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Jan. 28, 2013, 12:18 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Now recording: Knight funds an app for collecting oral histories

Design studio TKOH will use its Knight News Challenge award to complete a prototype and run pilot testing.

Most friends and family have oral histories — they just don’t realize it. That time as a kid your uncle ate so many waffles he cried? Or the time your best friends had to break into their apartment so they could move out? But what’s the best way to capture those stories — break out the recorder on your phone? Shoot a video? Write it all down?

Knight News Challenge winner TKOH wants to create a solution for oral storytelling that would work for kids, grandparents, audiophiles — or, yes, journalists. As envisioned, it would be a lightweight app for mobile devices that makes the setup and recording of stories simpler. TKOH, a design studio based in New York, plans to use its $330,000 award from Knight Foundation to build out its prototype of the app and begin testing it in rural communities in New Mexico.

“It’s a need we all have,” Kacie Kinzer, of TKOH, tells me. “There’s someone we know, a friend, a family member, who has incredible stories that must be kept in some way.

Kinzer, an interactive artist and designer, said she created an early predecessor to the app a few years ago to capture some of the stories from her relatives at family gatherings. Kinzer said she and cofounders Tom Gerhardt and Caroline Oh wanted to expand on the idea to make an app that would be intuitive enough for anyone to pick up and start using, whether old or young.

Journalists are probably familiar with the bounty of apps for audio or video recording on smartphones and tablets. Kinzer said they want the app to a tool journalists could use, but they want the app to appeal to a wider audience outside of professional storytellers. “We want to be an open platform people can use that would be best for them,” she said.

The app, tentatively called Thread, would be a kind of all-in one app, pairing audio and video, giving the user a choice of how they want to record a story. Once the story is captured, the file would be archived in a non-proprietary format and made available on the web. With the money from Knight, the team at TKOH will complete the prototype of the app and build a web platform that would act as a repository for stories and enable sharing on other networks, Kinzer told me.

This summer, TKOH plans to hold three pilot tests in various cities, beginning with ranchers in rural New Mexico. Kinzer said the pilot will be critical to finding out how people interact with the app and issues arise from using it in various settings. More broadly, Kinzer said the growth of the app depends on people spending time with the app to tell the stories of those around them. “We want to get in as many hands as possible,” she said.

POSTED     Jan. 28, 2013, 12:18 p.m.
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