Oral history is finally catching up with the digital age. Storytree is a new website and free mobile app that allows you to easily build a family history made up of pictures, videos, and text. Simply start a story topic, like “What were Grandma and Grandpa like when they were young?” and invite people via email to participate. Soon, everyone will be uploading videos, recollections, old pictures, and letters to turn the question into a one of a kind story that the entire family can cherish, share via social media, and download. Watch the magic of Storytree unfold in the demo video below. One of the most followed companies at the recent 500startups conference, Storytree has a lot of positive buzz. Could the concept of building stories through the internet catch on like wildfire, or will the revival of shared history get lost in the crowd of new social media?
Here’s a quick look at what a typical story created with Storytree may look like. Notice how various elements are added to the same tree to create a history that is as rich with different kinds of imagery as it is emotional weight. You can certainly imagine the tales told on Storytree serving as valuable reminders of friends and family after they have departed, another beautiful piece of our digital afterlife:
The mechanics of Storytree may not be very clear in the demo video, but luckily they are relatively simple. Anyone can sign up on their website, or through downloading their free iPhone app. From there you decide on a topic (they’ll suggest some for you, but it’s entirely open). Inviting your friends and family to contribute to the story you’ve started is as easy as addressing an email. You can record new video or audio using your webcam, or upload media from your computer. Only those invited to the story can contribute, but if you choose to make the story public you can easily share it through Facebook, Twitter, etc. Best of all, any files shared on Storytree can be downloaded by those who created the story. Your memories are yours to take with you off the site, should you so choose. Here’s what I just said, but in a video with cartoons:
Storytree’s been getting quite a bit of press in the last few weeks, appearing in The New York Times, Forbes, Huffington Post, and many other news outlets. Co-founder Zach Weiner’s impassioned call for funding at 500startups has only increased the news circulating about the company. Many tech journalists see the basic idea of Storytree and get excited. Here, finally, appears to be a bridge between the old and the young, the internet savvy and the tech-adverse. Grandparents can be sat down in front of a webcam and their stories can be added to collective memory, and everyone else, be they your children or your friends, can join in as well. It’s family history preserved in a clear, easy format, and it appeals to the nostalgic child in all of us. The concept of Storytree is so appealing, one wonders why we haven’t thought of this before.
Of course, we actually have. Storytree is a very beautiful approach to recording our histories, but it’s neither the first nor the best at this idea. I recently reviewed Memolane, a site that allows you to create timelines out of your life. Memolane features ‘Stories’ almost identical in concept to the those you see on Storytree. Invite friends to participate, connect media to the story, then share it with your family or the world. The big difference between Memolane and Storytree is that Memolane allows you incorporate virtually any piece of media found in your vast array of social networks. That video you uploaded to YouTube years ago? That gets linked in easily. So too with your Picasa photos, and your music playlists from iTunes or Spotify. Storytree requires you to upload everything to Storytree. Memolane lets you gather it from anywhere. Advantage, Memolane.
Then again, Storytree lets your family easily download anything shared in a story, Memolane just lets you embed the Memolane timeline on your website. So maybe we’re at a draw.
The larger point is, however, that while Storytree has that new app smell, and a great UI, it is just one of many socially minded sites out there. Even its target use – sharing media between close friends and family to record important events – isn’t unique. The videos for Storytree are touching, and Weiner’s appeal at 500startups was even more so (he’s making this app to help save the stories of his family that have been lost over distance and time). Yet I simply can’t ignore the inertia that I see in social media users everyday. I’ve had exhaustive conversations with friends about why Google+ is better than Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve had people agree with every one of my explanations to that end. Then, I’ve had those same friends shrug and say, “yeah…but I’m already on Facebook. Why do the work to switch?” Google+ has billions of dollars behind it, and already has a suite of Google applications (gmail, Picasa, etc) tied into it. Storytree does not.
We need to worry about any startup social media site that asks its users to start over from scratch. I’m just not sure how many of us are willing to put in the effort. Storytree is an elegant solution to recording our shared history but I can do most of the same things on the social networks I already have. True, Storytree presents the results more beautifully (except for Memolane, perhaps) but I don’t know if beauty is enough to overcome user inertia. If Storytree catches on in a meaningful way it will be because the ease of recording stories on webcams and mobile devices is seductive enough to pull in users young and old. Without the ability to add in media already on the internet, and without a big advertising budget to spread the word, however, I’m afraid that Storytree is doomed to become just another part of our history.
[image credit and video credits: Storytree]