When Saskatoon Public Schools opened a forum on the painful legacy of Canada's residential schools this spring, the educators wanted to incorporate a wide range of voices. Using an online storytelling platform, more than 40 people signed up to create their own two-minute videos that addressed the question: "What can we learn from what children, parents, and communities lost?" and posted their replies to the school board's public page. Many expressed sorrow and anger and shared personal memories.
The technology the school board used to create the videos came from a Saskatoon-based startup called OneStory. Its product is an online platform that crowdsources video interviews so organizations can share their cause or campaign with people around the world.
It's a simple, user-friendly interface that connects to a webcam or smartphone camera and allows anyone to contribute their own response to questions prompted by organizations looking for social media traction. Once they're happy with the take, users press submit and let OneStory do the rest of the work.
"Our technology automatically stitches those videos together into a mini-documentary that's branded with the logo of the organization asking the question. No editing at all is required," co-founder Katrina German says, adding that the clips are geo-tagged with the user's location and hashtagged with the appropriate subject tags for optimal social media distribution.
"It's not a crazy slick marketing product, but it has an authenticity. Someone cared enough about this particular product or idea to share it."
Ms. German, who comes from a video production background, envisioned an apparatus that would make it simple for people to create these mini-docs on topics that could, in the best-case scenario, promote social change. At the very least they'd find a receptive audience and get the company's name and cause out.
In 2012, she connected with with Dale Zak, a mobile software developer who had created apps that assist humanitarian workers at the United Nations.
The duo conceived of the idea for OneStory over dozens of "beer-storming" sessions and created a business model that would allow their technology to be free to users: Instead of charging a subscription fee, companies pay anywhere from $149 to $449 to ask a question of their choosing.
Once the question goes live on OneStory's webpage, anyone can contribute a response. Within minutes, users get a link to their edited mini-doc, which gets aggregated to the organization's page for easy collection and viewing. Links can be embedded, shared to Facebook and Twitter, or downloaded in mp4 format.
This automated aggregation model is a breath of fresh air for any company that's tried to use video clips for marketing purposes. "Prior to OneStory, if you wanted to get videos like this, it would be a major hassle. You'd have to capture it somehow through whatever means, then potentially edit it yourself. Then you'd have to upload the video to Vimeo or YouTube," she says.
OneStory received a nod from the National Angel Capital Organization as one of the top 15 startups in Canada. The company has clients in 19 countries so far, and Ms. German says it's primed for expansion. But as an experienced storyteller, she knows not to get ahead of the narrative.
That's why she's taking pride in the work she and Mr. Zak have already achieved. "Even if we were to end tomorrow we've already created some important conversations around some massive issues."