“How to Teach Google What a Story Is”

Here’s a great piece on Google+ Stories from The Atlantic:

Google wanted to solve a problem we can all understand. People take so, so many photographs and yet they actually do very little with them. A chosen few are posted to Instagram. Most sit in vast wastelands of thumbnails on phones or in iPhoto never to be seen after the moment of their creation.

“You come back from a trip with 300 photos and no one is trying to help you do anything with them,” said Google social web engineer Joseph Smarr. “You think about how people deal with that, and the main way is to not share anything. The second biggest thing is to share one little vignette or Instagram. Or the worst thing is they dump the whole 300 photos in an album. And that doesn’t tell a story in a meaningful way. It’s just a series of pictures. It’s just a monotone drum beat with no fills: boom-boom-boom-boom.”

So Smarr and his teammates—product designer Brett Lider and user experience designer Clement Ng—set a task for themselves. They wanted to create software that would have rhythm and flow like “actual storytelling.” Actual humanstorytelling.

Fun detail: The project was codenamed “Boswell,” after James Boswell, Samuel Johnson’s biographer. I enjoyed calling it “Boz,” after, uh, not James Boswell.

2 thoughts on ““How to Teach Google What a Story Is”

  1. Of course, 296 of those 300 iPhone shots are selfies and the other four are selfies sent to Instagram.

  2. I have the feeling that this, or something similar to the Boz, will crossover into other storytelling schemes. For example, I’m currently reading a new novel “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers” (by Tom Rachman), in part because I have some personal connections with four of the locations where the story unfolds. It seemed quite quickly to me that the author’s descriptions of place had a very pictorial quality. And then I noticed this in the Acknowledgments: “My thanks also to ____ for so kindly allowing me to start this novel in Anzio; also to ____ and Alberto for his photographic help.”

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