DIY Media Toolbox
SMITH’s guide to the sites that can help you tell your story.
Here at SMITH, we think everyone has a story. That’s always been true- and technology has made storytelling easier and more interesting than ever.
Well, welcome to the new golden age of storytelling. Whether you’re the world’s biggest celebrity or an average guy sitting alone in a shack in the Alaskan wilderness, the Internet has given you the tools to tell your story to the world. And let’s face it: the story of how you came to be sitting alone in a shack in the Alaskan wilderness is a damn good one.
Of course, some of those tools can be confusing. So if you’re wondering which site will let you get back in touch with friends from high school, which site will let you show everyone just how cute your dog is, which site will help you show the world your Spielbergian ambitions, teach others how to build a tree house or let you post, um, “intimate” photos, look no further. What follows is a short guide to the best storytelling spots and tools on the Web, with suggestions about why you might want to use them and how to use them. Get out there and tell the world about yourself-your experiences, your knowledge, your story. After all, everyone has one.
Perhaps the most spartan of all the social networking sites. Originally just for college students, Facebook now allows anyone with an email address to join in on the action.
Primary purpose: Stalking that cute new girl from work-hey, she’s single! And her screen name is “HotandSexy4U.” Sweet.
What you’ll need: A valid email address.
What you’ll get: A profile, a comment “wall,” groups (”I went to a public school… bitch” is one of the most popular), party/event invitations, photo hosting.
Once the end-all be-all name in online social networking (and now second only to Facebook), MySpace is the website for users who prefer the option of customizing their profiles with music, video, and animated gifs of Will Ferrell.
Primary purpose: Social networking with a wilder side.
What you’ll need: An email address… and a picture of yourself in a bikini.
What you’ll get: The standard profile with comment section, plus a whole bunch of bells and whistles. You can even network with the official MySpace profiles of all your favorite music, film, and porn-yes, porn-stars.
Like MySpace, Friendster was once the dominant name in online paling around. Today the site, which was originally conceived as a way to meet potential mates online, is still going strong and a great way to connect with friends.
Primary purpose: Social networking, but with a whole bunch of new features.
What you’ll need: To start, an email address. After that, it’s up to you.
What you’ll get: In the crowded social networking field, everyone needs a niche-Friendster’s seems to be the sheer volume of features it offers. No longer content with the usual profile, Friendster now offers blogs, a radio station, a peer-to-peer client for video sharing, dating tips, space for users to post reviews of what they’re reading, watching, listening to and visiting, plus horoscopes, RSS feeds, and more.
Cost: Free, al though there are some fee-based premium features, like the video sharing service.
In some ways the proto-blog, LiveJournal was originally conceived as a way for users to make their once private thoughts public. Naturally, on it and its counterpart Xanga, you can expect to see lots of teenagers with plenty of adolescent angst.
Primary purpose: Sharing your diary with the world.
What you’ll need: An email address, raging hormones, and a healthy supply of emo.
What you’ll get: The kind of cyber-diary Doogie Howser could only dream of, with the ability to network with other similar-minded diarists, participate in group diaries, post photos, and more.
Cost: Free. There are paid options, though-for $3 a month, or $19.95 a year, LiveJournal offers an account that includes photo storage, increased site design flexibility, the ability to post from a mobile phone, a Livejournal.com email address, and more. For $4 a month or $25 a year Xanga offers features including custom control over site design, photo storage, ad-free sites, and downloadable post archives.
Because your pet feels left out of your MySpace profile.
Primary purpose: Social networking…for dogs and cats. Plus, cute puppy pictures!
What you’ll need: A pet. (You may want to invest in some pet food as well.) An email address to join, and a constantly clicking camera for pictures.
What you’ll get: Huh? Oh, sorry, we were distracted-there’s this one picture with this puppy playing in the snow and his nose is all white, and… Anyway. You’ll get a social networking site for your dog or cat, complete with a profile listing Spot’s special character attributes (from sleepy to energetic, from silly to genius, and so on), likes and dislikes, and a place to post photos of your dog or cat being just the cutest little thing, aren’t you? Aren’t you? Yes, you are. Sorry. There we go again.
Cost: Free. But those vet bills will run you…
Once watching a video on your computer was no longer a painful experience (remember when it seemed that computer video moved one frame every minute?) it was only a matter of time before a site emerged to let average people share their own film creations with the world. Now there’s not just one site doing that-there’s a ton, each one with its own little market niche. While YouTube is more a world one quick hits and half laughs, Dovetail and Iklipz cater more to budding filmmaker/auteur types.
Primary purpose: Sharing your movies, plus checking out other amateur works and even professional clips; all these sites have plenty.
What you’ll need: An email address and a digital video camera-of course, these days that could be your regular camera or even your cell phone.
What you’ll get: Space to store and share your own creations, plus the ability to check out what others like you are doing.
Software designed to animate video games to make your own shorts and movies.
Primary purpose: Making the tools used to create movie and gaming special effects cheap, accessible and (almost) easy, and sharing the results.
What you’ll need: A home computer capable of running your average high-tech video game-think Halo, Quake or World of Warcraft-and a set of tools downloadable from the site.
What you’ll get: The chance to view the creations of others, from amateurs to the most successful commercial game development companies, chat with other like-minded people and, if you’re good, to submit your own creations for viewing at the site.
Cost: Free, but the site offers a store selling software and books to help you get started.
A news aggregator with a twist.
Primary purpose: Sure, wire reports are good sources of news, but you can get those anywhere. Newsvine brings readers into the conversation, allowing them to select the site’s most interesting articles, contribute columns and “seed” the site by posting links to interesting content elsewhere.
What you’ll need: Just an interest in the day’s news and an email address to sign up for an account.
What you’ll get: A chance to make a news site your own, to let the world read your take on current events and to help others with a good viewpoint get the attention they deserve.
Cost: Not just free - Newsvine will pay you, a full 90 percent of the advertising dollars your column brings in.
International news, by users and for users.
Primary purpose: The first truly user-generated news outlet, Ohmy takes its “mynews” name seriously, relying on readers to write and select the majority of the site’s content. And it’s had an impact, playing a role in the election of South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun, whose first post-election interview was with the site.
What you’ll need: A story to write about. Try not to write about anything that’s classified, okay?
What you’ll get: The chance to be play Lois Lane, reporting, writing and editing stories for a major news outlet. And, if you’re lucky, a little financial recognition for your efforts-users who like a particular story can donate to the site as a thank-you; the site splits the donations with writers.
The techie news that techies obsess over. And over and over.
Primary purpose: Technology news web sites, with stories culled and ranked by users.
What you’ll need: Nothing, really-an interest in technology news, if you just want to read the site; a nose for news, if you want to submit stories.
What you’ll get: Technology news selected by the people who really know what matters, not some editor who doesn’t even know the difference between RSS and CSS. (If someone could explain that difference to us…feel free.)
Just like Slashdot, only not limited to the world of technology news. Digg lists user ranked news items from every category from Business to Entertainment to Sports.
Primary purpose: A master list of the most popular (and theoretically, most important) news items from all over the net.
What you’ll need: An interest in what’s going on in the world and an excess of free time on your hands.
What you’ll get:News, news and more news.
Metafilter.comA community weblog for users to share and discuss interesting links discovered on the web. This website that started out as medium for a handful of bloggers to discuss the web has grown into an immensely popular source for getting a quick, diverse look at what is going on in the online world.
Primary purpose: A constantly updating master list of interesting news stories, events and happenings from around the world.
What you’ll need: A little curiosity.
What you’ll get: Slightly more informed and entertained than you previously were.Cost: Free.
PERSONAL MEDIAFlickr.com and Webshots.comThe point of having a child if you can’t document his week-by-week growth in excruciating detail with your digital camera? None whatsoever.Primary purpose: Storing and sharing your photos online-good for the amateur photographer or a pro trying to get some extra or different exposure.What you’ll need: An email address and a camera-it doesn’t have to be digital, as you can always scan photos or take them to a photo processor that provides digital copies of your pictures. (But it really should be digital.)What you’ll get: Storage space, printing services, some basic photo editing tools.Cost: Flickr is free; Webshots offers a free option and an advertising-free premium option that, for $2.49 monthly, comes with additional storage and hi-resolution downloads.
On Joggle, users can store and mix all of their digital photos, videos and music all in one place where it can easily shared with friends and family. And heck, if you’re going to show everyone those baby shots anyway, why not go all the way and make it a slideshow?
Primary purpose: Storing, remixing and sharing digital photos, videos and music.What you’ll need: Free software, downloadable from the site, to allow you to create and post your own loops and view others’.What you’ll get: The ability to create slideshows to share on your social networking profile or blog, or just to post to Joggle.Cost: Free
TangoTime started out as just your average picture-sharing web site, but morphed into a place for amateur exhibitionists or porn stars to share their intimate moments with the world. There are plenty of clothed pictures, but there’s also some full-on hardcore.Primary purpose: Showing everyone your bodacious ta-tas.What you’ll need: A still camera, video camera or audio recording device-and a healthy self-image.What you’ll get: The chance to post your own home photos, or, if you like, video and sound, network with other users, and rate content.Cost: Free for photo users, $6.99 a month or $30 for six months for video and sound users.
Hey, let’s be honest-Encyclopedia Britannica salesmen are boring. It’s time for something new. Welcome to Wiki world, where users create the content in a sort of “open source” reference universe.Primary purpose: A user-edited encyclopedia, from Aaron Neville to Zaphod Beeblebrox. Amazingly, recent studies have shown that on certain subjects, Wikipedia is just as accurate as Britannica.What you’ll need: An interest in whatever topic you want to write about; other than that, just click the edit button and go.What you’ll get: An always convenient, often reliable and, above all, free encyclopedia.Cost: Free. Now you’ll never have to worry about whether you’ll run out of money before you get to that all-important Ratt-Rubik’s Cube volume.
Not quite an online art gallery, not quite a social networking site, Deviantart is a little bit of everything.Primary purpose: Posting your art-everything from drawing, painting, and photography to writing and computer wallpapers-and social networking with other artists.What you’ll need: An email address and a bit of artistry.What you’ll get: Space to post your art, a blog, and the usual social networking features, from listing “favorite” Deviantartists to posting comments on other user profiles.Cost: Free. For $4.95 a month or $29.95 a year, however, the site offers a premium membership with expanded features such as ad-free sites, larger thumbnails, and visitor tracking.
Have an opinion on what’s going on in the world of politics? A collection of recipes to share? Celebrity gossip that you’re dying to tell someone? Just want to keep everyone updated on your daily life? Blah blah blog!Primary purpose: The proverbial soapbox, gone global, gone wild-according to the blog tracker site Technorati, the blogosphere doubles every six months.What you’ll need: Blogging software, and a domain name. Any of the above providers, and many more, can set you up. After that, it’s pretty simple-if you’ve used a word processing program, you’ll be able to master most blogging interfaces.What you’ll get: A quick and easy way to let the world hear everything you’ve got to say.Cost: Varies depending on the platform; Moveable Type charges for all their blogs, on a sliding scale based on whether the blog is for personal, commercial, educational or nonprofit use. Wordpress is free, open-source software, but it doesn’t have to come with the domain name for your site-you can get a free domain name from it, or you can bring your own. Similarly, Blogspot will also provide you with a domain name, but if you want something without that ubiquitous “blogspot.com” address, Blogspot is happy to let you use your own. Of course, there is a trade-off, as buying your own domain name isn’t free, and the prices are going up.
It had to be good for something besides configuring your iPod, right?Primary purpose: A convenient and user-friendly way to reach the biggest possible audience for your podcasts.What you’ll need: The iTunes program, available from Apple.com, and content. After that, it’s easy: go to the iTunes music store, find the podcast directory, input your podcast’s XML feed address, and voila-instant fame.What you’ll get: The satisfaction of seeing your podcast on a comprehensive, easily accessible and hugely popular directory. And, of course, the ability to hear what other podcasters are doing. We won’t tell anyone if you crib an idea here or there.Cost: Free; Apple won’t carry any podcasts that charge a subscription fee.
Podcast.comDon’t have iTunes but still want to stay updated on your favorite podcasts? Podcast.com has an extensive selection of streaming podcasts that can be listened to without having to download any files. Features everything from news to economics to your favorite National Public Radio programs.Primary purpose: A quick, easy way to listen to your favorite podcasts.What you’ll need: The ability to click the play button. What you’ll get: An infinite supply of audio entertainment.Cost: Free.
The brainchild of podcasting godfather (and former MTV VJ/heartthrob) Adam Curry, PodcastAlley is the original way to podcast.Primary purpose: A directory of podcasts, plus lessons from the masters themselves.What you’ll need: Not much -after all, the whole point of podcasting is that anyone can do it, and can record just about anything in the process. (Heck, record the sound of grass growing and you can probably find a listener somewhere.) PodcastAlley also features forum where you can learn the ins and outs of producing your own podcast. Detailed instructions are on the site.What you’ll get: A deliberately bare-bones program and directory, stripped of everything but the basic essentials, and a step-by-step walkthrough of how to join the podcasting wave.Cost: Free
EXPERTISE & INSTRUCTIONSquidoo.com, Instructables.com, and Ask.Metafilter.comWant to build your own bicycle but aren’t sure how? Other users tell you, step-by-step. Curious about how real estate works or the history of cheese? You’ve come to the right spots. On Squidoo and Instructables you can find instructions on pretty much anything that needs doing. Have a very specific dilemma that requires very specific advice? Turn to Ask Metafilter where you can post a question to be answered by users from around the world.
Primary purpose: Let’s face it-your average instruction manuals are written by professionals who know exactly what they’re doing. Sometimes, that means that after reading the manual you’ll have no idea what you’re doing. But if that instruction manual was written by someone who knew just where you were coming from… well, you get the picture.What you’ll need: Something you want to learn how to do-or an expertise and a camera or the artistic skill to document it.What you’ll get: Instructions on how to do everything from building a tree house to picking flowers for your wedding. And, of course, the satisfaction of helping others do the same.Cost: Free, with the chance to make money-Squidoo offers a share of royalties on any content you create, and Instructables sponsors contests with cash prizes.
Newgrounds’ slogan is “Everything, By Everyone,” and they’re not kidding. Originally just a site for founder Tom Fulp’s creation, it’s evolved into a portal for anything and everything that can possibly be done using Flash, from cartoons to role-playing games.Primary purpose: Sharing your homemade Flash content, rating others’… and playing Paris Hilton dress up games!What you’ll need: If you just want to view and play other people’s work, nothing. To create your own, you’ll need a working knowledge of Flash.What you’ll get: Space to store your creations and interactive user ratings that grade the user as well as the game.Cost: Free.
Sure, old-fashioned scrapbooking is nice, but why bother when there’s software like MemoryMixer, which goes beyond the usual photos and words to add audio and video?Primary purpose: Scrapbooking, taken digitally to the next level.What you’ll need: Memories worth keeping and sharing-as you get more advanced, of course, you’ll need tools that can provide the content you want to add.What you’ll get: The software to bring it all together-post photos into a pre-designed template, add narration and a soundtrack, captions, specialized backgrounds, even video. And if you want to share your creation with friends, MemoryMixer will, for a fee, print out your photo scrapbook or burn your multimedia creation to CD or DVD.Cost: $79.95 for MemoryMixer software, additional fees to have the company print or burn your scrapbook.