StoriesFrom allows professional and amateur filmmakers a relatively easy way to produce an online multimedia package by using tools found around the Internet. StoriesFrom builds off Tiziano’s previous work like 360° Kurdistan, which combined personal accounts from Iraqi civilians and imagery from professional photographers. StoriesFrom makes it possible for anyone, regardless of experience, to create interactive video features, said Jon Vidar, executive director of the Tiziano Project.
“The idea was to take the Iraqi Kurdistan project we did in 2010 and build a platform that would let individuals and organizations build those immersive documentary experiences,” he told me.
StoriesFrom came out of the $200,000 in funding Tiziano won in last year’s Knight News Challenge. The idea was a content management system for video storytelling that would simplify the process of corralling and presenting the different parts of a multimedia project. The Tiziano Project’s wants to recreate the experience from the Kurdistan project not just in video, but in creating the capacity for ordinary people to tell stories that go unreported. StoriesFrom is a vehicle for that, an off-the-shelf product that could be used for teaching, amateur video, or professional work.
Instead of publishing material independently around the web — videos on YouTube, photos on Flickr — StoriesFrom lets people pulls content from those different sites into one place. The platform was also built to make it simple to shoot, edit, and publish video straight from an iPad, Vidar said. Visually they wanted to offer a different kind of experience, so the site offers a map view (displaying features from around the world), as well as a tiled view that presents a variety of entry points for different stories. “We’re creating a presentation layer that sits on top of existing tools on the Internet and uses the resources you’re already using to cull content together into a showcase to tell a deeper story,” Vidar said.
In the short time the project’s been live, Vidar said, the average time on site is around 15 minutes, with about six pages viewed per visit. “The way you engage with content makes it much more interesting and fun to play around with,” he said. StoriesFrom was built with the iPad in mind, both for capture and for viewing. The functionality of the site is the same on the iPad as it is on desktops and laptops.
Though StoriesFrom is now in beta, Vidar told me they plan to make it open source. (That openness was a requirement for News Challenge winners.) Going to StoriesFrom.us you’ll find a handful of examples like On The Rez, a project created by students on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, or 360 Palestine, which tells the story of people living in East Jerusalem.
In each case, the Tiziano Project partnered with local groups to help produce the videos. Sometimes that means demonstrating how to use the software, other times it’s more of a multimedia training course, Vidar said. And, in the case of a less-than-successful attempt at a StoriesFrom project in the West Bank, it means setting up training only to get kicked out of the country.
While StoriesFrom will be open source, Vidar said training and custom development of the platform represents a business model. The CMS will come with a few basic design options, but with a little knowledge (or hired work from Tiziano), the design could be more customized. So far, Tiziano has sustained itself off a mix of grant funding and training contracts. In that way, StoriesFrom also acts as a marketing tool as well. Vidar said their overall mission is helping people tell stories in areas where everyday voices aren’t often heard. The technology they’ve built will help advance that. “We consider [StoriesFrom] to be a stage that can be customized to tell a story,” he said.