Storyplanet review: A promising multimedia storytelling tool for digital journalists

Storyplanet, a digital reporting platform still in its beta, provides a quick and easy way for a digital reporter to put together a package that contains text, photo, video and audio, which can then be shared on the web or via social media. All for free.

My test drive of Storyplanet shows a few bugs and a lack of features that I hope the developer can address in the official release. But I would still recommend that instructors and students adopt this tool in classroom teaching/learning of digital journalism.

A truly multiple-media story I wanted to test with Storyplanet

I wanted to put together some popular elements for a digital reporting project: texts, photo, audio, video, sound photo slideshow, interactive maps, data visualization. Essentially, I was trying to recreate a multimedia story that I created which made use of a web-based web design tool called Wix, as well as a few other web tools and services. In my previous post, I called the Wix project the closest I wanted for a digital reporting platform.

Click the screenshot below to explore the Wix project, a multimedia story about a makeshift homeless settlement in Lakewood, New Jersey. Much of the contents are being hosted elsewhere then “embedded” in this project: video on Youtube, audio on Soundclouds, slideshow on Dropbox, data visualization on Tableau Public, and interactive map on Google.

wix

The good: Storyplanet provides a one-stop solution for everyday digital reporting

I said in a previous post that a digital reporting platform needs to provide a one-stop solution for three needs:

  • Accommodate multiple media types
  • Workflow and interface optimized for story creation
  • Content hosting (no need to upload contents elsewhere)

Storyplanet is able to meet most of my expectations. For a digital story, the most common types of content are text, photo, audio and video; Storyplanet allows user to upload photo, audio and video directly to a Storyplanet project, which means a user doesn’t need to deal with separate hosting services such as Youtube and Soundcloud.

And Storyplanet is a web-based tool – everything is being saved on Storyplanet server so a user can continue working on the project anywhere, anytime, on any computer, as long as there is internet connection. When the project is finished and published, Storyplanet provides sharing options such as email, embed, as well as social media sharing such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

The Storyplanet workflow is also optimized for story creation. In my Wix project, the workspace is actually meant for website design thus has buttons and commands that I would never need for presenting a multimedia story. The Storyplanet workspace is a grid – we create a new page (called tile) to be put in each grid cell, adjacent pages (tiles) are automatically connected. Each page (tile) can then be individually edited – adding texts, photos, audio, video, etc.

Depending on the structure of the story, the pages (tiles) can take different layouts on the grid. Visitors can go left/right or up/down by following arrows on border of each page. See below for a screenshot of the workspace for the Tent City project I was creating – it’s a basic structure with five pages (tiles) on the same level, meaning a visitor will only be able to move left/right when navigating this project.

Storyplanet Builder

The not-so-good: Storyplanet needs to support interactives and improve workflow

I cannot embed in Storyplanet project interactive features such as Google maps and data visualization. I have an interactive Google map showing location of Tent City; Google provides the embedding codes, but Storyplanet does not have the embedding option. The same is true with a data visualization showing median incomes in New Jersey; the visualization was created with a data tool called Tableau Public, which also provides embedding codes but again, Storyplant doesn’t support embedding.

So I ended up creating an image for the map and an image for the visualization, uploaded the two images to Storyplanet, then linked each image to the corresponding interactive.

In terms of workflow, Storyplanet can use some improvements:

  • The default size for a page (tile) should be changeable. I could not reduce the tile size – I didn’t need that much space for what I was creating. Besides, it doesn’t fit the screen of my laptop, making laptop editing less efficient.
  • External linking should be made easier. Currently, to link to an external page, I need to add a hotspot onto the page, change the size of the hotspot to match and to align with the element (text/photo), then enter the external link. This process is really cumbersome, and when I make changes to an asset, I will have to re-align the hotspot. Lastly, linked elements are not being made obvious – for instance, linked texts don’t have that usual blue color or underlining which tell people this is a clickable link.
  • Tutorials can be more thorough. After going through the tutorials, I still don’t know what some buttons mean and do; for instance, when entering an external link, there’s a “back” box that I have no idea what it does.

On a separate note, I’m a bit uncertain how online visitors will respond to the default navigation scheme of Storyplanet. To navigate a regular website, people usually look for drop-down menus to aid them exploring the site. However, in a Storyplanet story, there’s no menu, just left/right/up/down arrows on borders of each page. For a complex Storyplanet project with a multi-level structure, a visitor may need to take some time to figure out how to navigate and, when they go deeper, may get lost as to where they are in this project and how to jump back to the “home” page or other sections. See below for a complex story structure on a grid:

Screen_Shot_of_Storyplanet_tiles

Moreover, a Storyplanet project doesn’t work on mobile devices, especially iOS devices such as iPhone and iPad. This issue must be resolved – a digital story is meant to be shared and sharing increasingly is happening across platforms.

Lastly, here’s a screenshot of my Storyplanet project about Tent City – I’m not embedding the actual project here because the width of the project exceeds width of this post. Click the screenshot to explore the project in a new window.

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Mu Lin

Blogger at MulinBlog
Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin blogs about digital journalism education and offers free digital journalism courses at MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), which is a free, open, online program for people seeking web-based training in digital content production.
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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin blogs about digital journalism education and offers free digital journalism courses at MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), which is a free, open, online program for people seeking web-based training in digital content production.
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9 Responses to Storyplanet review: A promising multimedia storytelling tool for digital journalists

  1. Bryan Murley says:

    Very nice thorough review. Re: the flash support, their homepage says device support is “coming soon” so I assume that’s something they’re getting ready for the full release. In this day, flash-only story platforms won’t survive.

  2. Bryan Murley says:

    Also, there’s another similar tool called zeega.com that does have map capabilities, but requires hosting multimedia on outside services. You might check that out.

  3. Storyplanet is my baby (I’m the founder), so I guess this is a bit like seeing your kid get his or her first report card. But I think you did a really great review, and you pointed out most of the stuff that we know we need to improve. At the moment we are mostly focused on enabling the collection and embedding of different content, and on supporting mobile (=non-flash devices). But the workflow improvements are definitely also on our list. But I’m really happy that you get our missing, and the direction we are trying to take.

    • mulinblog says:

      Storyplanet is a great product with great potentials. I look forward to the official release and will definitely use it in my digital journalism classes.

  4. Pingback: Storyplanet review: A promising digital multimedia storytelling tool | Brand Journalism

  5. Susan Cardillo says:

    Hello
    I am a first year doctoral student in Computer Science-Emerging Media…I am researching interactive documentaries and the new tools available for their creation…Thanks for the Storyplanet post…I am about to embark on learning this and the other 10 or so tools that are currently out there….I would love to know if you have worked with others and your thoughts…and any other academic articles you might be aware of on the subject.
    Thanks
    Susan

    • mulinblog says:

      That’s really an interesting and promising research area. Let’s keep in touch and see if we can collaborate on some projects.

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  7. Pingback: Interactive Storytelling Tools

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