The Story of the Storybox

The story of the Storybox starts in Amsterdam, in November. During one of many cycle trips, my colleague Julian and I happened across a ‘public library’.

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He had told me about them before, these outdoor bookshelves where people can place the books they have finished with and find a new one. The one I saw was a bit soggy on the whole, the small roof not being equal to the Dutch reality, but I liked the idea, and was reminded of it during my Australian trip.

On a visit to the Melbourne markets, I saw another type of ‘public library’, this one more elaborate, conceived to travel, and more substantial.

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I shared it in our workplace ‘pub’, a WhatsApp group for sharing random musings and got a great response. So the story begins, with the classic setup: “Wouldn’t it be great if… ?”

Wouldn’t it be great if we built our own ambulatory story box, to collect and share stories of social learning, of Sea Salt and to travel with them to different parts of the world?

Wouldn’t it be great if we set one up randomly in downtown London, open for collecting and sharing back stories?

At that point I had planned to come to the UK to support work on the Safari, so in my mind’s eye I had a vision of a team working to build this box together. As the idea for the Safari evolved, the box idea took a back seat to the effort of organizing. However, I still wanted to build it, modelled on a similar concept I had come across during a festival. In that installation, set up as a cafe, with small tables and a telephone on each. Choosing a code from a menu, it was possible to dial the phone and hear a story from someone who had attended an iteration of this festival in another country. By entering another code, it was possible to share my own story of experience, if I wished, or any other story I wished to tell.

The story I heard was beautiful, I could hear the festival sounds in the background and the woman speaking shared what she was experiencing, giving me a snapshot of what it must be like to be there. I felt connected to her and her experience and it gave me courage and desire to share my own.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could build a similar type of experience for the Safari?

After the fabled Amsterdam summit, where the Safari was worked out and the running order shared, I saw my name had been put against something called the Storybox. Knowing that Julian had a clear vision for what would happen during the Safari and expecting that I would be told what this was and what I had to do about it, I didn’t give it much further thought. I didn’t remember that that is what the Australian book sharing box was called!

During our organizing meeting, which I attended from Beijing, I asked what the Storybox was. “Remember that idea back in February, about the box, the story sharing?”
“Really? That’s what it is? That’s what you want me to do?”

My first step was to give it a week, because I had so much on with three other projects.
I then asked two people how they thought I could build it. My brother, a programmer, said I should build an app. This made sense, it would solve a lot of logistical problems, but I couldn’t forget the romance of picking up a phone in the desert and hearing someone from a distant time and place on the other end of the line, connected by an idea.

The other person I contacted was a friend I made at that very same festival, who I knew liked to build things. For the first week, we had a good dialogue going about the build, what was needed and how it could be done. I even proposed going to Belgium to ‘hack it out’. However, the momentum was lost and I had to look into other ways of creating the Storybox as time was getting shorter (only one week left to go until the Safari!) and the Storybox was happening. There was no question of it not happening. I just had to find another way to fulfill my objectives.

I broadcast a request for programmers and app developers on Twitter and received an immediate response. I responded with an overview and some sketches of what I wanted and the screens I thought would do it the most efficiently.

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Some responded, some not. One said it could be done in my time frame, so I went for it. From conception to having a prototype? 3 days.

My goal is to inspire people to play with the prototype, use it, possibly discover it’s potential. I fully expect that version 2.0 will have changes, I already have ideas for it and I’m hoping the Safari will garner ideas about it that will lead to further refinement and iterations!

If you’re curious about the Storybox’s current state, and the continuing evolution of this project, stay tuned. It’s my little experiment in agility and community building, co-creation. I’m curious about what will happen.

Let the feedback begin!

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