In 2003, Macarthur “Genius Grant” recipient and career radio producer Dave Isay launched StoryCorps, a non-profit initiative that records and preserves “humanity’s stories” to create a lasting repository of personal oral history. Lamenting the lack of opportunities to document the lives of ordinary individuals, Isay conceived of a space in which a trained facilitator could interview one or two people about a life story or essential experience. The program launched with a recording booth in Grand Central Terminal in New York City and soon expanded to permanent recording booth locations in other U.S. cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, and Atlanta. It also operated a mobile recording booth housed in an Airstream trailer that visited cities throughout the U.S. for special events. In 2005, StoryCorps’s work gained mainstream popularity when NPR’s program Morning Edition began to feature segments comprised of compelling stories recorded in StoryCorps booths.
A StoryCorps user builds the initiative’s primary “product,” namely, a recorded narrative of a defining life experience. As audio content, the majority of these stories serve one of the organization’s stated goals, “[to create] an invaluable archive for future generations,” and are preserved on the site’s database and in the U.S. Library of Congress. However, StoryCorps staff also selects a small number of recorded stories to be featured on the program’s website or shared through its partner channels, including NPR. The promoted stories drive traffic to the StoryCorps platform and compel additional users to record their stories; effectively, StoryCorps crowdsources both its product development and its marketing content development.
In 2015, StoryCorps used a Knight Foundation grant to develop a story-recording app, instantly amplifying the organization’s crowdsourcing reach – within two weeks of its launch, users uploaded stories exceeding twenty percent of the total annual interview capacity of the physical recording booths. While it had taken twelve years to move to digitally-enabled crowdsourcing from crowdsourcing via real crowds gathered around an Airstream trailer, the traditional recording method presented a compelling user experience in which the act of creating a StoryCorps story was an event in and of itself. A StoryCorps booth or trailer attracted prospective users and engaged them in the StoryCorps product development process through a hands-on, participatory experience; an app intrinsically did neither.
Recognizing that its ability to meet the goal of creating a vast repository of recorded oral history depended upon broad adoption of technology-enabled crowdsourcing rather than an expansion of its facilitated in-booth recording, StoryCorps undertook initiatives to promote use of its app at home. After launching its app in 2015, StoryCorps piloted the Great Thanksgiving Listen, partnering with high schools in 50 states to deliver to encourage students to record an interview with an elder relative over the holiday weekend. StoryCorps developed an accompanying lesson plan to enable teachers to use the exercise as an assignment and has expand the program each year with support from corporate sponsors. At the same time, StoryCorps has relied on sizeable awards from foundations to further its expansion plans via app- and website-enabled crowdsourcing of its recording process. Following app development in 2015, StoryCorps directed funding from its $1M TED Prize to support global expansion through its digital platform, a target initiative in the organization’s second decade.
While crowdsourcing can catalyze initial adoption or user engagement, it can experience diminishing incremental success over time. As a product and content development pipeline for StoryCorps, the digital platform’s continued relevance requires that the size of the crowd from which stories are sourced continues to increase. StoryCorps has committed to continually adding new app features like expanded language support and transcription to enable it to be a platform that reaches more people. However, it must ensure that it sufficiently invests in external factors that drive prospective users to join the digital crowd, such as campaigns and challenges in the spirit of the Great Thanksgiving Listen. StoryCorps leadership can pursue partnerships with interest groups ranging from veterans’ networks to retirement associations and senior-care provider organizations, enabling joint campaigns to promote story-recording around specific themes. To expand upon its successes in creating a cycle that develops both products and marketing content, StoryCorps can promote contests to find the most compelling untold stories for a given theme, occasion, or holiday.
Ultimately, StoryCorp’s efforts to record oral histories of everyday individuals requires an ever-expanding crowd of those individuals but also a sustained base of users who are committed to documenting those individuals’ stories. In balancing crowdsourced product development, StoryCorps must consider the perspective of both its app-enabled content creators (the interviewers) and their interviewees, continually seeking to understand what compels someone to elect to be either. What that motivation might be – and how it might differ for various demographics – are the essential questions about StoryCorps’s growth potential.
 “About StoryCorps.” Storycorps.org, storycorps.org/about/.
 Haddock, Dean. “StoryCorps: A Model for Capturing Community Voices.” Knight Foundation, 21 Sept. 2017, knightfoundation.org/articles/storycorps-a-model-for-capturing-community-voices.
 “About StoryCorps.” Storycorps.org, storycorps.org/about/.
 Shu, Catherine. “Smartphones are helping this nonprofit keep a generation of memories alive.” Tech Crunch, 3 April 2015, https://techcrunch.com/2015/04/03/there-are-no-ordinary-people/?_ga=2.122970510.404189322.1541877217-1898207503.1538513567
 “StoryCorps: The Great Thanksgiving Listen.” PBS Learning Media, mass.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/storycorps-the-great-thanksgiving-listen/.
 Schwartz, Ariel. ” 11.17.14 The Founder Of StoryCorps Is Getting The $1 Million TED Prize.” Fast Company, 17 Nov. 2014, www.fastcompany.com/3038681/the-founder-of-storycorps-is-getting-the-1-million-ted-prize.
 Roberge, Mark. “Startup Bootcamp Design Workshop.” HBS Startup Bootcamp, 3 Nov. 2018, Harvard Innovation Lab, Cambridge.
 Shu, Catherine. ” StoryCorps’ Oral History App Receives Knight Foundation Grant To Add New Features.” Tech Crunch, 14 July 2015, techcrunch.com/2015/07/14/more-stories-for-storycorps/.