The future (?) of Significant Objects (Part One)

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Click through to read the Significance of each pictured Object

Later today we’ll publish the winner of our Six-Word Contest with SmithMag. And later this week we’ll post our 100th Significant Object.

And then what?

People have been asking: Is there a way to keep Significant Objects going in some new form when the original 100-object experiment ends? We’ve been giving this question some thought. It’s not anything we’d figured we should worry about when we started this adventure back in July. But since then, the response has exceeded our expectations. So it seems almost wrong to simply stop and disappear.

We do have some ideas about what Significant Objects, Version 2, and I’ll say more about that … tomorrow. Maybe you have thoughts? Leave them in the comments!

In the short term I can say this: Next week, while we’re waiting for the last of the auctions to close, we’re going to publish five of the runner-up stories from our contest with Slate. You won’t be able to bid on the BBQ Sauce Jar anymore (it’s sold), but you can still enjoy some of the first-rate fiction that contest yielded.

And as our data comes in, we’ll tabulate and analyze it and offer conclusive pronouncements based on this experiment into the nature of narratives and objects. Or at least we’ll say things that sound like conclusive pronouncements. And we’ll ask for your feedback on that, too.

Speaking of your feedback — seriously, what are your thoughts about the future of Significant Objects?


Rob Walker is the author of Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, and writes the Consumed column for The New York Times Magazine.

6 thoughts on “The future (?) of Significant Objects (Part One)

  1. By the way, in comments to an earlier post (here:, reader Nicki suggested “there are so many great ways this project could enable collaboration – cross-object stories, or cross-genre collaborations.” That sounds good in a general way — we are certainly aware that there’s interest out there in participating in S.O. in a variety of ways — but I could still use some help in understanding how to execute it in a way that makes sense.

  2. These might be too specific, but here are some thoughts:

    On cross-genre and cross-object collaborations: At the curated level, you could give two writers objects and ask them to come up with a central “relationship” or core shared history for the two objects, and then each writes a piece from the vantage point of their object. Or you could pair a writer and artist/illustrator to work on a story together.

    In terms of broadening participation, one idea would be to have a forum space, or a secondary site that functions more like a blog, where many stories could exist for each object … there would be some minimal editorial oversight, but not necessarily selection. And these stories wouldn’t come to bear on the Ebay profile of the objects, but would rather give people an opportunity to imagine, create and participate in the project, while you’re still maintaining the curatorial style on the main site and in Ebay.

    Here are a couple ideas for features or contests or different ways to invite an audience to plug in…

    “Garage Sale” – post an image of many objects and readers choose two or three, and create a story that ties in the duo/trio. This could be a contest, or just an occasional feature on the forum/blog.

    “Road trip” – you could give point of origin and invite people to write a journey that takes the object somewhere.

    “Haiku for Tchochkes” – cousin to the 6-word memoir contest

    “Icebreaker” – like that old summer camp game where you tell a story collaboratively – one person says a sentence, the next person says what comes next, etc – you could have a regularly scheduled ice-breaker post where maybe one of the authors from the curated site writes a first sentence, and then people take over in the comments section from there, building a narrative collaboratively, line by line. Something like this could be a total disaster, or it could be kind of cool.

    “The Object Formerly Know As …” – you could invite winning bidders to send follow-up stories for their objects, either an epilogue or next chapter of the story written for the project, or their own story about how the object fits into their life, or the meaning it has for them, or something

    Etc etc … just a few thoughts.

  3. Thanks for the nod in the contest! It surely was addictive-I’d pop up in the middle of the night with a ‘would be’ good one.
    Other future ideas might include:
    Shoes- cheap thrift store varieties and stories of their travels.
    Photographs- could be anything from family shots to random images-what story does the picture tell.

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