Storify Seeks to Reinvent Story-Telling for Social Media Era

Storify Seeks to Reinvent Story-Telling for Social Media Era


Journalism is fundamentally about good story-telling. Which is why San Francisco-based Storify looks to be a journalist's dream come true.

This little company has built a revolutionary new platform for publishing and distributing stories. More than any other tool out there, it makes it easy for you, the writer, to add content from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and other social media sites to your story with a simple "drop and drag" function.

So if you find a Tweet from someone on a topic you are covering -- say, the uprising in Libya -- you can grab it and also ping that person back, telling them you are quoting them in your story.They will then more than likely reTweet your story, and help it go viral.

"It's like remixing content in a very tactile way," says co-founder Burt Herman, a long-time foreign correspondent for the AP before he remixed himself into an entrepreneur. "People feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of posts to Twitter or Facebook, and this is a way to pick and choose only those relevant to the story you want to tell."

Behind its publishing interface, what Storify provides is an embed link just like those you can use at YouTube to post videos elsewhere on the web, such as in a blog. When you publish your story at Storify, you can also embed it at Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else you desire.

Herman calls it  "a two way system of embedding."

Since last December, when Storify was released in private beta, journalists at NPR, the Washington Post, PBS, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit News, and media outlets in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and elsewhere have been trying it out, and all of the early reports are favorable.

Currently, Storify is working with Al Jazeera, which is finding it useful to identify the best "eyes on the ground" in the Middle East countries where popular uprisings are occurring. So this little startup is already at the cutting edge of journalism, and it hasn't even released its platform to the public yet!

How cool is that?

But journalists aren't the only ones finding Storify useful. It is being tested by companies like Levi's and Samsung to collect and distribute brand information via social media. Smart companies know they need to tell their stories better, because they no longer have complete control of their brands -- they have to share that with anyone who chooses to post about them on the big social media sites.

In addition to journalists and brand-sensitive companies, Herman says that some people are using Storify for purely personal story-telling, like a couple who used it to share the story of their wedding, or the family that used it to document their trip to Turkey.

Because of the nature of viral distribution, Storify's content changes as it travels around the web. "These are all living stories," points out Herman, "which change as new users add material to them."

In other words, when you publish at Storify, that is not the end of the story but more like its beginning, as it travels throughout the web, embedded here, there and everywhere. Storify helps you keep track of your story's migration by reporting to you every place it appears and how many page views it gets site by site.

So, is Herman, the ex-foreign correspondent, enjoying his new career? "This is certainly a different path from what I was doing before," he laughs. "Now instead of telling stories in the old way, I'm rethinking what a story really is. And also how to tell that story in the age of social media."

He came up with the idea for the company while spending a year at Stanford as a Knight Fellow in 2008-9, just as the traditional media industry was collapsing all around him. There were mass layoffs, many newspapers and magazines were closing, and the stock prices of most major media companies were tanking.

While at The Farm, he pondered whether there was  something he might be able to do about it. "I asked myself, 'how could you bring Silicon Valley innovation to journalism? 'How could you remake a journalism organization today, to compete in the era of social media?'"

He then teamed up with Xavier Dammam from Belgium, who had developed Publitweet, a real-time curation tool for social media content, which provided the underlying vision for Storify.

Their company, which recently raised an initial $2 million round from Khosla Ventures,  will be releasing its product for public use quite soon. My guess is later this spring.

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