it's done.

Until a platform persuades me that it's worth the risk, I guess I'll just have to keep on feeling guilty about ignoring them.

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