Why Are Google, Tumblr, and Now Facebook All Making Video 'Stories'?

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This moving account of one man's quest to regain his memory after a devastating illness also happens to be an ad for Facebook. 

The entire description of the video above, People You May Know, on Vimeo reads:

In 2010, Mayank Sharma of New Delhi, India contracted tubercular meningitis, a serious inflammation of the central nervous system. After a week in the hospital, he emerged without any memory of ever getting sick—or of the first twenty-seven years of his life. He began messaging the people who came up in Facebook’s People You May Know feature to start piecing his life back together.

The documentary is part of a new series called Facebook Stories, original videos produced by the company and collected on a dedicated micro site along with other content from and about users. The story is incredible -- heartbreaking and inspiring and totally "shareable." Sharma found himself in an unimaginable situation and Facebook, a tool so powerful and ubiquitous that we've forgotten how amazing and unprecedented it is, came to the rescue. The "people you may know" algorithm that often comes off as creepy is recast in a comforting, uplifting light. Facebook, we discover (or rediscover), is built from the golden strands of human connections. And the story's real --you can find Sharma on Facebook and Twitter. The video, in under three minutes, knocks it out of the park. 

Facebook is late to the party, though. Google may have been the first tech company to find the romance in an algorithm and turn something as basic searching the Web into a human interest story. The company made a splash airing "Parisian Love," below, during the 2010 Super Bowl, though the Search Stories series had launched in 2009 already. It's a fictional story, but told through the all-too-familiar interface of a Google search page, sans actors, the protagonist could be anyone. 

Tumblr also recently began an effort to start creating content about the Tumblrsphere and the interesting ways people are using the platform. A site dedicated to the project, Storyboard, includes an original documentary series too. From the photo archive at The New York Times (below) to the musician Moby's fascination with Los Angeles architecture, the series digs up unusual, colorful, compelling examples and spins them into documentary stories. 

Twitter also manages to find the larger stories in the din of millions of 140-character messages. In the short documentary below, they profile Aaron Durand, who "saved his mother's bookstore with a tweet." When hard times hit the independent store, Durand tweeted a promise to buy a burrito for anyone who bought $50 of books during the holidays. Twitter relishes and emphasizes the importance of the story: 

The story took hold. The Tweet was passed along from person to person across Portland’s art and design community. It was retweeted and retweeted until hundreds of people had read the story.

Spoiler alert: the store had a blockbuster holiday season after all, thanks to Durand -- and Twitter.  

Story has always been an essential component of any ad campaign, but this focus on sharing real stories from tech companies is telling. Debating whether Google, Twitter, Yahoo, Facebook, are tech companies or media companies never gets old but the answer seems pretty obvious: they're both. With these documentary series, they're selling not just the stories themselves but the act of storytelling -- via their platform, of course. The message and the medium. With Facebook entering the fray it seems like these videos aren't just a twee marketing strategy but a calculated move to stake a claim to storytelling. 

People You May Know via Vimeo Staff Picks

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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