Monday, January 30, 2012

Student reviews of Storify

I've been intrigued by the concept of Storify since I first read about it a few months ago as it was entering its public beta phase. I don't know all that much about it other than what I have gleaned from examining a few presentations on the site and hearing reading what others have to say about using it; I haven't set up an account as of yet to try it for myself.

But from what I do know, it seemed like exploring Storify was a natural for a class I presented recently on the evolution of story narrative. Readings for the class included posts by Mathew Ingram and Jeff Jarvis last summer debating the value of articles, along with thoughts on the changing structure of story narrative from Jonathan Stray and a widely cited post from Nieman Lab's Megan Garber about how Twitter may represent a new paradigm that is a hybrid of spoken and written communication forms.

When I asked if anyone in the room was familiar with Storify no hands went up; in fact out of two classes with a combined 32 students no one had even heard of it. So as an in-class exercise, the students were assigned to go into Storify, examine some presentations and offer some thoughts about what characteristics of it made it effective (or ineffective) as a storytelling tool.

The comments were more positive than negative, but not by an overwhelming margin. One plus that came up repeatedly was that the tool allowed for various sources and types of media (from tweets to photos to video) to be collected all in one place; the ability to include photos and videos easily was seen as a highly positive thing, in fact. The format allowed for a variety of ideas to come across in a single presentation, several students noted. They liked that the story creators could mix in their own ideas as well.

On the negative side, some students questioned the accuracy and credibility of the items that were being collected into the presentations. Some called it too Twitter-centric, and said some of the presentations they examined seemed to be little more than a random collection of entries with no real rhyme, reason or context. Storify bills itself as a way for people to tell their own stories intermixed with social media-generated content from others, but the student critiques seemed to say there was too much of the latter (random content) without enough of the former (narrative to place that content into context).

Even the site layout received mixed reviews, with some students saying it was not very searchable or easily navigable, though others said they like the simple, direct -- boxy -- layout.

Even though not all of the students liked what they saw, in the end I think the exercise served its purpose of helping the students realize that traditional conceptions of "story" are being augmented by new forms that resemble traditional legacy models in some regards but not others. That was the point of the lesson and it seemed to come across pretty well.

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