Curation, Creation and Participation: What You Need to Know About the New Storify

What are the atomic elements of journalism? The story? The article? The interview? The beat? The tweet?

Storify was created as a platform to weave together incredible stories from the diverse and scattered pieces of the social web. But as it has developed, it has become as much about those social elements, as the stories that are told with them. With its relaunch and redesign today, that transformation is nearly complete. The question is, like the person who could not see the forest for the trees, will people lose site of the stories in the stream of social content?

Rethinking Curation

The new homepage of Storify pulls together the most interesting bits of social media from around the web and lets you quickly see what people are saying about them, add them to your own story, or comment on and share them yourselves. I first noticed Storify heading in this direction when they introduced the ability for people to like, share and comment on any individual element in a person’s story a few months ago. In so doing, any element of a story could become a story in and of itself.

All of a sudden, the platform that was designed to stitch the social web together with narrative, is reasserting the importance of its individual pieces. This is not unlike the transition that happened when This American Life transitioned their website from being organized around episodes to being organized around stories. Storify’s new redesign features individual pieces of social media as the entry point into the stories, but at first glance stories take a back seat.

With its cascading tiles the Storify homepage now resembles something akin to a Pinterest board. But the page is more than a simple collection of links and pictures. It is a deeply networked and linked real-time conversation. You can flip over each of the tiles and see who has included it in their stories, revealing interesting relationships between stories. You can also read the comments people have left on a specific element across all stories on the site. And Storify has done a nice job with attribution, leading people back to the original content creators and curators.

Refocusing on Participation

In their press release for the redesign Storify argues that their new site is all about search, but I would argue that really, it is all about participation. The big search bar and tags at the top invites you to browse topic not just read individual stories. By front-loading the individual elements with prominent buttons for sharing, commenting, and adding to your own Storify the new site compels you to do more than read. As with the emphasis on individual elements, this focus on participation has been growing. Earlier this year one Storify user even experimented with making Storify a social network on its own right.

In a post discussing how the book has transitioned from an artifact to a system, Craig Mod wrote, “There is a compulsion to believe the magic of a book lies in its surface. In reality, the book worth considering consists only of relationships.” The new Storify begins to embody this idea. While the surface of Storify has changed, the real magic is in the connections below the surface. With its relaunch Storify is much more intentional about building relationships, between elements, stories and people.

However, this new redesign does beg the question: Is a Storify greater than the sum of its parts or are the parts great than the whole?

When I visited Storify headquarters this past September, the co-founder and CEO Xavier Damman told me that when he and Burt Herman started Storify they envisioned it as a place for longform articles, with some social content embedded throughout. They really hoped to see people doing writing in the app, wrapping the social elements with narrative and context. But the users had other ideas.

Many of the stories created on the site since it was founded are collections of links, tweets, pictures and video with very little commentary or narrative. And many of those stories are creative, compelling and critical. Luckily, the Storify team listened to their users and built a flexible platform that allows for both carefully crafted journalism and quick collections of tweets, pics and links.

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(Disclosure: My Storify tracking journalists arrests won the 2011 Storify of the year, for which I received an iPad from Storify.)

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