February 10, 2009

OurStory Back from the Dead With New Business Model, Ownership

By Jesse Stay of Stay N' Alive (Twitter/FriendFeed)

On Friday, I had the opportunity to meet with a rather interesting client to talk about their social archiving and timeline product they had recently purchased. The 2007 Demo-award winning company, OurStory.com, has been revived under new management and ownership, and they've come up with a more focused business model to support the service in tough economic times. The company, which you may have seen reported previously in the news on sites such as VentureBeat and InfoWorld, sold to a Utah-based company for an undisclosed sum. The new management vows to take much of the existing features from before, while adding premium features and other targeted partnerships to ensure the site survives and grows in the hands of the new owners.

Sam Peery, the new CEO, told me in response to what they're doing different from previous management, "As far as a business model change, we aren't doing anything they didn't try, but we're focusing more on the Freemium model." OurStory's new VP of Business development, Jason Parker, added that, "A main shift compared to our predecessors is that we're taking a specific aim at sharing our technology with other sites which have an audience who could use and appreciate our story telling, sharing and storing capability...Anyone in the wedding, funeral, genealogy, or scrapbooking world can benefit from our technology."

What is OurStory?

OurStory is a Social archival and timeline tool that seeks to allow you to document yours', and others' lives in a nice, streamlined, and easy manner for you, your friends, or your family to contribute, edit, collaborate, and view together. The site focuses everything around its timeline, which goes back to any date in time and allows you to create "stories" around any particular date in history.

I tried it on myself, and was able to create my own timeline for free, add my date of birth, and write an entire story around it, adding pictures, either from my own computer hard drive, or through a simple Flickr search. I could then invite my Mom to contribute to the story and add her own version of my birth date.

In addition to stories, I can add pictures to any piece of the timeline from my hard drive or integrated search right from Yahoo image search or Flickr. Authenticating with either service, selecting the photo, and adding a date and description adds it immediately to my timeline. I can do the same with videos.

One example given at Demo 2007 was the announcement of a birth. You could, for instance, share the birth of a child right on OurStory, share it out to your family and friends, and all of your friends and family's e-mail replies in congratulation would be stored right alongside the event on OurStory.com.

Easy Retrieval of Stored Data

One of my biggest concerns with services like this is how I can ensure I still own the data I store with them. One interesting service that OurStory provides is the ability, for a fee, to archive your entire timeline to a hard-copy book, or on a DVD for safe-keeping. In addition, each person's "story" is also available via RSS. In essence, you could use OurStory as your own personal blog and even share with those you give it permission to share with. OurStory is also working to partner with other vendors to aide in this archival and ownership process.

Privacy Groups

As a hardcore user and developer of Facebook, privacy is a big concern for me. One of the biggest strengths of Facebook is its privacy controls and friends lists. OurStory seeks to make this simple by allowing you to create your own friend groupings, and assign permissions to each story on which friend groups or family groups get to see each story. Or you can assign all as public and share with the world - it's your choice. This is something your mom, or Aunt, or Grandma would like, and you could all share securely with each other.

Question Sets

Another interesting feature of OurStory is their Question Sets. If I'm stumped for something to write about in my life, I can select from pre-defined questions other OurStory users have defined, or create one myself, and ask my friends or family. I tried the question, "What is the first CD, Cassette or Album you remember buying?" and quickly learned that Louis Gray has very similar music history to myself. The best thing is that it added his story right into his own timeline, and allowed me to add it to my own as well.

The Future

OurStory is still breaking out of its shell at the moment, but it is very usable, and one of the most feature-rich solutions for recording your life history out there at the moment. Currently, with the premium features you can add multiple timelines for different people (for instance, I could create a life story for Abraham Lincoln) among other nice features. I'm told there's a way to forward an e-mail to the service and have it automatically record the contents of the e-mail to your life story, similar to the likes of Evernote, or even Posterous, assuming you wanted to use it as a blogging platform.

I fully expect them to branch out into the Social Networking arena soon, but we'll see where they go. They have had a Facebook app in the past and I hope to see that too make a comeback. They also tell me they just signed a contract with ScanDigital, a photo scanning service, which will allow you to integrate your scanned photos and media into their service for easy organizational and sharing purposes, along with allowing users to tell stories around them. They are also looking to be the backbone for other technologies that may be interested in such timeline-related story telling.

If you're looking for a new and creative way to tell "your story", I suggest you give them a try. This truly seems like a new Web 2.0 way of sharing your life story with your family and friends, and I think now, in this age of sharing your life everywhere you go, is the right time for it to blossom.

Read more by Jesse Stay at Stay N' Alive.