Do you know one of the oldest professions on the web? Not that one — heads out of gutters– please! But then again, revel in the curioustity holes that Wikipedia can open when I looked for that link…

No, it is making web pages that are list of other web sites. Educators love this dearly, and yes of course call it “curation.” It’s what I did much in my early web years. Making resource collections (example, example) was my own focus in my early 1990s web years, heck I ran a “Bag of URLs” site at Maricopa for like 10 years.

I spotted a 2022 version from Stephen Downes — Some of The Best Free Digital Storytelling Tools for Teachers and agree with the always opinionated summary of an OLDaily post “As before, I won’t attest that these are the ‘best’, merely that they exist.” As web-based storytelling was in my “bag of interests” back to the Devonion era of the internet, my curiosity was tickled.

This Bes Free Digital Storytelling list was published in the Educational Technology and Mobile Learning (ETML) blog published by Med Kharbach since like 2012. The article lists six of these “Best” tools (what makes ’em best? shrug)– StoryboardThat, Canva, Adobe Spark, Animoto, Make Belief Comix, and Pixton each with a two paragraph description.

I could not resist double checking a storytelling thing I did long ago…

David Porter had a good idea (Hi David)– that was exactly my plan!

What was once 55+, then 29, now like maybe 10

I’m dialing the web time machine back almost exactly 15 years to 2007 when planning a series of workshops for a grand Australian tour organized by what was then the Flexible Learning Framework (a presentation/workshop archive exists).

What emerged was maybe one of my favorite web-based projects, 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story where you can find the full backstory on the idea and the Paul Simon influence.

The crux was I had seen a handful, well maybe rwo different web based tools (Slideshare and Voicethread) that provided a free place online to assemble a multimedia “story” from two or more types of media (1 could be text) and then published openly. My loose criteria for building this list… um collection of tools was:

  • The tool allows you to mix 2 or more media types to create something you can publish to the web
  • The tool is free to use
  • The tool exists on a web site (e.g. not a download or a mobile app)
  • The tool is not specific to any operating system or browser

It hit me early in planning that a good workshop could not be, “here’s a list of 50 tools!” so the idea blossomed:

But since I was doing this as a workshop, I realized that if I found 50 tools, I’d have to know how to use them. I could not just give them a list of tools if I did not know them inside and out. So I got this really silly idea- what if I used the same media and story in every tool and told the same story in each different tool! 

https://50ways.cogdogblog.com/History.html

My means to understand and compare the tool was to tell the same story (about me and my lost dog / found, Dominoe). I could demonstrate then using a storyboard and a common set of media (loaded into flickr as a number of tools could directly tap into that as a media source).

I was fortunate to be able to run, grow, prune the 50+ Ways as a workshop/presentation game many times from 2007 to 2014. Sometime in maybe 2013? 2014? I started a “fork” with Darren Kuropatwa for a version that made use of mobile apps.

And oh my gosh, speaking of time, I just noted the very first version of the 50 Ways workshop was done 15 years ago this week, October 15, 2007 in Hobart, Tasmania. I am now in danger of too many tangents, but that same visit in Hobart generated perhaps the most amazing of my amazing web stories.

But yes, the tools, the tools, the tools. Apparently the first version of 50 Web Ways to Tell a Story hit 55 tools. Over the years I collected a long list of ones to add (many left on the table) and as tools disappeared or no longer were free to use, I sent them to The Island of Lost or Dead Tools where 36 markers are laid to rest (oh memories of Jaycut! Xtranormal! VUVOX Collage).

Speaking of Dead Tools (cough Wikispaces)

With much irony for dead web sites, the site I built this out on (and many other web resources) Wikispaces, bit the web dust in February 2018. I could have easily built my web materials in any numbers of ways (well in 2007 likely it would have been raw HTML or maybe PHP) but I specifically wanted to use a free web tool that wa available for educators themselves. Wikipsaces had so much to offer.

And then it went belly up. I made exports of all my Wikispaces sites, but have not restored them all yet. But the 50Ways site was the first Wikispaces reclaimed site I moved to my own domain as 50ways.cogdogblog.com. Broken links remain in many places. C’est la web.

I Give to You these 50…. 29…. 10 Storytelling Web Tools

My associative trail went for no valid reason to the Moses segment of Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part I

And left behind, as I no longer updated the site. were 29 tools left standing. After seeing the 2022 blog post of Best Storytelling tools I wandered how many of my last standing list remained, especially since two on that list, Animoto and Pixton were among my 50.

Left Standing: 2022 Recap of 50 Web Ways to Tell a Story

Here I am 15 years after making the first list of 55 tools, ready to review the remaining 29. How many remain? Care to wager a bet without scrolling? Quite a few passed on as they were originally based on Flash, whose demise left a lot of dead web in its wake.

Bring out the dead or alive story tools!

Amongst the Living

  1. Animoto – (on ETML “best” list) [50+ ways link] is now a template driven suite of video tools, perhaps like Canva? Still Free. The version I remember in 2007 did something unique, after uploading a set of photos, it would turn them into a video and add its own effects and music based on some analysis (or randomness). My old links are all dead (probably those were flash based) but my account was still there and it says my videos may be restored in 48 hours. We put it to use in 2015 for the UDG Agora project, which had over 150 responses (links are likewise MIA). But it looks like a viable and working video platform.
  2. Blabberize – [50+ ways link] might be a most memorable one and is more than alive. When I first saw the talking alpaca in maybe late August 2007 my first reaction was almost how ridiculous it was, it allowed one to record an audio, and have a photo of someone’s face animate the mouth opening and closing in sync. After laughing at how silly fun it was, to me it met my criteria, especially after finding a few educators who had put it to use. The fun part was over the years, I interacted on twitter with @Blabberize leading to maybe one of my favorite blog post titles of all time, Zooming With A Talking Alpaca (and we just reconnected again after this week’s mention, so there, twitter is not 100% bad)
  3. Four From Flickr – I might have had my thumb on the scale here as these 4 different items all represent storytelling done within flickr groups, tags, or features that enabled telling of a story combining images and text. They were all different ways to use a single tool/site, but at the time, to me merited listing separate. Because flickr still works after all these years, all the examples are alive and well
  4. Google My Maps – [50+ ways link] Look at this, a Google tool from long ago that has not been neutered! The ability to add points to a map with text, links, and images make it means to tell a story through location [See Google My Maps Dominoe Story].
  5. Mixbook – [50+ ways link] is aimed more at designing scrapbooks for printing ($) purposes, but did and still works as a web-based service to put together picture books with text [See Dominoes story in Mixbook]
  6. Slideshare – [50+ways link] I’m on the fence to include this service for displaying a Powerpoint deck in a web browser. In 2007, that was novel, but even better there was an ability to upload audio that could be synced to a slideshow for a narrated story format. This tool was one of the first two that inspired the whole 50+ ways concept. The audio feature is gone, and technically, if this stays on the list, I ought to add Google Slides. But I make and break the rules! [See Dominoe’s Story in Slideshare]
  7. Tar Heel Reader – [50+ ways link] I have a soft spot for this tool, what you see published is not super fancy, but developed from someone at University of North Carolina, published via WordPress it’s still running! A key innovative feature when it was created in 2009 is support for accessibility and its ties to use images from flickr. Still alive! [See Dominoe’s Story in Tar Heel Reader] and [see also how it automatically creates a credit page for flickr images].
  8. VoiceThread – [50+ ways link] is better than jus alive, VoiceThread is an established service and educational platform I still see being used. Along with Slideshare’s old audio feature, the capability of Voicethread to use audio to narrate images was a co-inspirator for the whole 50+ ways site. I would have put VoiceThread above many of the tools on the ETML list (see Dominoe’s Story in VoiceThread).

Depending if you buy my lumping of the 4 flickr-based tools into one or not, this means 8-11 of the last checked 29 tools are alive and usable in 2022.

Our Respects to the Dead/Lost Tools

That was a lot of work to review all the 29 tools left on my last updated list. The rest are either completely dead URLs, or have a sign announcing closure, redirects to a general site that no longer provides the service, and a few sit there as they were 10+ years ago displaying a bunch of broken Flash greu boxes.

Let’s just send condolences to the ghosts of

bubblr (very clever but sadly killed by flash), Empressr (domain available for 25k!), Glogster (memorable as a multimedia poster “temporarily disabled for operational reasons”), Kerpoof (gone redirects to Disney.com), MapSkip (died in 2016 “several recent attempts to deface and hack the site have made it impossible for us to give MapSkip the love and care it deserves”), Mapwing (error message), OneTrueMedia (nothing at link, read an obit), PhotoPeach (site is there, so is the smell of dead Flash, most links do nothing), Picassa (sort of a pulse as it became Google Photos), Pixton (one of my favorite comic builders, it’s around but no free service), SlideFlickr (most recent 1200 days ago, all links generate errors), Slideroll (all links show blank pages), Storify (bit the dust big time as covered on this blog), ToonDoo (shut down, 2019 security breach too), Wayfaring (dead, domain for sale), Yodio (site appears with just login screen, no content), Zentation (looks like it might work, my old links are gone, and much of the current examples are sketchy content).

So What?

Shrug. My curiosity got the better of me, chasing down these old sites. I have to say I am pleased that the two tools that started me on this path are more than just alive. The fact that Blabberize is around, and that I have message exchanges with the talking alpaca, cheers my small web heart and soul. Seeing also Tar Heel Reader alive as what looks like the effort of one dedicated person also makes me positive that the web is not 100% consumed by corporate entities.

I go so much out of what began as a workshop idea, that grew into the sprawl of (now) a lot of dead links. 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story never was about the list of tools though that is what most folks remember. To me, the light bulb idea of creating the simple demo story and trying to recast it in so many ways was a big spark.

One of my favorite assemblages was a video for a 2010 workshop that I assembled from using 34 available tools at the time, many of them now laying on the beach of that dead tool island.

Note to self that I was nudged to revisit the 50 ways site almost exactly 15 years from the first workshop in Tasmania whispers to me that the magic of web serendipity is out there.

Even if the Island of Dead Tools is overflowing, at least there was nothing quite like Xtranormal. I was there.

And also, reminder- it never was about the tools… what got lost when most people saw the site was the process- develop the story idea (outline, storyboard), locate the media, then look for a tool. A good story does not begin with a tool or a list of them.


Featured Image: the same Flickr image added in 2010 to the Island of Lost or Dead Tools page of 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story.

242/365
242/365 flickr photo by Jesus Belzunce shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. Bravo, Alan!

    Just what I had hoped for, a retrospective on 10 cool ways of freely telling stories. You’ve got a history of being at the forefront of these approaches and tools.

    Your wall of open-ed advocates in a keynote at OpenEd 2009 (I think?) in Vancouver is still a great memory for me. The Hollywood Squares of open-ed created the kind of impact and buzz that demonstrated the power of good stories in the moment, with a memorable visual image that still lingers.

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