As Kleiner Perkins analyst Mary Meeker pointed out in her annual look at the state of the Internet weeks ago, one of the most powerful emerging trends to come from the acceleration in mobile media is the exponential growth of user-generated content. Marketers and media companies that learn how to tap into this flow coming from users will be well ahead of the next wave.
So it is only fitting that we offer up an example of a company that is already thinking ahead. Disney recently issued an app it calls simply Story, designed to take the media that people have already made with their phones and bring to it a rudimentary organization and a simple set of tools that can turn them into richer personal narratives.
Story begins by identifying from your phone's Geo and time-tagging the images and video that are associated with particular moments. For instance, on our test phone it found all of the content that I had made at our recent Video Insider Summit at the Mohonk Resort near New Paltz, New York. It creates from this basic collection (My Moments) a default album (My Stories) using a photo album analog. You can share the auto-generated version immediately via email or Facebook, or you can start editing yourself. In most cases the process is as simple as can be. You tap an image in the album and you have the opportunity to take it out, add a caption or change the layout. You get a set of five different themes of different colors. You can add text, add in a photo or video at any point.
Clearly, Disney has learned from an app like Instagram to keep editing choices very narrow and easy to apply. Its basic functionality is creating order out of the general chaos of someone’s mobile phone photo and video album by using some of the device's own location and time-tagging capabilities. Story does something that media companies actually are not very used to doing for their consumers -- it solves a problem.
Still, the app suffers from some confusing interface mechanics, and the distinction between My Moments and My Stories is not as clear as it might be, largely because the same tools and look are present in both. The sharing options are ridiculously limited to email and Facebook. And the email function doesn’t even use the phone’s internal contact list to make sending as easy as it should be. The app keeps you on a narrow path that allows Disney to promote itself and its app, and those constraints feel very much imposed by corporate media culture.
The app is only a rudimentary beginning. Surely a company like Disney could pack a number of its own storied storytelling assets and properties into themes for consumer use. Trademarked and copyrighted visual and audio assets could be applied to these personal stories to make them even more valuable to the consumer. The trick is to keep the process as automated as possible. The opportunity for marketers and media companies is to help the user shape their own chaotic media-making into something more consumable by themselves and friends.
But at its heart, the app moves in the right direction -- and that is with users sending content to one another. This is an extremely challenging channel for any media company to enter. A century and a half of mass communications has baked into the media company’s soul the urge to broadcast out rather than collaborate with the audience, let alone to truly empower it. But the democratization of media making through digital technology has left the consumer with an embarrassment of their own riches -- a messy pile of diamonds in the rough looking for a partner to help them polish.