Storify CEO sees social media as a platform for timely, relevant news and information in an increasingly smartphone-connected world.
From the Arab Spring to the recent airline crash in San Francisco, Xavier Damman, CEO of Storify, sees smartphones as social watchdogs of reality that help people understand the world and pursue truth.
Individuals equipped with smartphones are increasingly the source of insights, photos and videos, and news outlets from the BBC to CNN have proved eager to tap them to bring deeper, more immediate coverage of news events. But the explosion of user-generated content and social sharing has forced journalists and news junkies to wade through lots of noise to find meaning. The desire for context and deeper meaning about news and events is what drove Damman to co-found Storify with former AP correspondent Burt Herman.
Storify helps people create stories and timelines using social media. News outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle have used the service to augment news coverage, and the UK Prime Minister’s office recently used it to illustrate their impact during the G8 Summit.
In an interview, Damman spoke about the importance of smartphones and social networks in surfacing and amplifying information that matters so people can use it to do the things they love and even change the world.
How have smartphones and social networks changed the way that people get news?
We used to rely on a world where we had only a couple of thousand journalists covering what’s happening across the entire planet. Now through mobile phones, everybody is connected to the network and can report whatever is happening.
Whenever something is happening in the streets of Egypt, Syria or Occupy Wall Street in New York, even if there are no journalists there, mobile phones allow everybody to work together to report what is going on. That’s a fundamental shift in the way we can know what’s happening on this planet.
Has technology changed people’s desire for information?
Stories have been around forever; it’s how we share what we’ve learned and what we love. Now with mobile phones that access the Internet, people are telling their stories in real time by sharing a photo or a video.
Through social media, people are getting much more feedback, from places such as Facebook and other networks, than ever before. It doesn’t really matter anymore how much money a person makes and how many things a person owns. It’s more about things people do, what they share, how they benefit others and it’s about getting feedback. Now we can interact with people all around the world and provide feedback, and this helps create happiness in people’s lives.
How are you helping people cope with so-called information overload?
In a way, we are building a new system where everybody’s connected and borders don’t matter anymore. I think this is a huge idea whose time has come, and I’m looking forward to how the world is going to realize itself now that people have access to new technology and can build new democracies that are not limited to technologies such as paper.
We have much greater resolution of our lives because there is more volume and velocity of sharing. This creates a flow of information which often is quickly forgotten. Nobody remembers what was on your Facebook timeline last week.
For events that we care about and voices that matter to us, we need to pay more attention. With Storify, I want to make sure that we focused attention on places like Egypt, Syria or wherever people are plotting something that really matters. These are things that we don’t want to flow by too quickly because we want more people to care about what’s happening. It’s important to surface what really matters and amplify that news or information so it can impact more people.
Storify wouldn’t be possible if people weren’t able to express themselves on the Internet. Right now we are focusing on bringing to market a new kind of typewriter for this new age of social media. That’s really the first step. In order to have that we have to build a new site like Storify that’s great. We want to bring in the readers and really create a community of people who will get the stories that matter to them most.
How do you see social and traditional media blending?
It’s one thing to be able to create what people express using social media and it’s another thing to actually make sure that the stories that matter are going to be seen by the right people at the right time. We want to create a layer on top of social media – a real information network that the world needs for the twenty-first century.
Technology is as an enabler. Right now we have no excuse not to do the things that we love doing because everybody can learn on the Internet and be creative. If we really want to change the world, we need to enable more people to do the things that they love, and share those things, so that even more people can be encouraged to do what they love.