The former foreign correspondent and consulting editor for interactive design and multimedia at the Associated Press sees a way for journalists, news organisations and storytellers to make better use of the interactivity that the web and social media offers. Enter Storify: a tool for telling stories, bringing in the best elements and content published on the web into a dynamic, embeddable story.
As the founder of the Hacks/Hackers network, which brings together programmers and journalists to share skills on projects, Herman hopes Storify will marry the best from the worlds of technology and journalism to create "a future content management system for social media".
"The idea is to bring together journalism and technology in ways that make sense, in ways that really take the best of journalistic standards, in fact checking, providing context, and pushing technology, taking advantage of the web, interactive media, social media to think about new ways to tell stories. Since we do have this amazing medium why are we just doing things that are text and print and photos and static things?" he tells Journalism.co.uk.
"What Storify is about is taking the best of user-generated or crowd-generated content and combining it with journalistic oversight to use that to tell stories. Citizen journalism is not replacing journalists, but at the same time journalists should use the best of the material that's out there. Reporters can't be everywhere that something's happening."
The service is currently in private beta, but has already been used by the Huffington Post, Washington news site TBD.com and by the Washington Post this week for its coverage of the US midterms. Built using the APIs from sites such as Twitter, Storify allows users to 'drag and drop' social media elements from a panel into a story window. They can include their own text or notes around these modules, which can be sourced from pages bookmarked by the user using a Storify bookmarklet or by searching through their Twitter networks or favourited tweets and twitpics. Material sourced from Google searches, RSS feeds, Flickr and YouTube can also be searched and included in the story.
The aim is to provide a simple platform for creating stories that is easy to update can can be used to curate material from a range of social media channels while tapping into the users of those networks.
Storify stories can be embedded within a website and when the central story is updated with new material, this change will update everywhere that the Storify is hosted - a feature aimed at live reporting and ongoing stories, and also at the reader, who will be told what is new on a Storify that they have already viewed.
"Big events, breaking news, where there's lots of people sending out social media content seems to be where it shines. It's not that we think it's limited to that. The Whitehouse spokesperson has a Twitter account, right? Politicians in parliament have their twitter accounts and are putting out regular content so why not use it for a regular daily story. I think that helps to add authenticity and transparency especially in this time where journalists' credibility is lower than it has been for some time," says Herman.
"Everybody's producing media right now, so let's put that directly in the story and then still have this journalistic curator, giving content, finding the best stuff for audiences audiences who don't have time to look through Twitter and find the best tweets or twitpics that interest them."
Herman hopes that Storify will make the most of the web as an interactive platform on which to tell stories. As such the team is developing new features to allow individual elements of a Storify to be retweeted on Twitter, commented on or shared. A 'social pingback' option has already been created allowing users to notify everyone who is referenced in the story with just one click.
"We want to really leverage all these great things on social media - virality of content, feedback loops - as much as we possibly can, because you can do that on the internet which you can't do in paper because it's a one-way medium," he says.
The platform is also being picked up by corporations and PR agencies also interested in its potential to create stories of and not just on the web. Herman says he is keen to develop new features around commenting, but that expanding the social media sources with which Storify can work is just a matter of having its API to build on. Using Twitter's API, for example, the platform doesn't just allow users to embed a tweet, but also pulls in all the metadata around that tweet - another important part of properly citing sources and providing transparency on the web says Herman.
Each story in Storify also has an API, which can be used to turn the data it contains into new formats, such as a map or interactive timeline. The API can be called to retrieve specific data about stories that can be used to analyse patterns in coverage too, such as when individuals have been quoted previously and on what subjects, adds Herman.
It's early days, but Herman hopes that Storify has gone a step further than other attempts to create dynamic stories, such as Google's Living Stories, or ready-made blogging platforms.
"Posterous and tumblr are about one element at a time, it's sort of like a longer tweet. We want to pull together all these information molecules into something that makes sense. What do people read?" he says.
"They read something that makes sense, they read stories."
Free daily newsletter
- Tip: Check out this Facebook group connecting freelancers with celebrities and publicists
- Tool for journalists: Trends24, for monitoring popular topics on Twitter
- Tip: Remember this advice for creating more engaging Instagram posts
- Tip: How to use social media analytics to find new angles on stories
- 'We are in an information war' – How journalists can begin to tackle the misinformation ecosystem