Photographers are increasingly turning to multimedia to tell their stories, yet the skills required can be technically daunting, especially when producing non-linear bodies of work. Bjarke Myrthu is hoping to streamline the process with Storyplanet. He talks with BJP
Bjarke Myrthu is the CEO and founder of Storyplanet, an online platform created to simplify the way journalists and organisations tell stories using multimedia. Myrthu was also a co-founder of Magnum in Motion, which he left in 2010. He speaks with BJP about Storyplanet's potential.
BJP: Can you tell me a bit about the origins of Storyplanet?
Bjarke Myrthu: I started working with multimedia storytelling in 1999, back when Blogger had just launched and broadband was just starting to emerge. My mission from the start was to evolve an online parallel to great magazine features and broadcast documentaries, but using the unique features of the online medium – like interactivity, non-linearity and so on. To this day, I think web is still lagging way behind print and broadcast when it comes to quality and viewer experience. Lots of amazing companies have revolutionised the way we share content and information, but it's still a lot about distributing classic linear print and video.
The huge roadblock is that interactive projects quickly turn into a tech nightmare, where you use 90 percent of the time solving some coding issue and 10 percent doing the storytelling. And it really should be the reverse. So this is why I decided to build a totally new kind of publishing platform from the ground up – to make it easy and fun for photographers and other creatives to make their storytelling ideas happen.
I got the idea for Storyplanet around 2002, but I didn't really start sketching it out until about five years later. I was waiting for someone else to create it, because I thought the need was so obvious. But when nobody did it, I decided I had to be the one. So, in 2009, I went part time at Magnum and started doing wire framing and prototyping, and finding the funds and people to help me execute the idea. The first big breakthrough was when I met Joichi Ito, who decided to come on board as an early stage investor. His funding and connections gave me the first big push forward. So in 2010 I went full time on the project and hired Pete Barr-Watson as CTO. We spent a while testing out a lot of different scenarios and did a lot of prototyping, and then in December last year started building the Storyplanet Beta that is online today. In parallel, we got Mohamed Nanabhay on board as investor and also a larger venture fund.
BJP: You were at Magnum in Motion, what pushed you to create Storyplanet?
Bjarke Myrthu: At Magnum in Motion, we obviously had some amazing content to work with, but we ended up almost entirely producing linear videos, which wasn't really my mission from the start. My dream was to create totally new formats that would merge what we know from film, magazines and maybe even games. But it was just too expensive and difficult to do the very experimental interactive projects I had envisioned. So the major push to do Storyplanet was my own personal need for a better tool, as well as an overall mission to make it easy for everyone to do interactive projects. And all the difficulties I experienced at Magnum gave me a really unique insight into what a new kind of publishing platform should be able to do.
BJP: What is the purpose – and I guess the target audience – for Storyplanet?
Bjarke Myrthu: The main purpose is to make it really easy to create stories that can be clicked, navigated, commented on, shared – all the other things you can do with digital media. The upshot is that online storytelling becomes much more engaging. The average photo or website article is viewed a few seconds, and few people remember it afterwards. We have an average viewing time of four minutes on our stories. Our initial target audience is photographers, journalists and designers, because this is where we already have a strong network and foundation. But onwards there are really very few limits to the kind of user and what you can do with Storyplanet. It could be anything from a documentary to a little personal story about your wedding, or a keynote presentation. It's similar to asking what the user base is for Wordpress or Powerpoint, and what you can do with these tools – it's really up to the user.
BJP: How do people use it?
Bjarke Myrthu: There is a slight majority of journalistic projects right now done by both individual photographers and larger organisations such as Al Jazeera and NOOR Images. But otherwise it's really broad. It spans from a local grocer promoting his store to large corporations doing video magazines.
BJP: How important is multimedia for the media industry? What about photographers? How do you envisage photographers using Storyplanet?
Bjarke Myrthu: I think multimedia is absolutely key to survival in the future. The ones that get multimedia will win; the others will disappear. A lot of media organisations are complaining that people don't want to pay for online content. But that's simply not true. The problem is that these organisations are not offering anything worth paying for, and they have no easy way of paying. We never actually paid for content, we paid for access to content. And when the newspaper was the only place to access news we would pay for that. Straight, hard news is a commodity we are all part of producing on social media, and with our camera phones, and which everyone can access everywhere, so why would anyone want to pay for that? However, what we do want to pay for is highly refined experiences that stay in our hearts for a long time – and multimedia can be really strong at this. Why are people spending millions buying movies, music and books online? It's because companies like Amazon and Apple are providing exclusive access to some really great content.
BJP: You're working on support for the iPhone and iPad. How important are these platforms for Storyplanet and for multimedia in general?
Bjarke Myrthu: I think pads will be the main way of viewing content such as ours in the future. Having said that, the PC and TV are still where most people consume media. Our main goal with the beta was to show what you can do with interactivity and with our platform, and we needed to get up and running as fast and cost-effectively as possible. So we chose to leave out the iPad and iPhone from the first version. But it's definitely coming, and I think it's going to be really, really big.
BJP: What's next for Storyplanet?
Bjarke Myrthu: We are going to be launching some major new features soon. One is "design themes", a collection of templates you can fill with your own content, if you don't have the time or expertise to build beautiful designs from scratch. You can also convert a story to a theme to save time if you are doing the same kind of story scenarios over and over again. Secondly, we will be be enabling YouTube and Vimeo embeds, so if you have a video on one of those places you can drag it right into your Storyplanet story.
For more about Storyplanet, visit www.storyplanet.com.
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