Checking in with Story Planet: Aliens, Ask Me Anything, and a Behind the Scenes of a Tumblr

The Collaborative Community project, An Alien Has Landed, is exploring what happened after the Intergalactic Travel Authority was called to a public school to investigate a strange crash in Toronto. Observations and stories about the alien crash landing were chronicled through a Tumblr blog. The Intergalactic Travel Authority also made creative use of the Ask Me Anything structure from Reddit for a conversation with an alien. Additionally, they used Tumblr for internal project planning and updates. The process for using these tools is shared here for any future scientists, astronauts, or storytellers seeking to embark on investigations of crash landings and aliens in their own communities.


Ask Me Anything

Last week saw the final event with the students engaged in An Alien has Landed storytelling before the end of the school year: an AMA (Ask Me Anything) with the alien over Reddit.

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Using Reddit provided a unique set of challenges, so it was good that we had the entirety of the week before to devote to setting up the event. One of the challenges was being able to simultaneously involve every classroom we’ve previously worked with, to create a communal event. Again, the extra week allowed us to synchronize schedules more successfully.
Another challenge using Reddit involved creating a safe environment for the students. Reddit is a site that has earned success by covering a broad range of topics through its subreddits (individual threads devoted to various subjects). This means that Reddit ranges from family-friendly subreddits to many that are far from age appropriate. We decided to create our own private subreddit devoted exclusively to the project – one that we could moderate. Thankfully, creating a reddit account is very simple, and creating a subreddit just as easy.
We created separate accounts for each school (PaulineSchool, OgdenSchool, CarletonSchool, etc.) and invited them to the subreddit beforehand. Again, this was done to ensure a safe environment – a public subreddit would be open to input from any user and, while not likely, could conceivably corrupt the event through the users’ antagonistic comments.

Reddit itself was very simple to use, which was fortunate, as it allowed multiple volunteers to participate at each school without need for exhaustive instructions. Each classroom had a Story Planet volunteer who hooked a computer up to a projector and acted as the liaison between the students and the alien, typing the questions the students wanted to ask onto reddit, with the thread being displayed for everyone to see. Meanwhile, the alien was hosted at Story Planet, answering the students’ questions in real time with assistance from Liz Haines and Aaron Feldman. In the end the event was a large success, as it went smoothly and all the classes appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

Using Tumblr for “Behind the Scenes” Blog Updates


Image Credit: Jay Setlak under Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic


In order to record our work process for future use, we decided to create a “behind the scene” blog on Tumblr. We chose tumblr because of our general familiarity with the site.
Because of the nature of this project, we didn’t want our “behind the scenes” blog to be stumbled on by outside sources, particularly children who may have participated in the alien’s story. Because of this, we created a private password-protected site. Oddly, tumblr doesn’t allow a user’s primary account to be password-protected, so we had to create a second blog for it to work.

Creating weekly updates for Tumblr was a relatively straightforward process, although the site posed a few hurdles. Tumblr is primarily used for shorter, sharable pieces (often pictures or GIFs with the intent of being easily reblogged), not longer written pieces. This meant, for example, that we had limited formatting options for each blog piece. Additionally, there is no autosave option when writing blogs (as you would find on blogspot, for example). This meant that at least one blog post had to be completely re-written. If we were to recreate this in the future, we would probably go with a site more suited to longer text posts (such as blogspot or blogger).