Explorable Explanations: The Plan

Okay, wow. The Explorable Explanations movement has been gaining a lot of traction in the last few months. Between my & Vi's Parable of the Polygons becoming a Games For Change finalist, the launch of Earth: A Primer, the Now I Get It! Jam, this Explorables round-up, and my launch of ExplorableExplanations.com...

...it's probably time to get serious.

Well, as serious as is physically possible for me anyway. I think I lack the genes to be serious for more than 20 seconds.

Anyway, here's the plan.

Gettin' peeps to know about Explorables

We need examples. Lots and lots of examples. We already have quite a few, but we could always use more - as each new example helps popularize the idea + experiment with different techniques and forms.

We also need a few hubs. Right now, there's just the one I made at ExplorableExplanations.com, but it's pretty sparse. (and I feel like it should itself be an explorable, to give an example of the darn thing it's promoting) Also, new explorables should link to a hub, so peeps can see that this is a growing movement, not a bunch of one-offs. Also, get some forums and wikis and newsletters up in here. Also, #ExplorableExplanations.

There's a lot in a name. To get good word of mouth, the thing must be simple to say. "Explorable Explanations" is kinda long, but it's the one that's stuck the most. I propose just "explorable" for short. Four syllables seems to be a good starting point, (e.g. moving picture) and with time, a shorter name will arise. (e.g. movie) Also, I think it's best if we frame ourselves around the topic of education, rather than tech or journalism or communication mediums. (Of course, I could be totally wrong! I probably am!)

Gettin' peeps to make Explorables

Gotta have tools & tutorials. I'm not sure how you can make a tool that's general-purpose enough to encompass the variety of explorables, but still accessible. I'm guessing the better strategy would be to make accessible but specific-purpose tools - like Tangle, or game level editors, or a website template. And also, a tutorial on getting stuff up on Github Pages would be nice, for peeps needing free hosting.

Gotta have theory & techniques. I think this is as big a problem as tools. Right now, it's all experimental, and we know very little on what techniques work or don't, what design patterns have emerged, the pros and cons of varying forms. There is, at most, my scrambled notes from Bret Victor's Explorables workshop, and this overview of various forms & styles.

Remember the social aspect. I've also been thinking a lot about social-cognitive theory, and how silly it is that artists & activists aren't actively applying it to create real social and behavioral change. So, let's create communities, and foster the idea that yes, you too, can make an Explorable!

Not messing up the culture

Diversity matters. Oh god, yup, it's the D word. But I don't just mean social diversity -- though that's important for having role models to encourage new explorable-makers -- but also 1) Diversity in disciplines, since we'd benefit greatly from cross-pollination with peeps outside of tech & games, and 2) Diversity in topics, coz right now, most explorables are about math & compsci. (and only a couple about the natural/social sciences, none about art/humanities/philosophy, and what about sci-fi/storytelling explorables?)

Encourage experimentation. Avoid having a hard definition on what is or isn't an explorable. In addition to examples of explorables we do have, let's keep in mind what we don't have, like explorables for arts & humanities. Let's have jams and contests. We need an ecosystem of creators and critics, academics and audiences, all talking with each other to figure out where all this can go. And above all...

Be nice. Nobody's going to experiment if we make people scared of failing, or afraid of breaking rules, or turned off by this community itself. This community is still small, but that means we're the seed. Everything that will happen from here depends on the few of us... and we only get one shot at this.

So, you know, no pressure or anything.