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An App To Capture Your Grandma’s Life Story

Story Press makes it easy for the older generation (or anyone, really) to use technology to record their memories.

Mike Davis is a designer of medical devices, not iPad apps. "I have two engineering degrees," he says, "but neither are in computer science." But one day his grandma Bea called him to ask if she could record on her iPad. She was 84 years old, and had a lot of stories to tell.

Davis found plenty of options for recording audio on the iPad, but they weren’t designed for senior citizen users or for creating and organizing shareable oral histories. "I realized it would be painstaking to explain to her to do it," he says.

Davis decided within a few days that he would create what ultimately became StoryPress. It’s an iPad app that can be used with preloaded interview questions or in an open "dictation" mode, allowing you to create an oral history, broken into chapters, and share it online. (Here’s grandma Bea’s.)

It’s a niche product with, so far, a small, niche audience. Even after dropping the price from $9.99 to free, it’s gathered only 3,200 registered users, who have started approximately 2500 stories and published 500. But within that group are some interesting cases. There’s a social studies class in Medina, Ohio using it to document their town. There’s a children’s museum in Norway that wants to use it.

What’s most clear as you browse stories on the site is that it’s not being used exactly as Davis originally intended. Instead of people speaking to the iPad, they are usually being interviewed. Even grandma Bea hasn’t been recording lately, because neither Davis nor his mom has been around to facilitate it. "I think the awkwardness of talking aloud to a machine, not everyone is comfortable with that."

Davis just raised $15,000 on Kickstarter for an updated version of the site, which will integrate images and music—odd additions to a product with the spoken word at its core, until you hear his vision. "It’s going to be much Pinterest style, with feeds based on what topics you’re into," he says. We’ll see if that catches on.

But it will also respond to one of the primary concerns of his users. "They like the fact they can share it," Davis says, "but they don’t have any assurance we’re going to be in business in two years. Or five years." For security, you’ll continue to be able to download the raw audio and image files. But if you want to preserve the graphic presentation of the StoryPress website, you may have to pay to receive them in a form even your grandma may be familiar with: CDs or DVDs. "We might even get into printed transcripts," Davis says.