Telling Your Story On

Notebook computer screen displaying Photographs, stamps and money in scrap book, binary code background,
Larry Magid analyzes and advises on technical issues for CBS News and

This is the time of year when lots of people get together with friends and family to reminisce and talk about plans. It's when we're most likely to attend graduations and weddings, celebrate anniversaries and plan family vacations

That's why it's a good time for Mountain View, Calif.-based to launch its new social networking Web site for people who want to share their stories, videos, photos and oral history with friends and family. The site, which launched May 15th is designed to allow users to chronicle their personal and family history on an ongoing basis.

"Our special purpose is collecting the great stories of our lives," said OurStory CEO Andy Halliday. "We have a timeline that lets you collect stories and share them with everyone around you, illustrate them and archive them so it accumulates into the story of your life."

The service is designed to replace those shoeboxes full of photos, shelves of video cassettes and drawers full of letters and journal items. The idea is to add these elements when you sign up for the service and as life unfolds.

For example, when you sign up the service asks you a series of questions such as what high school you attended, what you remember about splashing or swimming as a child, what was your first job, your first car and so on.

OurStory is focused on collaboration. If you add something to your story, everyone in your "designated circle" gets an e-mail with what you've written and the picture you've uploaded so it's an automatic engagement. Simply by replying to the e-mail, they automatically add their own comments or recollections to the story. For example, if someone were to send an e-mail about a shared vacation a number of years ago, everyone who was on the trip could add their comments.

Halliday showed me his own page where he shows off photos and audio from his father — a World War II pilot who, after the war, wound up flying jets for Japan Airlines. "Japan had a shortage of pilots after the war, so they hired Americans to fly their commercial planes." He also has photos of his kids, including two college-age young men who have their own MySpace and FaceBook accounts. Halliday says OurStory serves a very different purpose from sites like MySpace and Facebook. Using his own sons as examples, "they use services like MySpace and Facebook to present a picture of themselves that is clearly designed to make them stand out and be attractive to the opposite sex. They're looking to be connected to new people. They're trying to hook up." OurStory, said Halliday, is designed to keep you connected with people who are already in your life. He expects it to be popular with parents, among others.

If you're setting up an account and don't have a lot of appropriate photos, the service can automatically take you to Yahoo images to find something (hopefully) appropriate. For example, if you're writing about your graduation and don't have the pictures of you and your classmates, you can get a generic graduation picture as a placeholder until you're able to upload just the right pictures.

Privacy controls allow to define and separately control as many circles as you want. You can write for just yourself, for your immediate family or for a specific group. For example, if there is something you might want to share with your college buddies that could get you in trouble with your family or colleagues, you would designate the buddies as a separate circle. It gives you the flexibility to interact with the various parts of who you are. You can have separate circles for your parents, boss and co-worker but still write about the crazy things you did in college, without having to share it with people who might not quite appreciate your antics and indiscretions.

One thing I've noticed about documenting parts of my life is that there are things I tend to forget. In addition to the initial set of questions, OurStory has more questionnaires that prompt you to recall memories that might have slipped your mind. There is also a "decade pack," which is a database filled with detailed information for the 20th Century and the first six years of the current century, should you need some facts to pepper up your life. There is also a "Do You Remember When" section that asks you and your friends questions about what happened during certain periods of relatively recent history.

The basic service is free and gives you a single profile and access to their "My story" question packs. With the premium service ($39.95 a year) you get love stories, baby stories, more questionnaires and other goodies. If you drop out from premium service, you revert to free service without losing any data.

A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."

By Larry Magid