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Interview with Storify founder, Xavier Damman

storify2Amid the rampant “datafying” of things, we would like to keep cool heads as we witness the (welcome) proliferation of tools and platforms and attempt to place them on a landscape of utility. This particular moment is a marked evolution as the web catches up with history to discover that effective and honest storytelling is a powerful persuasive form. The social sector, in particular, is catching up in a way, too. We’ve seen a few that are adding dimension to the raw material by improving beneficiary feedback, while others are now telling organizational stories as a business necessity, and creating beneficiary stories as levers for impact. The development of tools is a logical next step in this creative space.

We caught up with the founder, Xavier Damman, for some insight on the topic. Storify gives users a free hand in personally curating content as they sift the web and post third-party content while adding their own storylines, whether implicit ones by a series of images or by actual narratives to guide the reader. The result can range from a bland string of tweets or an actual story featuring compelling photos, tight narratives and a point to make. Xavier talks with Markets For Good about Storify and how we’re telling stories on the web today.


I’d like to start with a usability question about Storify. I notice a couple of features on the site that stand a bit apart from standard internet culture. (I have the option of not linking my social media accounts at sign-up. And Storify-alone sign-up doesn’t ask for much information. Content isn’t auto-populated for me. ) Was open use and sign-up a conscious decision?

We weren’t thinking of those features as differentiators. We simply wanted to make Storify easy to use. This relates to one of the motivating factors for starting the company, low barrier to entry, in this case, for quality content. This is the open culture of the web that we prefer.

What changes with Storify about storytelling itself? In the very recent history of the web, we have still been led by stories, if only those brought by our major media.

The biggest change is that now we can tell the story with social perspective. Instead of someone on the ground interviewing people, the people on the scene themselves can show the story and report firsthand. Anywhere on this planet we will share and that is the tremendous opportunity to tell it with a new lens, that of the people actually living through the events. We have a recent example of Storify users providing various new perspectives on Hurricane Sandy.

The point is that we are now surfacing critical voices and amplifying them. This is a world conversation in which curation is needed, including the voice of major media who are also Storify users. 22 of the top 25 news outlets now use Storify.

We do have access to a world conversation, but if you ask a typical web user about his or her browsing, that browsing is decidedly local. Despite the fact that I can easily access African news on the web, it seems that mental geographies dominate our usage.

This is true, but who has time to follow the whole world? This is all the more reason to try to make sense of the social web.

You will always be concerned most about what’s happening right around you. But, socially curated media gives you access to world events in a way that can be more relevant to you. Now, you can get a closer view of events as they are happening.

The world needs to know that, “Hey, it’s not me giving you the ‘facts’ from my own view, but actually showing you, even with crappy cell phone pictures, that this is real and lives are being impacted.” The audience better understands what it feels like. Further, with one click, you can enter the scene and talk to the person who has posted the story. With a combination of photos, narrative, and access to the ‘reporter’ the story is much more real.

The big question that rightly applies to the web and, thus, to Storify, is about accountability. How do you view accountability in this context.

First, we encourage accountability. When Sandy hit, I tweeted this message: “With #Sandy it has become clear that everybody is now a reporter but we need journalists to curate and fact check what’s real or fake.” Further, we have made full attribution a prevalent feature of Storify.

Stories have been a central part of nonprofit business, for better and for worse, the latter referring to the classic emotional appeals. Can you see ways to extract and deliver more meaning. What would you tell a content producer?

It’s up to you to do the story. We simply provide the typewriter. Everyone can create, but the best thing is to use the tool and get better at it. People love telling stories and, in this case, not just being part of the reporting, but actually being the source of it.

For more from Xavier, see his TedX Talk here: “…there’s always gonna be someone somewhere with a mobile phone who’s gonna share with the world what is happening.”

Curator’s Note: It is Xavier’s last answer that I think is quite interesting in the infrastructural mindset of Markets For Good.. “It’s up to you to do the story.” Often, when a new tool appears, we will ask directly, “How can it be used for good?” and avert our focus from just working the problems we propose to solve. Searching for a 1:1 “for good” ratio is limiting, by definition. It’s in our interest to create new, blunt tools, and leave the user to find creative applications. We have plenty of examples of whole worlds being built with the ingenuity applied to just a core set of tools. Scattershooting… I wouldn’t be surprised if #3 on this list doesn’t find its way into the social sector.