True Story

Online expression evolves from blogging to multimedia storytelling--and it's not just for bedtime.

"Man is eminently a storyteller," philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in 1955. And if it was true then, it's even more so today--just look at all the personal blogs and photo-sharing Web sites for proof. Now a host of new services want to further feed our storytelling urges, bringing us closer to a world of multimedia expression. Although these tools are primarily aimed at families, enterprising companies are already using them to forge stronger ties with employees and customers.

The idea here is to blend photos and text with music and video to make attractive online presentations. OurStory, for example, lets people create historical timelines with visuals and text. Most people use the site to chronicle their lives for posterity, detailing childhood adventures or rock-star crushes (you can get your captured personal histories printed as a book, too). "Love struck me hard and fast when I was about 15," begins one typical post.

California's Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, though, used OurStory to create a collaboratively written institutional history ahead of its 40th anniversary in September. And other services are targeting marketers more blatantly. FilmLoop, which lets users create a slide show of images that scroll, ticker-style, across the desktop, has already attracted such big-name brands as NASCAR, Purina, and Toyota. Digital-entertainment startup iBloks, which lets people create 3-D interactive multimedia "mods" that layer photos and video with music, licensed its product, before its launch, to Rodale Press. So, for example, Men's Health and Women's Health readers will be able to create custom workouts featuring video-clip demos of exercises--and download them to a video iPod or cell phone.

If all you want is a digital scrapbook, Pickle, Tabblo, and Smilebox are ardently focused on friends and family. Just don't mention them to your VP of marketing.

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