Katherine Boehret

Recent Columns by Walt Mossberg

Find a Story to Hear Wherever It May Be

There is a world of stories out there just waiting to be heard. Now you can find an instant audio tour of those stories mapped out for you.

This week, a new company called Broadcastr (broadcastr.com) launched a free social-networking platform based on location-specific storytelling.

Broadcastr stories are recorded and shared in audio format, with each pegged to a specific location. Listeners can search for stories by location or category, or may opt to “follow” a person who they consider to be a good storyteller, sorting stories by that person into a special tab. Listeners can rate stories as they hear them. Stories can be shared with others via email, Facebook or Twitter.


With Broadcastr, every point on the map is a story to be heard.

For content, Broadcastr has over a hundred partnerships with groups like the 9/11 Memorial & Museum and Fodor’s Travel Guides. When Broadcastr is available as a mobile app for Android and iPhone devices in mid-March, a GPS-based feature called Geoplay will detect a listener’s location and enable the listener to play stories relevant to that location. People walking through the 9/11 Memorial could listen to oral histories from survivors and rescue workers as they go, much like an audio tour that’s always with you. And listeners will get to record their own stories on the go with the app if they create a free Broadcastr account.

I got an early look at Broadcastr’s browser-based application, which runs on Adobe Flash (sorry iPad users). A map of the world takes up most of the Broadcastr browser window, and a list of stories pinned to locations on that map is displayed on the left side.

I enjoyed listening to the stories people shared on Broadcastr, and I especially liked the way they were pegged to different locations, which made me want to skim all over the map to find stories from places that meant something to me.

I panned to London, where I spent a college semester, and smiled as I listened to an American woman telling a familiar story about watching soccer (their “football”) in a pub with crazed fans. The map of Pennsylvania had a marker in its center for a story called “Rocky and Me” about one guy’s failed attempt at the Penn State talent show. As he described the campus, it was easy to visualize where many of my family members went to college.

The site could be temperamental and sometimes took a little long to load. A company spokeswoman said this could be attributed to Broadcastr receiving heavy traffic due to its launch, and said fixes were being made to smoothly handle such traffic. I also had trouble getting a story I recorded to play in the system, but I was told this was a bug that would be fixed by the time this column published.

Over 6,000 stories were in Broadcastr as of Tuesday, roughly 1,400 of which were produced by the company’s 100 partner organizations. Most stories from individual users are no longer than three minutes long. Andy Hunter, co-founder and chief executive officer of Broadcastr, said this time limit was chosen because it helps people refine and focus their narratives.

Some stories from Broadcastr’s partners are longer, like the Penn State story I heard, which lasted 22 minutes and 32 seconds. This story was submitted by the Monti, a partner group in North Carolina that encourages storytelling in front of audiences. Even for a partner, this story was abnormally long and I didn’t see many others like it. None of Broadcastr’s partners pay to be included.

Later this year, Broadcastr will begin airing time-sensitive deals like those offered by group buying sites. These promotional ads will be displayed only when a user zooms in on a specific area of a map and selects a promotions category to see deals near that location. The company also plans ads that take advantage of the GPS-enabled Geoplay feature to play content relevant to a listener’s location.

Broadcastr will offer premium content for a fee. Examples of this could include a tour of the ghosts of New Orleans submitted by an individual user or by partners like Fodor’s. In 2012, Broadcastr plans to introduce more ads to its service, and these will be limited to less than 30 seconds. An on-screen message will show these are clearly advertisements. Broadcastr’s spokeswoman estimated no more than one ad would play during every nine minutes of storytelling.

My first thought at hearing about Geoplay was the fear I’d be walking along wearing headphones and stories for that location would suddenly start playing. The Broadcastr app must be running for this to work, though Geoplay will work when the app is opened in the background while other programs are being used. If two stories are pinned to points equidistant from a listener, the story with the better ratings plays first.

I shared my own short story about Washington, D.C.’s restaurant scene and how it has improved since I moved here in 2002. The simple on-screen recording system was self-explanatory, though you must have a microphone built into or plugged into your PC. I uploaded my story and attached a photo of the Capitol building; I even re-did it to improve my storytelling. After I tagged it on the map, titled it and added a category, I went back to play it. Nothing happened, even after pressing play several times. I finally deleted the story. Later, I tried adding another file, but ran into the same problem.

Broadcastr’s spokeswoman attributed my problem to a first-day bug that caused the system to think a new recording had a duration of zero. The company promises a fix by Wednesday.

For the most part, the quality of the stories was good. But not everyone will find every story or storyteller worth a listen. I tired of some after only a minute or so. This could change as more people use the service.

Broadcastr’s website is a little sluggish and has some faulty functionality, but if the company can improve these issues and if the mobile app works as promised with Geoplay narrating stories relevant to my location, this is one story that’s worth telling.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katie.boehret@wsj.com

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