Everyone loves location-based stuff. Ever since smartphones with GPS chips became cheap and usable, we've seen an explosion of apps, services, and games that seek to bring the digital world into the real world. Some have been hits, like Foursquare and SCVNGR, but others - like real-time games - are taking more time to mature.
Naturally, we've long wondered how best to make location-based stories.
Of course, the idea of readers having to move in the real world to advance in a story is nothing new. But they haven't become particularly popular, for a few different reasons:
1) They often require readers to be in a specific physical location, which drastically limits the audience. For example, a Sherlock Holmes story in which readers visited locations in London would be very neat, but only for people in London. One way around this is by making a lot of stories around the world, but it can be hard and expensive to achieve that level of scale and momentum.
2) It can be difficult, time-consuming, and frustrating for writers to contribute stories; they might need to spend a lot of time talking to a developer to format and map it correctly, and many writers don't have the time to spare.
3) Many stories are designed and written to be read in a single session, requiring at least a few minutes and potentially over an hour of walking. Unfortunately, sad to say, most readers just don't have the time to spare on something unproven.
4) The variety of smartphones on the market can make it difficult to support a wide audience.
A few weeks ago, we came up with an idea that addressed many of these problems. With SXSW providing an ideal deadline - we like making experiments in time for the conference - we decided to create a working prototype of the idea.
And here it is: Wanderlust. Try it on your smartphone, at wanderluststories.com:
Imagine a book that could tell stories tailored to your location - stories that take you from cafes to libraries to museums, not just in one city or one country, but wherever you are in the world.
Wanderlust is an experimental mobile storytelling platform that works on all smartphones including iPhones, Android, and WebOS. Using a simple web-based editing interface, writers can create stories that move readers from location to location - but unlike previous location-based stories, these locations aren't fixed. Act 1 of a story could require readers to be in any cafe in the world; and Act 2 could take place in any bar in the world.
It's not just location-based storytelling - it's atmosphere-based storytelling.
A platform is nothing without good stories, so we invited some fantastic writers to contribute tales for the launch, including:
- Tourism by Naomi Alderman: A chilling urban fantasy, beginning in a bar.
- Tech by Tom Chatfield: A thousand words of science fiction in one act, beginning in a restaurant.
- Ivy by Andrea Phillips: A dark and dreamlike fairytale, beginning in a nightclub or music venue.
- In The Shadow Of Her Tail by Matt Wieteska: An urban fantasy, beginning in a shop.
- South by Southwest by Adrian Hon: A homage to Hitchcock's spy thriller North by Northwest set during SXSW 2011, beginning (of course) in a convention center.
Because Wanderlust uses HTML to display stories, it's easy for writers to include images, audio, hyperlinks, and even videos. We've created purely text-based stories, but a location-based cartoon or audio drama would be trivial to add.
If you would like to write a story, just contact us at @wanderlustapp or by emailing email@example.com.
How it Works
Wanderlust combines the GPS feature of smartphones with Foursquare's database of venues to determine whether readers are in the right type of place to continue the story - and if not, to help guide them to the nearest cafe (or bar, or museum, or shop...).
We've created Wanderlust as a web-based app, meaning that readers can access stories without installing anything. Thanks to JQuery Mobile, Wanderlust is also fully compatible with a wide range of smartphones including iOS, Android, WebOS, and any other standards-compliant mobile browser. In fact, Wanderlust even works on any modern computer browser such as Firefox, Chrome, or Safari (although it'll look a little weird).
We created Wanderlust as an experiment, but we're eager to see how it's received. We have some great ideas about how it could be extended into more time and location-sensitive ways, and also to introduce branching storylines and gameplay. And as a web-based app, it can also easily be 'skinned', packaged up, and even sold through Apps Stores as a native mobile app.
If you'd like to explore what could be done with Wanderlust commercially, or otherwise, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Producer: Adrian Hon
- Developer: Ernesto Jiménez
- Writer: Matt Wieteska
- Graphic Designer: Estee Chan
See more details on our Case Study.