Storytree is out to solve a problem that's been bothering baby boomers and the elderly. They love to talk on the phone and visit with their younger family members, but they don't feel like they get to often enough. When they do connect, the stories they share aren't
preserved— and sending videos back and forth is cumbersome.
Inspired by these groups, their gripes, and StoryCorps, Matthew Sullivan and Zach Weiner recently launched the Storytree website, a digital online storytelling community for families.
Users create their own "storytrees" and are given the option to either record a story or ask a family member to respond to a question via video, photo, or audio recording. Someone might ask a grandparent how they met their spouse, for example, or about their first car.
Sullivan originally came up with the concept in a class at Stanford's d. school that focused on human-centered design projects. Weiner, then studying in Stanford's Computer Science department, joined his mission. With a team of three other people, they have been working on Storytree full-time for the past three months. They managed to raise seed funding from 500startups and the Designer Fund. Sullivan says Storytree aims to raise additional funds, soon.
The company is not the first to attempt preservation of family history through a digital storytelling community online. The website now known as Ancestry.com started off as a family social networking site in the early 1990s (with the domain name MyFamily.com). That idea didn't catch, but the site switched its focus to genealogy and succeeded.
Sullivan believes, "We're reaching a point now with technology that it would be easy enough to have these people become connected with each other, to tell their stories." Storytree even enlisted former Ancestry.com CEO Tom Stockham as an adviser.
Proust, another new memory-sharing service for seniors, focuses on individual life stories. Sullivan says Storytree is in more of "a collaborative space." While Storytree is focused on senior family members now, it won't be in the long run, he adds: "It may end up being the younger generation that goes to grandma's
house, records stories, and puts it on this site."
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY recently contacted Storytree, expressing interest in using the service to collect baseball stories from fans. The service could also be used by parents to share video of their children in the early days of life. That's something behemoth social networks might be able to provide as a service, too.
Sullivan says it's not the same, there. "There's a gap between services like Facebook and what we offer. With Facebook and Google Circles, you get a lot of noise going on. We're focused on the meaningful content."
For now, Storytree is growing its product line and features— it plans to launch an iPhone app this month and soon after that, to bring their website out of its beta phase.
[Images: Flickr user genibee, Storytree]