Tropes as Platform

April 19, 2009

Where’s the power?

For those who have been fortunate enough to not encounter it TV Tropes, it’s a wiki that indexes storytelling devices as they apply to just about everything ranging from all forms of pop-culture to real life. Unlike the other wiki as Wikipedia is referred to there, they admit that they are much more informal.

What makes this interesting to think about is that the TV Tropes site seems to actively go against the grain of having any authority, at least publicly. They don’t  promote or feature content, nor do they actively moderate what does or doesn’t count as notability, depending on Wiki Magic to fix pages that lack or let them get deleted.

Nor do they seem to have much in the way of rules; claiming them to be more like guidelines. Their guide to good style can be summed up in the opening quote, “Be aware of these conventions, even if you choose to ignore them.” TV Tropes seems to be more strict on what makes a good or bad example (as that is the content of their site), but even then, they leave it up to users and readers to edit the pages.

Their use of user-provided content seems limited to the site itself. This isn’t a popular website with a book-deal. They use generated content to make their site and have content.

Mostly, their authority comes in the rules used to define user/visitor interaction, and even then they’re much looser than a normal internet online forum. For one thing, “becoming known” on the wiki requires a user name and a password. No email-address provided. And the general guideline seems to be, keep the personal interaction and commentary to the forum and discussion page, and the examples on the example page. So while social interactions are “defined” they’re really not controlled or governed.

I’ve also been thinking about how the Trope model applies to museums and other informal learning institutions. What would an “Exhibit Tropes” site look like?

First, it would be user or visitor centered. This can’t be the insititutional voice of any single institution or even a single organization (such as the American Association of Museum). Not only would the lack of control be unfeasible for an institution, but Exhibit Tropes would likely serve the purposes of visitors or scholars outside individual museums than employees within the museum, or a museum itself. Even if it did become a resource in the museum industry, the model would push most of the power and responsibility to the contributors instead of a higher administrative authority.

Second, and what makes this interesting for me, it would start allowing for the creation of Meta around exhibits. How are natural history museums and science centers presenting the story of dinosaurs? What are common threads, and what makes every exhibit unique? What techniques are becoming “tropes” in the museum world, techniques that frequent museum visitors could identify in several exhibits? What if visitors came together to create a central index of ‘exhibits’?

Obviously, this would be much harder to create than TV Tropes, simply because pop-culture/fandom and story-telling in general inspire very passionate pepole, whereas museums do not seem to invite the same sort of dedication, but still… the idea dances around.