Online Storytelling

I’m always on the lookout for cool new digital tools for public history, and an interesting one launched earlier this year for recording and presenting audio content online: Broadcastr.

Built on the concept that story and place go hand-in-hand, the platform allows users to create, share, and rate “location-based stories.”

Content partners like the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and the Brooklyn Historical Society have already seen the potential for the new platform and have posted brief oral histories, anecdotes, and even walking tours.

But the platform is about much more than history. Other content partners include Fodor’s Travel Guides,, Unicef, arts groups, writers, actors, and assorted notable people. And of course, any user can add his or her own stories. As of last month, the site had about 60,000 “active users” and at least 8,000 stories around the world.

Ease of use is perhaps Broadcastr’s best feature. Want to share an anecdote about your local coffee shop? You can record one with a few clicks. Curious about people’s stories focused on subways, politics, or Smyrna, Delaware? You can search metadata to find recordings that match your interests or use the platform’s Google map to navigate to stories tied to a specific location. With the mobile app, you can even play stories automatically as you pass by locations, sort of like taking a crowd-sourced walking tour.

If you work for a small institution, or are an independent historian, this may be your quickest, cheapest option for sharing audio content with a built-in audience.

That said, if you’re looking for a digital tool that will help you guide users’ discovery of your audio content, this might not be the tool for you. I don’t see an easy way to use the map functionality to create guided walking tours, designating a path that you want listeners to follow. Each point on the map seems to exist in isolation.

The Broadcastr interface is also a little weak on metadata, in my opinion. The focus is clearly the audio itself, not the text that describes that audio.

Be forewarned that Broadcastr’s founders hope to make money off the platform someday, even as they continue to offer basic Broadcastr features for free. According to recent articles in CNNMoney and Forbes blog, they plan to add local advertisers’ content to the mix and launch a premium version of the platform.

Nevertheless, I can envision dozens of public history applications. Who’s up for creating audio equivalents of historic markers, either complementing or expanding on physical markers already in place? Or perhaps the site could be used to post audio stories about under-appreciated historic sites or buildings that have escaped more formal recognition. Brick-and-mortar historic sites could even invite visitors to add their own stories to the defined historic narrative about a place.

Tagged with: , , ,