Storytelling today means crowding around someone’s phone as they describe their photos. Shadow Puppet bring that show & tell experience online by letting you share a voice-over with an animated slideshow of your pics. Built with Greylock money by Carl Sjogreen, the Googler who sold travel startup Nextstop to Facebook, Shadow Puppet let you talk people through everything from vacations to app demos.
The free iOS app combines the ease of taking great photos with the movement, audio and storytelling strengths of video. Most of us can’t film, act or direct very well, so our Vines and Instagram videos come out crappy. But anyone can make a compelling Shadow Puppet — even kids.
That’s because it’s a natural behavior, something we actually do a lot already. “Shadow Puppet really started with this simple observation: Every time we’d go out to a park or restaurant with friends, someone would get out their phone and start telling a story based on the photos on their phone,” Sjogreen explains. “It’s quite a powerful way to communicate an idea, but there was no way to replicate that experience when you weren’t with someone in person.”
So Sjogreen and his Nextstop co-founder Adrian Graham built Shadow Puppet with and undisclosed amount of seed funding from Greylock Discovery Fund as well as some of Sjogreen Facebook colleagues including Dan Rose and Ethan Beard.
You can see a demo of how it works plus my interview with Sjogreen in the video below:
Note: The app’s name was finalized as Shadow Puppet, not Puppet, after we shot this video
You’re The Puppeteer
Here’s how Shadow Puppet Works:
- Pick a set of photos from any album on your device.
- Drag-and-drop to reorder them, and crop them so they look right.
- Record your audio voice-over providing the story behind the photos.
- Tap and zoom to highlight points of interest as you go through pics.
- Text, email, tweet, or Facebook your Shadow Puppet narrated slide show’s permalink.
- Friends and followers can watch your Shadow Puppet even if they don’t have the app.
The creation experience is quick, simple, intuitive and even kind of fun, as you can see in this demo. The little yellow flashes that appear when you tap as you record do a great job of letting you digitally point to things in your photos, and making them viewable through a web player will help the app grow. When you’re talking, you feel like a voice actor. You just need to remember to be vibrant like you’re on stage even though no one can see you.
There’s certainly room for improvement. It’d be nice to be able to re-record just a segment of your voice-over if you misspoke, instead of having to re-shoot the entire Shadow Puppet, or add more photos and audio after you publish. There’s also no in-app feed, which could house editors’ picks or Shadow Puppets shared to Facebook or Twitter by your friends. You can share to your public Shadow Puppet profile, though, which serves as a home for your creations.
An Android version wouldn’t hurt either. And Sjogreen says his team is cranking on making embeds work, which is awesome as I’m eager to put Shadow Puppets in my articles.
One conscious choice was to not allow video clips. Sjogreen tells me, “there are definitely times when the essential part of what you’re talking about is the motion.” Sjogreen says Shadow Puppet might add video in the future, but wanted to keep things simple at launch. Also, “It’s really easy to make a bad video and very hard to make a good video. With Vine and Instagram, by making it short, at least it’s only ‘six seconds’ bad.”
“We sit somewhere between a communication tool and a creation tool,” says Sjogreen.
So Easy A Kid Could Do It, Well
Now, that Shadow Puppet is out in the world, the team is excited to see what people will build with it. There are obvious stories to tell like vacations. Here’s my first Shadow Puppet about my trip to the Lightning In A Bottle music festival.
But it’s also great for app demos. In fact, Sjogreen gave me my first taste of Shadow Puppet by sending me a walk-through recorded in…Shadow Puppet. Instead of saying “up in the top left is the ‘add’ button, you can show someone so the demo focuses on the backstory behind the button. One of Sjogreen’s favorites is a grade-school science teacher doing a mini-presentation about how turtle shells work.
Yet the Shadow Puppet that impressed me most was recorded by a five-year-old. His parents took the photos, but he got to tell the story of the little DIY games arcade he built. His cute little speech makes it clear it was created by a kid, but it’s actually watchable since you see nice still photos of him rather than him futzing about.
Seriously, this thing is adorable. Sjogreen beams, “it feels like it was made by a child in all the right ways. You hear his voice and feel his personality, but it doesn’t feel janky or low-quality.”
Shadow Puppet’s big challenge will be gaining traction. No matter how simple, every new communication medium comes with a bit of a learning curve and barrier to engagement. Plenty of competing new art forms like Cinemagram, Everlapse, and the quite-similar StoryApp have seen much slower growth than apps like Instagram or Vine, which basically boil down to familiar mediums of photography and video. Luckily, Shadow Puppet has a wide range of public and private sharing options so it’s inherently viral.
The Intimacy Of Storytelling
What makes Shadow Puppet different is it can capture something more nuanced than just the here and now.
“I feel like the first wave of apps was about consumption [Facebook], and the second was translating existing tools to mobile [turning cameras into Instagram]. Recently many apps have been about very short, in-the-moment communication [Snapchat]. But when you think that these are going to become people’s primary computing devices, you need tools to capture things that are more complex, or a story that takes places over a day rather than a few seconds,” Sjogreen says.
That makes Shadow Puppet a powerful way to keep in touch. “It’s pretty meaningfully changed my relationship with my parents,” Sjogreen explains. “I try to call them every weekend, but it’s a totally content-free conversation because there’s nothing to talk about. ‘Yeah, work is busy.’ But now I’m sending these Shadow Puppets of a house project or what I’m doing with the kids and it feels richer than a Skype or phone call. It gives you something to talk about.”
Shadow Puppet could help us defeat our own insecurities about public speaking or being on camera. Sjogreen concludes, “When I go like this (points camera phone at himself), I feel on display, immediately self-conscious that the device has come between me and you. But if you tell a story when you’re looking at the phone, it’s not about you, it’s about the story you’re trying to tell and you’re much less self-conscious. It’s really authentic.”
Download Shadow Puppet for iOS