Mobile media and digital storytelling

As a PhD student way back in 2005, I started to notice the development of dedicated apps and websites for mobile phone-based multimedia storytelling. I also got embarrassingly excited about the digital storytelling potential of iPods – first the iPod Video as a platform for personal micro-cinema, and a little later, the introduction of high-quality iPod voice recorders. And there were early initiatives that aimed to encourage people to exploit the new video-recording capabilities of mobile phones to create micro-cinematic works, like the 60 Second Story competition and the Siemens Micro Movie Awards.

With the rise of smartphones like the iPhone as well as über-platforms YouTube and Facebook, things have obviously moved on – and sideways – quite a bit.

Because of the mid-2000s focus on ‘user-created content’ as opposed to ‘social media’, I imagined at the time that these kinds of applications might promote the relatively easy, on-they-fly curation of personal and everyday experience into micro-narrative forms, but of course things turned out rather differently from that. In the Facebook moment, the network and its logics of sharing and ambient intimacy seem to have trumped the considered narrative. (Although Facebook’s recently introduced Timeline is an interesting, accretive reinterpretation of the life story).

Anyway, of course the rise and rise of the smartphone in advanced economies and the ascendancy of mobile media more broadly have generated a whole new wave of multimedia storytelling and video editing apps. A new one that has caught my eye recently via our Twitter account is Com-Phone: an Android app (with a Symbian version) for digital storytelling aimed squarely at community applications with a particular focus on rural communities. The Com-Phone app is part of the Community Media Toolkit developed by UK and South African university partners as part of a Research Council UK (RCUK) funded Digital Economy project. From a related press release:

Professor Matt Jones of Swansea University College of Science said: “This research project aims to give insights into how social-media sharing systems should be designed and deployed to benefit many billions of people beyond the mainstream ‘developed’ world contexts. We are also keen to see how the work can impact on people poorly served by conventional social networking solutions wherever they are in the world, including the UK.”

Com-Phone looks to be a highly usable multimedia narrative application supporting the assembly and editing of photos, multilayered audio, and text to produce a final video story; and because it sits within the larger ‘toolkit’ which is designed for a range of ad hoc scenarios that don’t depend on internet connectivity or even the availablity of electricity, it comes with interesting within-community or to-the-web sharing options. An interesting new development, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the take-up is in community projects.