Thursday, March 10, 2022

Cleaning the office again

So I'm working on another crazy new business venture (you'll find out soon enough), and when I start a new venture I always feel the need to clean my office. 

What are stories for?

Here's a thing I came across in my cleaning that I thought you might like to see. Years ago, I wrote about an experience that helped me understand the allure of stories. I was eating breakfast one day while leafing through a magazine, and I saw an advertisement that went like this:

something in small print

BECAUSE

something else in small print

In a split second, my hand jerked the magazine up to my face. I had to know what was because of what. 

I used this little story to talk about why stories are so engaging. To survive, we need to know what happens because of what. Stories help us figure that out, because in every story, something happens because of something.

Well. When I was cleaning my office this time, I found that advertisement. Apparently I had ripped it out of the magazine and kept it.


It doesn't say "because." It says "more importantly." Huh. I remembered it wrong all these years. 

That's even better! Now it shows two things:

  1. Stories are engaging because we need to know what is more important than what. In every story, something is more important than something else. (It just so happens that this is also true.) Stories are importance filters. They help us to distinguish signals from noise.
  2. Stories are unreliable because we often remember them wrong, change them in memory, and use them to deceive ourselves and others. Stories can help us to distinguish signals from noise. But they can also distort signals, and they can create illusions of signals that do not exist. 

When it comes to making sense of the world, stories are necessary and insufficient. This is why narrative thinking works best in synergy with other modes of thinking. We are the storytelling animal, yes, and we are the list-making animal, the data-gathering animal, the hypothesis-testing animal, and the fact-checking animal. 

This is also why every folk tale tradition, going back thousands of years, includes stories whose purpose is to ridicule the simplistic belief that storytelling can ever be sufficient in and of itself.

Anyway, I thought you folks might enjoy that little story-of-a-story.

Anybody want a book?

If you have spoken to me over Zoom in the past decade, you may have experienced this snippet of conversation.

You: Some interesting thing.

Me: Oh, I have this great book about that! It's by . . . I don't remember, but it's here somewhere. Let me look.

You: More interesting things. 

Me: What? Oh, sorry, I was looking for that book.

This will no longer happen. I have finally rearranged all of my books into nice neat categories. 

What are the categories? What sorts of books does an ecologist-turned-social-researcher have on her shelves? 

  • folk tales,
  • narrative (separated, of course, into form, function, and phenomenon), 
  • story work, group work, community work, organizational work (including knowledge management),
  • anthropology, sociology, research (narrative, action, qualitative, mixed-methods),
  • ecology, science, history and philosophy of science,
  • complexity, complexity in human life (groups, societies, organizations), 
  • decision making, decision support, policy, conflict, political science,
  • knowledge, psychology, cognitive science, philosophy,
  • history, culture, cultural change,
  • art, writing, design (visual, educational, software, games), programming, statistics.

MORE IMPORTANTLY. . .

While sorting, I found multiple copies of several books. If anyone wants any of these books, send me an email with your physical address, and I will send it to you. The books are:

One of the books I "bought" multiple copies of was my own. Apparently, when I have needed to look up something in WWS, I have been taking copies out of the box of books I bought to sell or give away at conferences, forgetting that I had already done so. I found three of these extra copies of WWS, sticky-noted but otherwise pristine.

But on looking at my box of books, I think I should just give the whole thing away. I have about a dozen copies of WWS that would have gone into other hands over the past few years if I had been attending in-person conferences. But as it is, they are just sitting here taking up space. So if you want one, let me know, and I'll send it to you.

Of course, it will cost me something to mail books to you, especially if you are not in the United States. However, I am willing to set up a sliding scale so I can declutter my office. If you want to send me something to defray the shipping cost, go ahead and do that. (You can use the donate button on either the WWS or NarraFirma web site. On the NF site, the blue donate button is near the bottom of the page.) If you can't send me anything for the postage, I'll send you the book(s) you want anyway.

At this time I would like to extend a sincere apology to a person (they know who they are) to whom I promised to send one of my duplicate books several years ago. I forgot to do it, then lost the book.

If you ask me to send you one of these books, and I don't send it, please, keep reminding me.







Friday, February 25, 2022

Mail bag: How many stories?

Last week somebody asked me a question via email that I've already answered lots of times: How many stories should a PNI project collect? 

I was about to say "it's on page whatever in my book," like I usually do, but then I thought -- why don't I write something new this time, just to see what happens? I'm glad I did, because I think my answer is getting better as I keep doing more projects. Anyway, here's what I wrote. Maybe it will be helpful to you as well.

The "how many stories" question comes up often when people are planning story projects. The answer is a bit complicated, but it depends on six things: issues, ambitions, abstractions, experiences, engagement, and people.

Issues: One or many?

If you want to talk about one big, simple issue, you need one set of stories. However, if you want to talk about multiple issues, or one very complex issue with a lot of other issues embedded within it, you need more stories. 

One way I like to use to figure out if an issue is complex is to keep asking "And what issues lie within that?" and then stop when the answer is "there aren't any issues within it."

For whatever number of stories you plan to collect, you must multiply it by the number of discrete issues you want to talk about. For example, if I wanted to help people talk about jobs and homelessness, I would gather two sets of stories (with some common questions to tie them together), so people can explore each issue with the depth it requires.

Ambitions: Exploratory or in-depth?

If you want to:

  • prove without a doubt that something is happening (in a way that cannot be dismissed),
  • represent the voices of people who have not been heard (in a way that cannot be ignored),
  • help people think through an issue deeply enough to arrive at useful conclusions and plans (in a way that will not fall apart later on), then
  • you need more stories than if you just want to explore a topic and see what happens.

Ambitious projects need 2-4 times as many stories as exploratory projects. In an ambitious project, the patterns in the stories must be obvious, plentiful, and complex enough to be explored in depth. In an exploratory project, it's okay if the patterns are just interesting hints at things people might want to explore more fully in the future. 

Abstractions: Concrete or vague?

If you want to explore abstract issues that are difficult to explain in ordinary words, you will need more stories than if you want to explore simple, concrete issues. 

For example, say you want to know how people feel about the new traffic lights in your neighborhood. You can just ask people how they feel about the new traffic lights in your neighborhood. But if you want to explore how your community is building resilience for a 21st century future, or some other string of jargon that means a lot to some people and nothing to others, you might have trouble gathering relevant stories. Most likely, you'll get a lot of "scattershot" stories based on people's guesses as to what you might be asking them to talk about.

A good test is to write down a question you would like to ask people, then translate it into simple, everyday language. Search for the "1000 most common words" in whatever language the question will be in, then remove all the words in the question that are not in that list. Then ask yourself: if you frame your question in common words, will the stories told in response adequately address the issue you want to address? If yes, just ask the question that way, and you're fine. You won't need extra stories.

But if rephrasing your question with common words will push it far away from the issue you want to address, then you will need to collect more stories, so that some of the scattershot stories you collect will fall onto your target.

Experiences: With stories, or with stories and patterns?

If you want people to meet in rooms, share stories, and do some sensemaking exercises together, you can gather as few as twenty stories per session. You might do that a few times within a project, but as long as it's people talking, you can see and work with patterns in a few dozen to several dozen stories.

On the other hand, if you want to do what I call catalysis (which is just analysis without the definitive conclusions), you need at least 100 stories to start finding statistical patterns in your data (answers to questions about stories). At 100 stories most such patterns tend to be weak. At 150 or 200 stories patterns are stronger (and less likely to be considered fake or irrelevant). I get pretty nervous when I have do catalysis with only 100 stories to work with. At around 200 stories I start to feel more comfortable, because the patterns I find are easy to see and talk about (without worrying that people will say "there's nothing there"). 

This more-is-better trend continues until about 600 stories, when you start running into diminishing returns. At that point you are better off using your time to collect stories on a different issue (unless, of course, some other aspect of this list means you need to push the number up for other reasons).

Catalysis is not important to, or even advisable for, every PNI project. Sometimes you do need to generate a lot of graphs and statistics. But sometimes you can get the same result with fewer stories by having people work with the stories directly, in sensemaking exercises. It all depends on what sorts of experiences you want people to have.

I always advise people to imagine the people they want to help or reach (whoever they are) responding to patterns in the stories and other data they plan to collect. If you can picture those people looking at graphs and statistical patterns and saying, "Oh, wow, now I get it," then you want those things to show those people, so you need catalysis.

But if you can picture the same people saying the same things because they are working with the stories directly (i.e., without any graphs and statistics), you don't need catalysis. In fact, it might be a bad idea. It might waste time you can use for other, more important things, like talking to more people, holding more sessions, covering more issues, getting more stories to more people, helping more people learn how to gather and work with stories, or iterating over the project more times.

On my web site I have an excerpt from a catalysis report which a client allowed me to share. If you look at it, you can see what the patterns that come out of catalysis tend to look like. If that seems like it would not be useful to your project, you don't need catalysis, and you don't need hundreds of stories. On the other hand, if that sort of report seems like just the kind of thing you need, then you can look at the numbers listed on the second page of the report. Those are typical numbers for projects that support catalysis well.

Engagement: Deep conversations, or messages in bottles?


A lot of "what works" in story work has to do with facilitation and engagement. I once saw a project with 80 stories work far better (in the sense of generating more useful insights) than a project with 1600 stories. 

  • The stories in the first project came from a group session with 20 people that was carried out by an expert facilitator who helped the people in the room feel welcome, safe, and heard. As a result, the people really spoke to the issues, and their stories and answers to questions contained many striking insights. 
  • The second project used a web form that had embedded in it some constraining expectations about what respondents ought to say. Those 1600 people said more surface-level things, so even with 20 times more stories, less useful insight came out of the project. It was still a good project, but it did not explore its issues as deeply as the project with 80 stories.

So there is a quality-quantity balance. The more quality you can get in your stories (in terms of how deeply and authentically people can explore the issues at hand), the fewer stories will provide the same result. Conversely, if for some reason you cannot gather quality stories (maybe people are reluctant, or you can't talk to them in person), a greater quantity of stories can make up for it, to some extent. 

On some projects, quality is the primary constraint (so you need more stories), and on other projects, quantity is the primary constraint (so you need deeper engagement in the stories you can collect).

People: Small or large community? Small or large need?

The more people you want to listen to, and the more the people in that group need to feel heard, the more stories you need to collect. Participatory story work never results in statistical sampling (because it's self-selecting), but you do need more stories to talk about issues in a community of 10,000 than in a community of 100. And you need more stories in a community with a strong need to be heard than in a community where people have already had plenty of chances to speak up.

My general rule is that if at least 20% of the people in any community have shared stories in a project, people tend to feel that the collected stories are representative of the community. In cases where people in a community feel especially unheard, that percent has to go up, maybe to 30% or 40%. The story collection also has to be balanced to represent all relevant viewpoints, but that is the shape of the collection, not its size. 

Having said that, a rule of thumb based on percentage doesn't work as well if the population is huge. If, say, there are 50,000 people in a community, hearing from 20,000 of them might pose logistical problems. I have seen story projects collect 10,000 stories, but it's not the norm. Most projects have fewer than 1000 stories, just because the people doing the projects have limited time to gather and work with the stories.

In the case of a larger community, it's reasonable to say that 20-40% of the community should be invited to share stories. After all, it's more about who is allowed to speak than who actually speaks.

Web-based surveys tend to get a 5-10% response rate, so if 20,000 people are invited to speak, you would get something like 1000-2000 stories, which is doable logistically.

If stories are collected in person, in interviews or groups, it's hard to get 1000 stories, even if you invite 20,000 people. It takes more time and energy to come to a session or interview than to fill out a web form, so instead of a 5-10% response rate you will tend to get more like 1%. On the other hand, stories gathered in interviews and sessions are so much deeper and richer than web-collected stories that smaller numbers of stories may not be a problem (see above).

Another thing is that, if a project contains multiple sub-projects that explore different issues (also see above), they can together add up to hearing from 20-40% of the population, even when the population is large. You can link sub-projects together by using some common questions. If you do that, you can get to huge numbers of stories, spread across sub-projects within a larger, overarching project.

 



Thursday, January 6, 2022

Narratopia is an open source game

Two blog posts back, I said I was going to work on Narratopia again. I said I planned to work on two tasks: (1) trim the print-on-demand version of the game to make it cheaper, and (2) make the game easier to translate. 

I did try. For weeks. But both of the tasks turned out to be much harder than I anticipated. I could not find a way to trim down the print-on-demand cost very much. And I could not find a way to make the translation process easy for you without creating an ongoing burden for myself.

Eventually I found a solution. It happened through a chain of events that I would like to tell you about.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a visual artist, so I took every art class I could find. At first I had trouble getting started on new drawings. Every time I faced a blank sheet of paper I would freeze. So I developed a mantra: There's always more paper. I would look through my drawing pad, of perhaps 200 pages, and say to myself, "If I try to draw this thing" -- whatever I was drawing -- "this many times, probably at least one of them will be all right." And then I could start drawing. 

I've used that mantra for everything I've done since then: for every drawing, but also for every blog post, article, book, software package, game, and so on. That's why every project I've ever worked on has gone through so many versions. And that's why I intended to go back and work on Narratopia for a fourth time. I did work on it. I got stuck. I was trying to get unstuck.

Then, over the holidays, I decided to take a rare week off and play video games. I was playing a nice little puzzle game called The Last Campfire when I realized something about my mantra.

In The Last Campfire, you are a little pillowcase being, and you walk around a fantastic landscape helping other little pillowcase beings find the energy or hope or something to move on in their journey to . . . I don't know, I haven't finished the game yet. Anyway, so far all of these little pillowcase beings have been super grateful for my help, and I've been getting a nice warm feeling every time I help one.

But it's a lie. I'm not playing the game to help the pillowcase beings. I'm playing the game because the way you help the pillowcase beings is to solve puzzles. Solving the puzzles is interesting and fun. That's why I'm playing the game. The pillowcase beings are basically just animated buttons I click to get to the puzzles. 

So anyway, I was playing this game, and I thought: this game reminds me of my life. 

I have spent a good portion of my professional life as a speculative entrepreneur. Over the years I've worked on project after project that nobody asked me to do. I've written blog posts, articles, and books. I've developed concepts, frameworks, exercises, and methods. I've built software and games. I've started professional networks. I did all of these projects because I wanted to help people. But I also did all of these projects because they were interesting and fun. To some extent, the people I helped were just the buttons I clicked to get to the puzzles.

My next thought was: ah, but there is a critical difference between The Last Campfire and my life. In The Last Campfire, after you solve each puzzle and free its little pillowcase being, you get to walk away. In my life, it has never been easy to walk away from projects. Every project I have started has taken on a life of its own, and it has lingered, clinging, demanding my time and energy. For years, sometimes for decades. The downside of "there's always more paper" is that, well, there's always more paper, and more, and more.

Thus arose a new mantra: There's always more fire. An infinite capacity to create requires an infinite capacity to destroy. You can't have one without the other.

I can't believe it took me forty years to figure that out. This year, I resolve to get better at walking away from projects I no longer find interesting or fun -- even if I think people still need them. If people need them, people will step up.

So, when I got back to work, I decided to release Narratopia as an open source game. You figure it out. You can now download all of the files I used to make the game and mess with them yourself. If you want to print the game more cheaply, go ahead. If you want to translate the game, go ahead. I'm moving on to the next puzzle.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Confluence Workbook, among other things

Readers, I have several things to tell you about: a workbook, a podcast, a FAQ, sales, plans, and reviews. 

The Confluence Workbook

As I worked on Confluence over the past two years, thinking my way through the examples you see in the book (and many other examples that didn't make it into the book), I drew hundreds of thinking-space diagrams, on paper and using the computer.

While I was doing this, I kept thinking that at least some of the people who read the book would want to draw their own diagrams. That is the point of the book, after all: to help people think about situations by filling up thinking spaces and noticing patterns. So when I created the downloadable exercise materials for the Confluence web site, I included some "coloring book" pages people could print and write on. 

But as I talked to people who were reading and using Confluence, I realized that some people might like to have a place to keep their diagrams together, in a sort of Confluence book they wrote themselves. So about a month ago, I started working on a write-it-yourself workbook companion. It looks like this.

You can use The Confluence Workbook to think about organization and self-organization and how they flow together in situations that arise in your life, work, family, community, and organization. You can also use the workbook to record what happens when you do the group exercise described in Confluence.

The workbook contains 120 two-page spreads like this one.

A thinking space on the left is followed by three prompts on the right:

  • Context: Why you explored the topic, when, where, and how you explored it, and so on. 
  • Patterns: What you saw when you placed your items into the thinking space - clusters, gaps, boundaries, links, and contrasts. 
  • Thoughts: What you learned, what surprised you, what you are curious about, and what you would like to do next. 

There are 24 of these two-page spreads for the first (main) thinking space, and 16 for each of the other six spaces. For convenience, the workbook also includes a brief description of each thinking space (with examples), a summary of the group exercise, and copy-and-cut exercise materials.

To be perfectly clear, every word in The Confluence Workbook can also be found in Confluence or on the book's web site. In fact, you can assemble your own workbook by printing pages from the exercise materials PDF on the web site. The printed workbook just gives you a nice bound volume in which to store your diagrams. There's a blank space on the workbook's spine, so you can write in a topic or theme.

ComPlexus Podcast
My hope is that The Confluence Workbook will help all of us: you as you think through situations that matter to you, and me as I try to keep doing this work (I will get 1-3 dollars for each workbook sold). If you have any feedback or suggestions about the workbook, let me know.

Here I am talking about Confluence

Soon after I published Confluence, I had a lovely conversation with Bruce Waltuck for the Plexus Institute ComPlexus Podcast. That conversation is now available as Episode 4 of the podcast. 

In the interview, I talk about where Confluence came from, how I hope people will use it, and what I plan to do next.

A Confluence FAQ

People have been sending questions about Confluence, and I've been answering their questions and compiling the answers. As a result, there is now a Confluence FAQ on the web site, which I will continue to improve over time. 

Thank you to those who have written! If you have a question about the book, feel free to drop me a note (cfkurtz@cfkurtz.com).

Sales and plans

Sales of Confluence are coming in at almost exactly the same rate as Working with Stories in its first year. As I recall, WWS sold 250 copies in its first year. Confluence has sold roughly half that many copies in its first six months. It's déja vu all over again! Perhaps I have encountered some sort of universal word-of-mouth constant.

I am very glad the book is selling. At the same time, however, I am not going to be able to keep writing books at this rate. After seven years, WWS has paid me about one dollar per hour for the 2.5 person-years I spent writing it. I need to make more than that on Confluence if I am going to be able to write any more books.

Here's what I would like to accomplish over the next few years. I submit it to you (all of you, collectively) as a sort of proposal.

First, I would like to finish At Home with Stories, my long-gestating book on the interactions between commercial and conversational storytelling over the past few centuries. As many know, I have written about fifteen blog posts (some the length of book chapters) on this topic. This book will draw all of those thoughts together, along with some yet-to-be-completed due-diligence work on the history of these two forms of storytelling, from ancient times to the present moment. I think this book project will take at least a year to finish, but I'm hoping it can be done by the end of 2022. 

Secondly, I've been thinking that 2024 might be a good year to publish a tenth-anniversary fourth edition of Working with Stories. Based on many reader comments, I think it would be best to split WWS into three books, thus:
  1. A short (say 100 page) easy-reading book on participatory narrative inquiry for absolute beginners. It will introduce the basic concepts of PNI, but it will leave out most of the details that make the current edition of WWS too long and too complicated for many beginners.
  2. A slightly trimmed-down (say 400 page) main version of WWS. This book will keep most of what is in WWS now, but it will remove some less-than-essential elements that I now think could have been placed elsewhere. I will also update the new edition with several new exercises, insights, and ideas that have bubbled up over the past seven years of work in this area.
  3. A PNI-for-professional-story-workers book. This will have everything that is now included in More Work with Stories (a book I never got around to finishing), plus some of the bits to be trimmed out of the main WWS version. I will also update MWWS to reflect more experience-based insights, drawing from dozens of new projects I've consulted on over the past several years.

I believe that splitting up WWS in this way will make the whole body of work more useful to more people. Probably the mid-size version of the book will keep its original title. The professional version will probably be called More Work with Stories (as it has been called all along). And the simple version will be called . . . something simple.

I don't know how much of this plan I will be able to carry out. It depends on book sales, and it depends on consulting. I love helping people do PNI projects. I learn something new on every project, and it's wonderful to see people using PNI in the world. At the same time, however, it's hard to concentrate on large, complex writing projects while dealing with frequent meetings and emails. So I guess I'll see how things work out.

Reviews

This brings me to my final point, and to a request. Confluence needs more book reviews. If you have read the book, please consider writing a review: on Amazon, on your blog, on LinkedIn or Twitter or wherever you post things. Simply put, if you want me to keep writing books, a good way to help me do that is to post reviews of the books I have written. The more books I sell, the more books I can write. 

And of course, many thanks to everyone who has helped with this work, whether through collaboration, consulting, word of mouth, or encouragement. Every little thing makes a difference.


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

We Are Now Leaving NarraFirma (for a while)

As you may know, my husband and I started working together on NarraFirma, our open-source software for participatory narrative inquiry, in 2014. We put out our first release in October of 2015. Since then I have tried to work on the software for at least a month every year. All in all, I would estimate that we have put between four and five person-years into the project.

Over the past few weeks, as I drew my latest pulse of work on NarraFirma to a close, I found myself running out of low-hanging fruit. The last three things I tried to do were too hard and/or too system-breaking to finish. So I decided to put all of them off for a while, at least until I (or we) have enough time and/or funding to work on NF again next year. 

(Of course, if you find a bug in NarraFirma, please let me know right away.)

These are the three fruits I could not reach.

Not doing: ODF export

I wanted to give NarraFirma users the option to write catalysis reports directly to Open Document Format (ODT) files, because most word processors cannot process HTML files very well. 

I looked into this, and I even got a little way into implementing an ODT export function. However, when I converted one of NF's reports to ODT using pandoc, I realized that it was a waste of my time to reinvent the wheel. Pandoc is free and easy to use, and it converts NarraFirma's HTML reports to ODT or DOCX formats quite nicely. As long as pandoc exists, NF has no need to generate anything other than HTML.

I should have tried pandoc a long time ago. I can't imagine why I didn't. (Three-years-ago-me was so stupid.) Anyway, I recommended pandoc on the help page and moved on.

Not doing: Survey piping

I wanted to support conditional question asking (sometimes called "piping") in NarraFirma surveys. I spent quite a bit of time trying to get this to work. But in the end I decided to back out and abandon the effort because it was a bad fit with NF's surveying architecture. To implement it, I would have to make much larger and deeper changes than I am comfortable making right now. 

Also, I'm not sure that conditional questions are all that important to NF users. Or at least they are not important enough to risk destabilizing a part of the software that needs to be rock-solid. Maybe I'll revisit that decision someday, but right now it doesn't seem worth doing.

Not doing: Multiple sets of answers per story

If, back in 2014, we had thought of having multiple sets of answers per story, and we had worked that through the entire data structure, it would have been so easy to implement a survey that showed people stories (told by other people) and asked them to add their own interpretations. Sadly, we did not think of that possibility at the time. Or maybe we triaged it out, I don't remember. But in any case, NF expects there to be exactly one set of answers for each story.

I spent some time trying to find a workaround for this, because I really would like to support multiple interpretations of each story. However, I decided, again, to put it aside for now. Not only would I have to write a converter to transition legacy data into a new structure - that's doable - but I would have to change a lot of things about how graphs and statistics work. So that idea will have to stay on the back burner for a while longer.

Did: Better clustering

After failing to accomplish these three tasks, I wanted to do something to round out this pulse of work. So I looked around in NarraFirma for some ugly, unpleasant thing I could improve. 

I remembered that people have often had trouble with the clustering interface, where you group your interpretations or observations to create sections of your catalysis report. (The same interface is used in the planning part of the software as well.) 

I had drawn cluster names with very large bubbles. Reasonably, people tried to place their items into the bubbles, as if they were containers. But in fact, it was not necessary to do that, because NarraFirma determines clustering based on distances between center points, not boundaries. 

So I shrank the cluster names (now they no longer look like containers) and drew lines that connect items to clusters. This should make the process more clear.

I also replaced the line of buttons below the clustering space with one of my "things you can do" lists, which (I think) are clearer and more compact. And I replaced the brute-force method of setting print orders by hand with a simpler method. Ugliness reduced; usability improved. You can read more about NF 1.5.2 on the NarraFirma blog.

If you have any wish-list items for NarraFirma, drop me a note to let me know. But as of now, NarraFirma will go back onto the back burner until next year.

Next stop: Narratopia

Now I plan to turn my attention to another long-neglected project: Narratopia. As you may remember, the last time I worked on "the conversational story game," I expanded it into a larger and better version. However, its price doubled, and, well, people have pretty much stopped buying it. 

To be clear, I have never made any money on Narratopia sales. My "profit" has always been less than a dollar per game. However, I do want people to be able to afford to buy the game, even if I make nothing (or very little) on it. So I plan to go back and redesign the game to fit into a smaller box and cost less. TheGameCrafter.com, the print-on-demand service I use to publish Narratopia, has some new options, and I have some new ideas for slimming down the materials while keeping the gameplay intact.

The second thing that has happened with Narratopia over the past few years is that several people have written to me about creating translations of it. As I recall, the proposed languages have included Russian, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Italian. However, nobody has yet finished any of these translations. That is mostly because in Narratopia's current state, it takes a very long time for both contributors (the translator and myself) to change the relevant files. Sometimes people have not had time to do the translations, and sometimes I have not had time to deal with translations.

So I intend to transition the files that make up Narratopia to a different format in which I can easily put together a new translation, based on something like a spreadsheet of alternate texts, in an hour or two. I might use squib, or I might write my own scripts. I'll see how it goes.

If you have played Narratopia, ever, and you have not told me about your experience, please tell me what the game was like for you.

I played Narratopia just a few weeks ago with some visiting relatives, and I was pleased to see that I did not feel the need to make any major changes to it. (Maybe a few tweaks to the instructions.) However, having said that, I would love to hear your recommendations for improving it as I begin to work on it again.