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Dec. 14, 2017, 1:59 p.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

Storify’s demise shows nothing lasts forever (but the use of social media embeds in stories persists)

“When we started there was no Twitter embed and no Instagram embed or Facebook embed. The idea of using the content that people post as raw material was novel.”

Once known as a required tool for journalists to be “social-media savvy”, Storify will soon have gone the way of floppy disks, Google+, and relying on platforms for distribution (okay, maybe not that. Yet.)

The decision by Adobe, the big fish that in 2016 ate smaller fish Livefyre which had already eaten Storify in 2013, to close the tool as part of a product realignment puts journalists who relied on it (now or in recent years) in a bit of a conundrum: What happens to the hundreds of thousands of stories that have been Storified? And how can we keep this from happening again?

Unlike previous shutdowns of online news tools, Storify/Livefyre/Adobe are giving a five month warning signal. The content on the platform will cease to exist on May 16, 2018, and users are encouraged to export their materials before then. But the question of online preservation perseveres.

“For Adobe, it’s not a product that makes money for them. I understand their decision,” Xavier Damman, Storify’s cofounder, told me. “Their goal is not to defend journalism… In the perfect world, journalists and people who care about this would create an open source version of Storify that will never be shut down.”

Adobe offers a Storify 2 product meant for users to collaborate and continue to create and embed social media stories (not the Snapchat or Instagram kind). But it doesn’t quite capture the essence of the original Storify. The startup was named one of the 50 best websites of 2011 by Time Magazine (but then again, so was Google+) and the winner of the Knight-Batten Award for journalism innovation of the same year.

Storify had attempted monetization in its independent years, rolling out a premium product for large publishers to access special features and customization and dabbling in advertising. In 2013, Storify co-founder Burt Herman (a former Associated Press reporter, now at the Lenfest Institute) shared his thoughts with Nieman Lab about Storify as one of the first tools for engagement journalism:

I thought, initially, journalists will use this and see, “Oh, the Supreme Court is hearing the gay marriage case,” and just see what people are saying in general and mine the best — look for who’s reacting, and kind of pull things in. The thing I did not expect to see, which people have used Storify for, is to say, “Hey, we’re just starting this story, send us what you think about it and use this hashtag on Instagram, on Twitter, respond to us on Facebook, we’ll take the best thing you do and put them in a story and publish it.” It’s much more of an engaging way of creating a story — where it’s not just gathering reaction, but tell us what we should put in the story, we’re going to include what our audience is doing.

The New York Times has done some really interesting things with Instagram — like during storms, the big winter storm in February, or Fashion Week in New York, asking their readers, “Hey, send photos on Instagram, tag them #NYTfashionweek and we’ll put the best ones on The New York Times.” I think it’s really cool to see journalists getting this idea that yes, this is not just a one-way thing anymore — we don’t just decide what we write and call the people we want and put it out there. Now it’s really working collaboratively with the audience to create something bigger.

Damman hopes that endures as Storify’s legacy: “When we started there was no Twitter embed and no Instagram embed or Facebook embed. The idea of using the content that people post as raw material was novel,” he said. “[Today], it’s more important than ever that we have journalists that actually go and tell stories using what people post on social media.”

He pointed to the collection by the Homophobes Storify account, run by someone who described themselves as gay, as a way for Storify users to break social media barriers. Damman and the Storify team discussed shutting the account down for “bad content,” he said, but decided to leave it up because it helped them recognized social media echo chambers.

While the echo chambers have evolved, so too have the social networks’ storytelling technology. The announcement of Storify’s demise came, as noted by Fast Company, the same day as Twitter’s update for making threads easier to read. Also, one of the tool’s main functions focused on embedding social media elements into websites, which Facebook and Twitter now readily allow.

Still, for news organizations who used Storify for plenty of articles and tidbits since the startup began in 2010, that’s not exactly a simple task.

Journalists have already been grappling with the issue of Internet ephemerality. (My colleague Laura Hazard Owen provided a guide to some useful tools to deal with that here.) Events like this are constant reminders to save your online work in multiple places, but also to find more — not ironically — permanent solutions.

(We could have made a Storify out of those, but…)

Damman now works with the Open Collective to create a transparent commons of funding for open source projects. “I firmly believe that the tools of tomorrow will have to be funded by the people who need them because otherwise they’re going to be shut down like Storify,” he said. “Nothing is permanent in the universe. It’s important to acknowledge that.”

Take this as a reminder to not only save your work, but export your Storify.

POSTED     Dec. 14, 2017, 1:59 p.m.
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