Voltage: thinking about the power and peril of stories

Last week’s Point of View on Radio 4 was from the academic Tom Shakespeare talking about “the power and peril of stories”.

In a nutshell he’s saying that the persuasive power of stories has real social consequences and this can be used for good or ill.

I’ve been trying to understand this more recently as it is something that come up from time to time when I’m talking to people about stories and leadership.

Stories and Voltage

What Tom Shakespeare’s podcast made me think about was voltage. Stories are a bit like electricity. Electricity’s a good thing, but it has to be handled with care, especially when the voltage is high.

Some stories are low voltage, like a triple A battery, an anecdote about my journey to work this morning, for instance. It might be entertaining or funny but in terms of personal or social consequences it’s probably neither here nor there.

But what about high voltage?

Some stories strongly influence how people behave, the choices they make, the way they vote. And it affects the storyteller too. Any form of storytelling includes a measure of vulnerability so it should be done with awareness and support and be an explicit choice on the part of the storyteller.

Without that level of care we’re inviting unintended consequences a bit like leaving live wires exposed.

Narrative awareness

Going back to some of the points Tom Shakespeare makes, narrative is an extremely powerful thing, especially in the face of facts. Quite often the compelling story will win out over a rational argument.

If we’re engaged in storytelling we need to be aware of our responsibilities and develop an understanding of how narrative and “truth” are related and what happens when the two diverge.

And for me, this is one of the core purposes of education. Do we equip learners to use stories effectively and do help them see where narrative begins and ends and to challenge it when needed?

 

Digital stories about objects – “Spruce, ebony and horsehair”

I had the chance to make another digital story recently. It was for Curiosity Creative, an organisation I’m a trustee of. Alex, who runs the company, is collecting stories of people talking about objects that mean something to them for a project called The Story Box.

This is mine

The Story Box collection is steadily growing and if you’re in the Newcastle area you might see the “screening room”, a full size replica telephone box, doing the rounds at various locations and events.

Have a look at the other stories in the collection. One of my favourites is “Mourning Earrings” which is a very frank account of family disunity. A prize for the best (if slightly misleading) title goes to Michy’s Porn Bear.

Stories in your pocket

One of the activities I do regularly on storytelling workshops is to get people to look in their pockets, bags, wallets etc and find an object that they could tell a story about, something that reveals a bit of themselves. I’m always surprised at how much you can learn about someone from an old rail ticket or a set of keys!

I’m reminded a bit of JK Rowling’s Horcruxes, objects in the Harry Potter books where parts of someone’s soul can be placed inside everyday objects for protection.

These stories about objects are obviously a lot less malevolent, but we go through life, interacting with the objects and people around us, leaving little traces of our identity behind to be recalled later.

A little while back I reviewed a book called The Chimes which used a similar device as a way of a society fighting amnesia using small objects they carried around with them which, if lost, meant the person lost all sense of self and slipped into a sort of waking coma.

So, have a look around you. See if you can conjure a story from a seemingly innocuous object.

More about The Story Box

You can find out more about The Story Box here. Watch out for the public screenings of The Story Box around Newcastle in the coming months. Keep up to date with Curiosity Creative on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

Rembrandt and the fall of Western Society (probably)

Look at this picture below for a moment. It’s taken by Gijsbert van der Wal. It’s from 2014 but pops up like whack-a-mole on social media from time to time.

What do you see?

A masterpiece hangs on a wall while a small group of young people huddle round their screens.

That’s what’s in the picture, but what do you SEE?

The caption that accompanied this on my Facebook timeline recently said:
“This picture was taken by the security guard of the museum. He just realized that this world was lost.”

Kids, eh?

The conclusion we’re supposed to draw is that these millennials are so absorbed in their screens (probably Snapchatting or playing Angry Birds or something), that they are ignoring the priceless Rembrandt 10 feet away from them. It’s a damning conclusion. Young people no longer value the cornerstones of our culture. We’re probably doomed.

Now look again

This is a trip to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The children seem to be huddled in pairs or small groups. The two boys look like they’re talking to each other. The girls have a piece of paper balanced on their knee. Perhaps it’s a worksheet.

Let’s say that they’re using their phones to access an app created by the museum that explains the pictures they are seeing in much greater detail. Maybe they’re being asked a set of challenging questions in the app that means in a few moments, they’ll all stand up again and spend 10 minutes trying to decide why the woman in the background has the claws of a dead chicken strapped to her belt (I googled it).

Or maybe they’ll move on to the next one and not think about it again for a few years.

Or maybe they’ll go the giftshop next. Who knows?

The fact is, this is old news. Check out this Telegraph article for the back story.

But the real irony of this image is that, if you look at the comments on some of the tweets in the article, we’re bemoaning the fact that the children aren’t using their critical faculties to appreciate the meanings in this artwork while we do exactly the same thing.

Digital literacy in the era of “fake news”

So what’s this got to do with the “fall of Western Society”?

It’s easy to believe at the moment that we on the West live in a society where truth is more and more fluid and “fake news” abounds. Before Trump adopted the phrase as his all-purpose come back for journalists critical of his ineptitude “fake news” was the shadowy web of misinformation on questionable websites and some reputable ones that aimed to shape the outcome of the democratic process by dubious means. (It’s amazing how quickly meanings change these days!).

I tried a while back to to explain why I thought false news stories circulated so widely and quickly. My conclusion was a bit like stating the obvious but I was interested in how we find comfort in narratives that confirm our view of the world rather than truly shock and challenge us.

For me this is a major plank of digital literacy; the ability to question the meaning behind images and other information on the web, the narratives associated with them and their impact on behaviour and society.

We’re starting to see how society’s inability or unwillingness to grasp this nettle can have dire consequences particularly for vulnerable groups far from the seat of power but potentially for all of us. Misinformation and misinterpretation in the digital realm isn’t the only reason for the rise of the far right but it’s certainly helped.

And no, I’m not saying that this picture of some kids on their phones is responsible for or even emblematic of the fall of Western society, but using it as a tool to help us talk round these fundamental issues isn’t a bad place to start for us as educators.

And maybe pictures like this one suggest that hope is not lost…

… but maybe that’s just my interpretation.

There’s something very odd about this movie trailer

Watch this trailer. It’s for the upcoming film Morgan and it’s very interesting. How effective do you think it is? Does it feel like all the other trailers you watch or different somehow. HINT: Don’t rewind it as the preamble gives some spoilerific context.

You probably picked up on the clues before you got the explanation at the end of the trailer (the title overlay gives it away).

The trailer was pieced together mainly using artificial intelligence. IBM’s Watson computer analysed the full movie and constructed the 1 minute plus trailer from what it thought were the key moments. There was some human creative input but it’s a bit unclear as to what that was.

Read the full post from The Next Web.

Beyond the eerie nature of the film, I found it a bit unsettling. I watch a lot of trailers and without knowing all the ins and outs of how they’re constructed I feel like I’ve internalised what a Hollywood style trailer should be like. I suspect most of us have – try watching one from a movie over 15 years old and you’ll probably be surprised how different they are.

This one, while seeming on the surface to follow the right patterns, doesn’t feel quite right. It’s a similar feeling to looking at one of those “realistic” androids where the features are all in the right place and the skin looks properly textured but as soon as it starts to move we’re in the uncanny valley.

What really interests me is how well AI can understand narrative. While a trailer only gives a partial story it still tries to convey a sense of the meaning of the story so you come to the cinema already understanding what the film will be about. How people do that is highly subjective and I don’t think easily computable. It’s a bit like the Turing test in that sense (and maybe a computer won’t be able to pass the Turing test until it understands narrative properly).

We’re also feeding the computer a lot of rules about what we think a good trailer should look like and Watson is emulating that. It’s not the same as creatively coming up with an original and creative way of doing the same job (although you could argue that’s exactly what some human marketing people in Hollywood are doing anyway!)

In this case, I don’t think Watson gets it quite right. It’s like a computer working through a checklist of things that work in theory but still manages to miss some important beats. Some cuts happen too early or too late and the pacing feels a bit wrong but for all sorts of intangible reasons I can’t fathom, annoyingly.

But…

…it still works.There are still some brilliant moments. The scene where Morgan talks to Paul Giamatti about his daughter, for instance. That genuinely made my skin crawl with the editing meaning the camera relentlessly focussed on his discomfort. Also the moment when the chair doesn’t quite make it to smash the window before the cut to black creates real tension. A human would be proud of those.

So all in all, the unnatural, unsettling feel suits this movie right down to the ground.

It would be interesting now to see how it handles a rom-com or a costume drama.

 

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

 This wasn’t an easy read, but it was an enjoyable one. It was the other half of a 2 for 1 from Waterstones (the other was Jon Ronson’s excellent book on shaming) so I got it on the strength of the blurb rather then reputation.
It’s going to be hard to describe this book without giving away key plot points but I’ll give it a shot. The story is set in a post apocalyptic London which is a well-worn cliche but Smaill does interesting things with it. People exist in a state of musically-induced amnesia. Memories are reset during a daily event called Chimes, an almost devotional ceremony that draws on liturgical language and imagery where inescapable music seems to cover the whole country. The rare ability to remember is treated as a kind of witchcraft which adds the medieval feel.

It’s a disorienting world. Smaill writes in a way where day to day events are vivid but anything relating to the past is ambiguous and feels fragile even as Simon, the main character, gradually pieces together the past from the fragments around him. It’s his gradual awaking to his ability to remember and the reason that he finds himself away from his family in London that drives the book.

I’ve never had to draw on my ancient Grade 5 music theory for a novel before. Smaill is a violinist and music plays a central role in how the characters remember crucial information like routes and learned expertise. As a result, the text is littered with Latinate phrases. Events happen subbito and characters remain tacet. Sound and silence are almost characters in their own right. This was quite disconcerting initially and made it hard work to follow at times but after a while you become attuned to it and it has it’s own internal logic.

I did find it stretched credulity to breaking point at times. How would a society function if memory and consequently identity, reset every 24 hours? Smaill fills most of the gaps and after a while I found myself going with the flow, willingly suspending disbelief. 

One thing that resonated with me strongly was the use of objects as a way of retaining a link to the past. Characters carry round collections of keepsakes connected to past events and even if the memory they evoke has faded, the fact of their existence helps people keep a sense of self. Those that lose these objects become memorylost, stuck in a permanent catatonic state like the victims of the spectres in Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials books.

It resonated because one of the warm-up activities I ask people to do on my storytelling workshops is to find a random object they’ve brought with them, a set of keys, lipstick, ticket stub etc, and use it to explain something about themselves. Usually people talk about an event that’s connected to the object and that pens up a conversation about something more fundamental. It’s a bit of a game but it’s a great way in to looking at the art of storytelling and the link between narrative and identity.

Smaill puts this at the heart of her own story which, like all the best sci-fi, makes it a parable for something more important than the familiar setting suggests.

You can read the Guardian’s review of it here.

Why do we share what we share online?

tl;dr

People choose to share certain things via social media mostly because they confirm something about their view of the world. Even if the story or image is “shocking” on one level it’s more likely it’s being shared because it fits with an existing narrative rather than disrupting one. Understanding our own narratives and those of the people around us is an important part of developing digital identities and digital wellbeing.

“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it” Jonathan Swift

Attention in social media

This week we found out via the BBC about a 10 year old boy in Lancashire who had been questioned by police and social workers because he wrote in a school activity that he lived in a “terrorist house” rather than a “terraced house”.

As you can imagine, this become widely read and retweeted via sites like the BBC, the Guardian and social media.

I can’t link to the Guardian’s original article, though. It’s been removed pending an investigation. Lancashire police have complained about misrepresentation as the Guardian and the BBC reported later.

At the very least, and as you’d expect, the story looks to be more nuanced than the initial headline and accompanying interest on social media.

It’s a pattern that happens a lot; a story grabs attention and sparks strong emotions then a little while later either a different truth or a more complex picture emerges which gets a lot less coverage.

I’m interested in why this happens and what it says about why we pay attention to certain things online. A while ago the New York Times did a piece on this that tried to describe what’s going on and why it happens. It concludes, in relation to an unfounded rumour that a woman had had a 3rd breast implanted:

“That hoax may seem silly, but it’s instructive about the problem with rumors — they’re often much more interesting than the truth.”

That’s fine as far as it goes but it doesn’t really explain why we find something interesting in the first place. We’re swamped with information on the web so what is it that draws our gaze and incites us to action, even if it’s only to click “share”, “retweet” or sign a petition?

I think it comes down to the narratives that we make for ourselves about the world.

Comfort and disruption

We use stories as a way of making sense of what’s going on around us. Without these structures we’d be dealing with vast amounts of data so we need to filter it and stories give us a framework for doing this.

Here’s a fictitious example to illustrate what I mean.

Imagine every morning my daughter heads off to school at around 8:00. I always say “hope you have good day”, she smiles, gives me a wee kiss and I wave her off from the doorstep.

I think this confirms for me a few things about how the world works. It means my daughter is happy to go to school and that we have a good relationship. I’ve built up a narrative around it and there’s comfort in its repetition.

Now, let’s say this morning was different. This morning, I was ready at 8:00 to say goodbye to her but she was late. She was disorganised, had to be reminded about her bag and when I said “hope you have a good day” she said nothing, leaving the house quiet and sullen without looking at me or saying anything.

How does that fit my narrative? The pattern has been broken and it feels uncomfortable. I need to find an explanation why things happened differently. It might be a momentary blip or it could be the first sign that my narrative about our relationship and how school is working out is about to change.

So, two stories. One that matches the pattern and maintains a comforting narrative; one that breaks the pattern and disrupts the narrative. But why is this relevant to sharing behaviours?

I think the reason we give our attention to things on the web isn’t just because we find them interesting. I think it’s because these things relate in some way to our existing narratives but the question is whether this is to do with comforting narratives or disruptive ones.

Looking back at the Lancashire schoolboy example in it’s original incarnation, it’s tempting to see this as a disruptive narrative. It’s quite shocking, certainly out of the ordinary but I actually think it got so much attention because it appealed to an existing narrative that people had rather than challenging the basis of one. It’s impossible to say definitively what those narratives were because they’ll vary by individual but I’ll speculate for some it will be because it confirms a narrative of an over-bearing state, unfeeling bureaucracy or maybe their feeling about schools, police or social workers.

Seeing other people share the story confirms the narrative and gives a sense of belonging and shared understanding of the world. Sharing it deepens that engagement.

I suspect that the vast majority of news items, videos, inspirational quotes  and images are shared not because they are actually shocking in any fundamental sense but because they are, at their core, comforting.

When the more complicated picture emerges later, as it did in the “terrorist house” story, in most cases (not all) it just doesn’t carry the narrative appeal. How many times do you see people saying on Facebook “that thing I shared yesterday? Turns out it’s a lot more mundane than I first thought”?

If something we see does actually shake our narrative view of the world that brings along many more complicated emotions and psychological responses. These sort of transformative events happen much more rarely and people may even choose not to pay attention to something “true” if it erodes the certainty of a prevailing narrative. The narrative shocks makes us vulnerable and I think most people would be reluctant to share anything like that openly , at least until another narrative has formed to take the place of the old one.

Digital identity and well-being

This is probably all stating the bleeding obvious but I think it’s worth thinking about, particularly if we’re involved in helping people make sense of digital identity and their well-being online.

Questions we might want to ask are:

  • How can I understand my own identity by looking at the things I choose to share?
  • How might other people’s narrative about me by affected by the things I share and does that conflict with he first point?
  • How can we understand the narratives of people in particular communities online whether they align or clash? Are there risks in trying to draw these conclusions?
  • How does these narratives shape social or political action?
  • When and how should we challenge these underlying narratives and explore what alternatives might exist as educators.

Look at your social media timeline in Facebook, Twitter or Linked In over the course of 24 hours. Pay particular attention to the more sensational posts if there are any. What can you tell about the underlying narratives at work and how are they shaping action and relationships?

Its also quite instructive to look at the language that people in the public domain use and what it tells you about the narratives they are constructing, particularly around contentious issues. Try this story for starters…

Further reading:

Baumeister, R. F., & Newman, L. S. (1994). How Stories Make Sense of Personal Experiences: Motives that Shape Autobiographical Narratives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(6), 676–690.

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Harvard University Press, London.

Image: Facebook’s infection by Katie Sayer CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Microsoft as a storytelling organisation

I think Steve Clayton has my dream job. I’m not a particular Microsoft fanboi but he’s their Chief Storyteller. I recently watched his presentation about “the secret to telling awesome stories” which was fascinating, mostly from the point of view of how a company like Microsoft differentiates storytelling from marketing.

Since doing my dissertation I’ve been interested in storytelling within organisations and recently I’ve been going out and talking about how it might work in the education sector (more on that soon, I hope).

Some of the key points Steve made that really resonated were about how often it’s the small side stories of a project that are the most engaging (see his anecdote about the development of the tech for Kinect), that stories and case studies aren’t the same thing, that the point is to focus on change and impact. He also talks about the power of images and how stories (or “narrative” more accurately) aren’t just about what you write or film, they’re built by the way you behave.

You can see all the stories on microsoft.com/stories.

So, if your organisation had a “Chief Storyteller” what stories would you want them to tell?

Image: Microsoft sign outside building 99 by Robert Scoble https://flic.kr/p/4s8vqM CC-BY 2.0

Just how “digital” is digital storytelling?

This post was originally published on Netskills Voices

I was challenged at a recent conference to think about whether digital storytelling (DS) is making proper use of the power of the web.

After a few years exploring digital storytelling (DS) at Netskills we’ve settled on a particular format that we find works well for our workshops and also our own video production. It’s an approach that is based on a model used the world over and combines an audio voiceover with still images, produced as a video, like this example produced by Rupal Patel, a graduate student at Nottingham University.

It’s simplicity belies the fact that it’s a very powerful technique that is achievable for pretty much anyone even if they have never done any work with digital media before.

Thinking in different ways about digital storytelling

However, during a recent conference presentation on the subject, after describing this approach, I was put on the spot with a really challenging question about it; are these digital stories really digital?

I think the point that George Roberts, the questioner, was making was that although these stories exist as digital artifacts, the technique itself doesn’t make extensive use of the affordances of the modern digital universe. For example, the web is dynamic and ever-changing; these stories are fixed in time. There is little use of interactivity or social media in them. Also, the web is capable of sharing information in so many more ways than through video. Consequently, George compared the traditional form of DS as having much in common with desktop publishing. I can see what he’s getting at.

The way we approach DS is by no means the only way of doing it. That’s something we make clear on our workshops.

So, what does digital storytelling look like when it’s more “digital”? There are loads of examples out there. Here are some of my favourites.

Hollow

Hollow is one of my absolute favourites. It’s an interactive documentary that tells the story of how a rural county in West Virginia has been impacted by population decline and the changing economy. It relies on scrolling to activate the animation and some of the video content. It makes very good use of modern browser technology and even finds ways of getting the audience to contribute to the story through social media, although this is on a fairly superficial level.

Here’s the trailer:

Snow Fall

Snow Fall” caused quite a stir when it was published by the New York Times. It is similar in some ways to Hollow but relies more heavily on a written piece of journalism  combining the text with digital photography, GIFs, mapping and data visualisation.

It’s an approach that has been emulated many times since but there’s also some interesting debate about how much impact it might have on the world of journalism, mostly whether it’s a sustainable form given the effort that has to be put in to creating them.

There are more examples of this style of storytelling out there. Firestorm from the Guardian is particularly good.

Nagasaki archive

As a lapsed geographer I have a soft spot for maps. The Nagasaki Archive project is a great example of using mapping technology, in this case Google Earth, to to make the most of the fact that stories and place are intimately connected. From the video demo below you can see how they have used Google Earth to create layers of multiple stories, images and maps to tell the story of the devastating events when “Fat Man” dropped out of the sky on 9th August, 1945. The video also shows how they incorporated aspects of social media as part of global public engagement exercise.

Highrise – One Millionth Tower

One Millionth Tower came out a while ago. It’s a collaboration between web designers, artists, media producers and residents of a highrise block in Toronto. It makes great use of HTML5 and WebGL technologies to create an immersive 3D environment to explore. My favourite bit is that the “weather” and daylight on the site mirrors the actual conditions in Toronto at that moment.

It’s best viewed in Chrome, FireFox or Safari. If you don’t have those then here’s the trailer.

Story hacks

This is less of a style of digital storytelling and more of a method. There have been a few of these collaborative events that bring together creative and technical teams to produce transmedia stories around a particular topic. They use video, audio, web design and data visualisation to create some compelling stories.

Storyhacks have happened in the US in Vermont and New York and at the Barbican in London. 15-days.org is one of the outputs from the New York event focusing on issues around solitary confinement in the US penal system.

It strikes me as an approach that universities could make good use of especially for public engagement in research, but that is something to explore in a blog post of its own.

The future of digital storytelling

All these examples show that digital storytelling doesn’t have to be just about producing a 2-3 minute video and that it’s possible to use much more of the power of the web to tell a story.

At the moment, creating these interactive and transmedia stories takes a great deal of time and expertise, putting it out of the reach of many which also loses a lot of that personal control that’s so important with the traditional form of digital storytelling.

There is no “ideal” form of DS. It depends on what your purpose is and what resources are within your reach.

But technology is always moving on. It will be interesting to see how the emergence of tools like Mozilla’s Popcorn change the way that storytelling and the web work together. That’s something we’re going to investigate more and come back to in a future article.

Reviewing Adobe Voice – can it make your story stand out?

This post was originally published on Netskills Voices

Icon for the Adobe Voice app

There has been quite a bit of interest on Twitter towards Adobe’s latest free iPad app for digital storytelling – Voice. We thought we’d take a proper look at it.

It’s a very simple app that helps you create attractive videos. It will appeal to anyone who wants to quickly put together a story, a short promo video, a teaching resource or even just a slideshow. Like all digital storytelling, it would also work well as a learning activity around a topic, a way for students to capture reflective learning or activities on placement or fieldwork.

But I have some concerns that it’s fashionable style will lose impact quite quickly.

On our digital storytelling workshops we often get asked about using mobile devices for producing video and it’s something I’ve blogged about before. There’s a range of good apps out there, mostly for iOS, like Splice and iMovie. What makes Voice any different?

Here’s how Adobe pitch it…

To keep things simple, you don’t get anything like the flexibility of the iMovie app, but Voice is trying to do something quite particular. It’s about removing as many obstacles as possible so you can quickly create and share your ideas.

Steve and I had a go with it for about an hour and, after a little bit of planning on paper, I was able to produce this short story:

[HTML1]

Aside from the persistent hiss from the microphone (which I’m putting down to user error) it produces a very attractive video and the process of putting it together was very quick and pain-free.

Finding inspiration

adobe-voice-about
Voice helps with inspiration for stories

I went into this cold without thinking of what I wanted to say which we recommend you never do! To help, Voice has a nice “inspiration” feature which scrolls through some simple suggestions to get you started. One labelled “the time I made a bad decision” got me started on mine.

It’s easy to switch between themes, which change things like the background and borders of images. There are enough to be able to create a number of videos without them looking too similar. If in doubt, there’s always “Simple”.

Adobe Voice themes
Some of the themes in Voice

 

Putting it all together

Building the story couldn’t have been much simpler. You can either start by recording your audio for each image then finding something to suit or, like me, build a slideshow of images so I could see the whole story laid out, then add the voice later.

The app accesses a large library of Creative Commons (CC) images from across websites like Flickr, 500px and the Noun Project. It’s possible to drill down into each picture to find its source and the exact license terms so you don’t end up in a sticky IPR situation further down the road.

The Noun Project, if you haven’t come across it before, gives you a huge array of CC licensed icons and pictograms which are quite fashionable at the moment.

Adobe Voice icons
Choosing Noun Project icons for “weather”

You can, of course, use your own images or add text.

Recording your voiceover is as simple as pressing and holding an on-screen button and talking. It’s very easy to discard old takes until you get a good performance. The sound quality on my story is poorer than I would have expected, but it’s possible to get plug-in mics for iPads which will be more reliable than the built-in one.

Voice comes with a choice of music as well, although there’s a lot I’d file under “whimsical”. If your video’s topic was serious you might struggle to find something appropriate but you could always turn the music off. Importing tracks from elsewhere is a no-no.

Sharing your story

Adobe Voice published video
Published video on the website

Unlike other apps it’s not possible to save the video to your Camera Roll to upload to Youtube or Vimeo which I found frustrating Finished videos are hosted on Adobe’s Creative Cloud service so you’ll need to sign up for a free Adobe account to share it if you don’t already have one. The Voice desktop site will give you an embed code if you want to add it to a web page as I’ve done in this post.

I recognise that this is to keep everything simple but not being able to incorporate these videos onto existing platforms is a real shortcoming that makes it harder to share these videos effectively. It’s also a pain to keep track of videos you have made as you can’t view all your creations from a profile page.

Videos can be set to private if you are unhappy for the uninvited to see it. In this case, only those with the URL can view it. It’s unclear whether published videos are automatically CC licensed or whether Adobe is automatically granted permission to use them for commercial purposes. I’ve asked them and will update this post when I get a reply.

Final verdict

The appeal of Voice is obvious. You can create something very attractive in a short space of time in a way that suits a whole range of purposes.

It’s very easy to use. A tutorial guides you through the process the first time you run it but the app is intuitive enough for most people to find their way round it without help. I was impressed with the range of themes, images and icons that are available. There’s enough choice to avoid feeling like you’re remaking exactly the same video over and over again.

On the flip side, despite the variety of images and themes, there’s a very definite style to these videos that’s similar to quite a lot of advertising content that’s out there at the moment. So although it looks great, the more people use this, the harder it will be to differentiate your creations from other people’s work. The limited musical palette won’t help that. I can almost hear the groans of “not another Voice video”!

A similar thing happened with Animoto when it was at the peak of its popularity a few years ago so it’s nothing new and certainly not a reason to avoid Voice. It’s only relevant if you are actively trying to create something that stands out from the crowd, for public engagement or marketing for example.

Overall, I would be happy to use Voice as part of the mix of things we look at in our digital storytelling work. It’s fun, easy and can create some pretty good results.