The way stories are told has changed and evolved with our language and technology over time. Soon enough, interactivity became something that readers craved in their media. First, we had “Choose Your Own Adventure,” a book series with multiple ends depending on the choices you made. Then came role-playing video games, which allow the player to explore the world they are in and solve a quest. In the mobile age, apps like “Episode” have become popular, which allow the player to control, to some extent, the story which they explore with plot choices and customizable characters.
“Flowan” is an app developed by the Edunomics Institute, a communications company that experiments with connecting people in innovative ways. The app is a completely new medium of storytelling, deviating completely from traditional methods. Instead of setting up the exposition in paragraph format, the app relays it in the form of social media profiles for each character.
Users are able to follow one or more of four different characters: Antlion, Felicity, Saachi and Danny. Each character has a different storyline and dozens of supporting characters. These supporting characters each have their own profile as well.
The game allows the user to have their own profile, screen name and avatar. With this profile, the user can follow and “friend” other characters in the storylines. They are also able to send gifts, receive gifts and post on the “walls” of each character.
The program runs on a currency of “flowrins,” which players can earn by answering surveys and posting on characters’ walls. They can then use the flowrins to purchase items to gift to other characters.
An additional feature is the ability to “lurk” in group chats, conversations between characters that occur over instant message and appear to be happening in real time. Through the messages and status updates that each character expresses, users gradually begin to piece together the conflict occurring in each storyline.
Though the idea behind the app is exciting, the execution of the development is a little rough. Users encounter several confusing problems during the game that should have been resolved before the app was released to the public.
One issue that users face is not having the support they need at the beginning to comprehend what is going on. The availability of so many features leads to some initial confusion, and the necessary tutorial guides and opening exposition are not there to help. The help menu also leads to a blank screen.
Furthermore, the notifications for the stories are overwhelming in quantity. After not checking the app for 24 hours, the user can come back to expect over 100 notifications, which realistically cannot be checked in detail. The notifications for separate stories are also mixed together, leading to additional confusion between the plotlines. For example, a chatroom with characters from the “Danny” plotline can be right above a chatroom with characters from the “Saachi” storyline, and they are not differentiated by any label.
The app is currently in beta testing, which allows volunteer users to test out the features of the app, and will be released to the public later in 2018. Interested participants in the beta run of the app can sign up for instructions to run the app on their iOS or Android device through TestDrive.
After fixing some infrastructural issues, as well as the overall design of the app, Flowan has the potential to be a new paradigm in storytelling and in interactive narratives.