Storyplanet plans to launch publicly this year as a tool to allow journalists to package together multimedia content.
The new platform has been in beta testing since May 2012, with trials in newsrooms including Al Jazeera and Time magazine.
The platform enables users – such as journalists and photographers – to build interactive and visually captivating packages of content, which can then be embedded within a news site.
We discussed the concept with founder Bjarke Myrthu, who describes Storyplanet as "a packaging or a wrapping or an interface tool", which journalists can use to bring together collections of their work in a great user experience.
"So if you have a bunch of different media types, some text, some video, some photos, you can create a really nice package out of it that people can navigate in different ways," Myrthu added.
"When you're building something online, a layout is not enough, you need navigation as well, you need a whole interface, you need interactivity, so that's what we could provide."When you're building something online, a layout is not enough, you need navigation as well, you need a whole interface, you need interactivity, so that's what we could provideBjarke Myrthu, Storyplanet
The platform received early investment from key names: Joichi Ito, who is the chief executive at MIT Medialab, and Mohamed Nanabhay, the former head of online at Al Jazeera English, now co-founder of SignalNoise.
This investment helped support the creation of a prototype, with a private beta version of Storyplanet launched last year. The aim was "to show people what direction we're going in", Myrthu said.
"People can do some pretty cool but still rather simple stuff, but it gives them an idea of where we're headed and it gives us an opportunity to get some feedback on what is working and what is not working".
As well as Al Jazeera and Time magazine, Storyplanet has been tested by news outlets in Denmark, including Danish national television, and independent photographers. Storyplanet has collected together some of its favourite use cases by beta testers of the platform on Pinterest.
Each story is built on a grid, which users can then add "tiles" to, which effectively form each page of the story, and appear like slides in a presentation.
The grid format means tiles can be arranged in different structures based on the desired flow of the story and navigation between pages can also be applied.
Using the builder tool each tile can be laid out, edited and have content added to it, whether that is a photo, video, piece of audio or just text.
The content of a tile can vary from featuring just a photo to acting as an index page with a list of sections, like chapters, which can be clicked on by the viewer to reach different parts of the story. Hotspots can also be added, such as on top of an image, which can then link to an external webpage.
Users can also edit transitions between tiles, the order of the tiles and other details such as changing the background colour of the tile.
The final product is viewable via a URL and can also be embedded, and played through the Storyplanet player. Currently this is a Flash player, but Storyplanet is currently working on a HTML version.
Storyplanet has produced two tutorials outlining in detail how to use the platform, which can be viewed here.
Plans for 2013 public launch
Myrthy said there is "not anything firm" in terms of a public launch date, but it is "surely within this year", adding that the team is "trying to work out right at the moment exactly how much we want to include in the next launch".
Myrthu explained that the idea with the platform "is that the technical work has already been done", which enables both those without technical skills to use a basic framework, while others can build on this if they wish.
"We're trying to do a pretty open platform, sort of a little bit like WordPress, where you can actually build modules, plugins and modify to your needs.
"So if you have a newsroom where you have technical people they can customise things. But the idea is you don't have to build everything from scratch. You have a framework that you can build on, at one end. At the other end you have an easy to use tool for non-technical people."
The "exact business model" for Storyplanet is still being worked on, but the idea is that it will charge for premium services, such as story statistics, extra support or extra storage.
At the moment Storyplanet exists as one product. Myrthu said that the team is "considering maybe down the road splitting it up" for different types of user, but added that "we're not really sure about it".
"The interesting thing is there's not as big a difference between the professional and the more-or-less professional or serious amateur or what you want to call it, as there used to be.
"If you look at the camera world, a hobbyist and a pro-photographer uses the same camera these days, it's just a matter of how they use it that can distinguish them and it's getting to be a lot like that when it comes to software and online tools.
"So I'm not that sure we actually do need to make that distinction, I think it's more a matter of how people approach what we offer them. So some people might choose to have the very standardised version that they use in their browser, and they log in and they use some predefined templates to do what they want to do. And bigger newsrooms will like to choose an option where they download and install it on their own server and do a lot of customisation. But the core product is the same."
And the aim of that core product is to address the issue of user experience in online news.
"I still think online lags way behind print. With my profile I don’t read a lot of print, I read print magazines but I don't read a lot of print newspapers. It's funny because eight years ago I had five different subscriptions and today I don't have a subscription anymore.
"But once in a while when I come across a printed newspaper and I'm shocked because I notice how beautiful it is compared to what is online.
"The problem is today there are more and more people that only approach newspapers online and they never see the print ... I think there's a lot of possibility in refining the entire interface and the entire experience.
"That's part of our mission with Storyplanet – to simply make it more beautiful, more immersive, a higher quality, a better experience."
- Hatip: Storyplanet was suggested by Journalism.co.uk reader Jasmina Nielsen as another visual storytelling tool which could be added to a list of others we compiled at the end of last year
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