“Oral history everywhere,” might be the tagline of a new student startup coming from the heartland. Crowdstory lets users record 30-second audio snippets and tie them to a location on a map. Subsequent visitors to that location, or friends and followers of the person who left the snippet, can check out the story later, and leave their own. The iPhone app (Android version forthcoming) just released an update recently, and was incubated by a unit within the University of Oklahoma’s refreshinlgly non-euphemistic Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth.
A team of some 10 students created the app, says Bryce Stubblefield, one of the creators, and a senior himself at OU. “Imagine something really cool happend at the Space Needle–you saw some cool street performer outside,” he says, offering one potential use case. “Or it might be something like a restaurant review you could leave anonymously: you go to a hole-in-the-wall cafe, and you don’t think it’s really worth the hype.” Uses abound, from the frivolous to the serious: the team has been talking to Native American tribes around Oklahoma, discussing the possibility of recording miniature oral histories with them.
You might record fond moments in your current apartment and leave them for the next tenant, as echoes from the past. Or you might create a series of little stories and string them together–an audio tour, or a pub crawl series, for instance.
Those last two ideas are ones Stubblefield mentions when he talks about possible ways to monetize the app, which is currently free. “We’re looking to monetize in a few different ways, all down the line,” he says. They might charge for premium features–like a voice-changer, or the ability to leave slightly longer stories. They’re also looking into partnering with large businesses for alternative marketing strategies. You might have deals attached to certain promoted stories: “listen to this story and get 50% off,” says Stubblefield by way of example. They’d rather not do straight ads, just yet–“right now that’s a question mark, whether we’ll integrate ads.” The team sure wouldn’t mind having Crowdstory being licensed by a giant like Yelp, FourSquare, or Gowalla, says Stubblefield.
If the app ever does make money, who benefits? As a product of OU’s software business accelerator, Crowdstory has several different entities with stake in the company. The university owns the intellectual properties that come out of the accelerator, explains Stubblefield, but the students who create the product sill have a “reasonable stake in the company so far as personal equity goes.” He calls this set-up “really unique, especailly for the state of Oklahoma.” Crowdstory’s team is the first one to come through the accelerator program. If it works, the hope is to make the state a low-cost-of-living alternative for startups: an unexpected little tech hum in the heartland.
Crowdstory is a cool idea, and the kind that only gets cooler as more people use it. It’s coming out of stealth more or less with this post (it just has about 270 users for now), so download a copy and try out leaving behind a touch of oral history with your next check-in.