“Snowfall” quickly became a well-known phrase in online media circles after the New York Times published a unique multimedia feature in 2012. Rather than simply migrating words and pictures from paper to the Internet, the project took advantage of software development tools and told a story that included huge pictures, videos, and interactive features that appeared as one scrolled down the page.
Now two former Microsoft senior engineers want to let anyone tell their own “Snowfall” story with a mobile app — in far less time, and with far less effort than it took to build Snowfall.
Pixotale is a new app that lets users create media-rich stories using their phone or tablet, and share those projects in a social network. It was built by Robert Mao and Haitao Li, the founders of Redmond-based mobile app development studio Pixomobile.
The idea for Pixotale stemmed from Mao’s frustration with today’s social media options. Mao was one of the first bloggers in China, but once Facebook and Twitter soon caught on with the masses, he stopped blogging.
“However, after a few years I started questioning the value that my precious time on these social media networks brought me,” Mao explained. “In contrast, I wrote a whole lot of thoughts, ideas, stories, and made so many real life friends around the world by blogging. All I got from today’s social media is a meaningless friend count and fragments of status updates.”
Frustrated with that problem, Mao and Li built Pixotale to combine the power of today’s smartphones and tablets with the best parts of blogging and social media. The free iOS app, which works on the iPhone and the iPad, allows people to easily combine text with photos, videos, audio and location to create a a story, which can be shared with other users who can comment or like those stories.
Mao, who has bootstrapped Pixomobile with Li, also emphasized how the social networking element of Pixotale is focused on storytelling.
“Although we say that Pixotale is a new social network, it’s unlike today’s typical social network with friends or followers,” he said. “Pixotale is a network of stories. People get connected and interact through stories.”
“Pixotale’s target customers are ‘normal people,’ instead of designers or professionals,” he said. “We are trying our best to lower the bar for content creation, while using our technology and algorithm to make the story and experience as beautiful as possible.”
Mao and Li say they’re on to a trend in the new generation of social networks.
“It’s like Facebook in 2004,” Mao said. “We still need to learn and adapt ourselves to fit our users’ needs. But as long as storytelling is a fundamental part of the human communication, we are on the right track. It’s about time that more people wake up from today’s social network ‘matrix’ and refocus on their own stories in real life.”