At first glance, OurStory.com looks like just another social networking/blogging/photo sharing hodgepodge, but spend a few minutes on the site and you'll see why it's not. This is MySpace for the rest of us.
The site lets you create your (or someone else's) life story, with specific entries placed on a "timeline" that indicates when something happened. The timeline gives the story a flow and a pace that lets you write entries about different parts of your life -- you don't have to begin at the beginning, you can start writing about that incident in the eighth grade spelling bee when you misspelled the word "rhythm". Adding multimedia elements (photos and videos) adds the photo and video sharing portion, but it also adds a visual context to your words.
At DEMO 2007, the company will announce two new features -- the ability to drag and drop photos and videos onto the timeline to help organize them better, and a new collaborative module that lets you send "interview-type" questions to anyone, registered or not, and have them respond with content that adds to your own timeline or a collective timeline that you're working on. This feature gives others the chance to collaborate on your story, which means you don't have to do all the work.
One of the cool features on the site is that it doesn't just give you a blank canvas and somehow hope that inspiration will strike. The site helps you get inspired by offering a series of questions aimed to get the creative juices flowing. When you answer a question, it becomes an entry in your story, and if you allow the answer to become public, other members of the OurStory community can comment and add to the conversation.
Commenting on other public entries is also cool – not only does your comment show up with your profile picture, but you can also add a photo that captures the essence of your comment. If you don't have an appropriate picture, the site offers a clever integration with Yahoo Image search that finds photos relevant to the words in the comment. It makes reading a threaded discussion more interesting and fun.
Because the content on the site is so personal, letting the user choose whether a story or response is public or private is a big concern. When creating your story, you can choose whether they are part of the public site, or whether only family and friends can see the entries. Premium members (those who pay US$39.95 per year) can get advanced features that let them specify individual-level access rights. Andy Halliday, creator of the site, says about half of the 150,000-plus entries on the site are private.
Halliday says the site has two design objectives -- first, it has to allow friends and family to participate in a person's story without forcing them to register. For example, you can send a question to friends and family asking them for responses, and the people can respond via e-mail without having to register -- this requirement often hinders less technical members of the family from collaborating on other such sites, Halliday says. Second, the site is designed so that people "over the age of 50" can use it as easily as they can use e-mail.
The site succeeds in both of these aspects. It took no time at all for me to begin working on my own life story -- I added my photo, answered a few questions and before I knew it I was writing a long description about the birth of my daughter, and the events leading up to the birth. There's no way that I would have done this on MySpace or other social networking sites.
Revenue for OurStory.com comes from premium members (the $39.95 per year), as well as some future advertising that free members will see on the sides of their pages (tastefully done, Halliday promises).
Premium members also get more features, such as the ability to create multiple profiles, in essence creating multiple stories for different people. The site has also teamed up with two book publishing services (including DEMO alumni Blurb), allowing users to take the life stories they create and have them published in book form.
This story, "OurStory.com lets you write a life story" was originally published by Network World.