The Dead Pixels Society podcast

Preserving interactive family stories with Heather Maio-Smith, CEO and co-founder, StoryFile

December 04, 2021 Gary Pageau/Heather Maio-Smith Season 2 Episode 59
The Dead Pixels Society podcast
Preserving interactive family stories with Heather Maio-Smith, CEO and co-founder, StoryFile
Show Notes Transcript

Gary Pageau of the Dead Pixels Society talks with Heather Maio-Smith, CEO and co-founder, StoryFile, about using AI-driven video conversations to preserve family history.

In 2010, Maio-Smith developed the first 3D interactive conversation with Holocaust Survivor Rose Schindler through her creative agency Conscience Display. At the time, she was creating physical video installations at the United Nations, USC, and in Havana, Cuba. As a leader in content-based technology, she has spoken about Natural Conversation at Microsoft (2017), US Holocaust Museum (2017), Dartmouth College (2018), FoST (2018), SXSW (2019), SXSW (2019), The LA Times Festival of Books (2019), M.I.T. (2020), and AI Summit (2020).

StoryFile is a company that turns video into a conversation. This next generation of technology uses artificial intelligence to support video conversations on any device. The company offers a consumer service called StoryFile Life and a business-to-business service offering called Conversa. 

Free trial offer

For a 33-question free trial, follow these instructions:

1.       Go to https://life.storyfile.com/free-trial-form

2.       Fill out the free trial sign-up form.

3.       Enter the promo code DEADPIXELS and click "Apply".

4.       Click "Try StoryFile Life for Free" to create your account.

5.       Your account is created with a Story Pack discount. Go to the Pricing page by clicking "Pricing" at the top and you can see that the price for Story Pack has been discounted.

6.       To purchase a Story Pack, click "Get Started" for Story Pack, click either "For Myself" to purchase for yourself or "Gift to Another" to purchase for someone else. For the latter, you will need to enter the email for the person you are purchasing for. You will be taken to the Stripe checkout page where you can make a payment to complete the purchase.




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Erin Manning  
Welcome to the Dead Pixels Society podcast, the photo imaging industry's leading news source. Here's your host, Gary Pageau.

Gary Pageau  
The Dead Pixel Society podcast is brought to you by Mediaclip, PhotoFinale, and Advertek printing. Hello again, and welcome to the dead pixels society podcast. I'm your host, Gary Pageau. And today we're joined by Heather Maio-Smith, the co founder and CEO of StoryFile. Hi, Heather, how are you today?

Heather Maio-Smith  
I am good. Thank you for having me. Gary,

Gary Pageau  
told me about StoryFile what is your background that led you to develop this innovative storytelling engine,

Heather Maio-Smith  
I was doing a lot of exhibitions and immersive exhibitions around Holocaust survivors and their families. And it occurred to me one day I was having, you know, amazing conversations with these people. And it occurred to me that my great grandchildren would never be able to have the same conversations that I was having, and be able to ask them their own questions. And so I went to the Shoah Foundation with his idea of what if we were able to preserve or replicate the experience of going into, you know, the Holocaust, survivors have been speaking in public for, you know, 50 years plus? And what if we were able to replicate the experience of the audience having that q&a with them having that conversation, or me sitting down at a kitchen table with a Holocaust survivor, and just being able to ask anything I wanted to about their life. So we talked about it. And finally, we agreed, okay, let's see if we can do something like this, I was tasked with going away and figuring out how to do it, which was extremely interesting process. I found an kind of a creative Institute, it was called the Institute for Creative Technologies. And it also happened to be USC Institute, because the Shoah Foundation is a USC Institute as well. So I brought those two Institute's together and said, Alright, how can we make this happen? It took about four years to realize the pilot that we ended up doing. And then we took that pilot around the world. And we were the task was to get people from all over the world to actually ask this individual the Holocaust survivor questions. And we needed a certain amount of data and a certain the by data, I mean, the questions that people do ask, I was having all of these conversations with people around the world. And the one question I kept getting the most was, Can I do this myself? And can I do this with my grandparents? Can I do this with my aunt who was just diagnosed with cancer? Can I do this with the founder of our company? So it got me thinking, what would it be like if we could give this technology and the opportunity to do these types of interviews with individuals, so that they were able to talk to their future generations, you know, 2550 100 years from now, in about 2017, we saw that technology was heading in a direction where the infrastructure was starting to be available that would support us doing something like this, and making it ubiquitous, because it had to be an online system, it had to be automated, it had to be able, you had to be able to use whatever, you know, camera you had, which is rapidly becoming just your smartphone. So it had to be a completely different process in a completely different system of form. So we started on a journey in 2018, to build that system. And we just launched our first consumer product in October. And it's called StoryFile life. And it's a platform that anyone was should you know, they can choose their own questions for their loved one to answer. They can go in, they can record them themselves. Or you can record a loved one, you know, you can use your laptop, you can use your phones, you can use a webcam on your laptop, any way you want from it. And it just automatically puts everything in that in your StoryFileand you are in real time able to have that same conversation with somebody right after you're finished.

Gary Pageau  
Yeah, I think it's interesting how you've made it an online product only because I think you know, those of us of a certain age, remember, like interactive CDs, right? Where people would try to do these sorts of things in the gaming environment and right, terribly slow and awkward and

Heather Maio-Smith  
well that's it yeah, that's that's also based on CDs. There's a difference between that way of doing it where you, you present someone with a few options of questions. And then they click on whatever question they want that character to answer that's been around, you know, museums have been using that forever, you know, they'll give you a list of 12 questions you can ask an individual they've already interviewed, and then it plays that response. What we wanted to create was something that allowed you and your own curiosity to come up with a question, go, you know, go as deep as you wanted to, and as in one specific part of someone's life, whatever interested you, you know, I documentaries, and even some, you know, documentaries, autobiographies, everything is mostly curated from what that individual wants you to know. Sure. So, I, have you ever seen a documentary and you and it's finished, and you have a million questions? Sure. Okay. So that's, that's it? Yeah, we wanted you to be able to see this, and ask whatever you wanted to find out the information that you want to know, hence, the just asking people questions about their life here, you know, letting them tell you the answer, and just, you know, letting it lead wherever it leads.

Gary Pageau  
So one of the things I want to ask you about is, you know, you spent some years developing this coming up a question, was that a way to easily kind of package getting people started? Because kind of what I found in the photo industry is one of the things that people struggle with, I mean, everyday people struggle with is telling a story. Yeah, you know, they have to have a framework in which to frame the narrative or get to the questions they want to get to, and that sort of thing. You know, that's a skill. And it's not something that comes naturally to a lot of people. So that's part of what you provide is that framework, but you're allowing the flexibility if people want to branch out and add their own stuff they can, which is unlike what you said was from a museum, yeah. Which is very rigid.

Heather Maio-Smith  
We have in store for life, we have over 1600 questions that you can choose from, we do have curated lists, like let's, let's say you wanted to interview your mom or your grandmother, we have curated starter packs for Black. And then you can add to it with whatever specific experience your mother may have had. You can add to that, the Storify life will eventually the next iteration of this will allow you to add some questions of your own. It doesn't right now. But so what you would have to go through and pick which ones you you're definitely monitor that person to answer. The software platform, the b2b software platform that we license, that will be available in March, that's a software that you would be able to create your own storyline, for an individual, create your own, you know, your own list of questions go down, you know, as much time as you've got with that individual and have them answer whatever you wanted them to. That's more of a curated experience. But in general, the concept behind what we do and what makes us different is we want you to be able to leave an open ended conversation, right? We want you to record as much content as you want. But we want people to be able to ask their own questions of that content and find their own answers, find their own information, if you will, that they want to know at that moment, for example, you would probably have questions for your parents now that you did not have when you were 30. So what we tried to do is we try to get that hold that person's whole life experience, and really tell their whole story, so that you would be able to ask those questions that you might not have thought about at different points in your life.

Gary Pageau  
So it's an organic kind of growing file of stories.

Heather Maio-Smith  
Well, yeah, I mean, it can even be organic to the point where, you know, we have people that want to do this, the same storyline every 10 years, right with them. I mean, even they, we have parents that want to start filming their kids at 10. And then may do it every three or four years. And eventually they do it every you know, 10 or so years. Because you do change and you do grow. So it you know, and you can have your whole timeline of story files, and I can choose whatever age I wanted to ask you certain questions about your life, because there's

Gary Pageau  
an audio podcast, there's no visual, but I will put some in show notes below and clicking around and look at things but so it's a web based interface, right? And from the examples I've seen, there's, you know, a video of someone sitting there and you basically verbally ask them a question. You don't key things in and you've got some pretty impressive AI there that interprets that question and response. So it's like you're having conversation with somebody that's pretty impressive.

Heather Maio-Smith  
We put a lot of emphasis, we don't change anything that you say. So we put a lot of emphasis on keeping that authentic story to you. So you have the opportunity to tell your story, in your own words and your own voice. We do it because a lot of communication, what we want you to do, we want you to walk away feeling as if you know that. And a lot of communication is nonverbal. So hence the video, it's not enough just to do the audio, you need to see that person answer those questions, you need to see them struggle with it, you need to get all the pauses in and their face, you know, the face and the body language. We don't alter any of that. And you can ask different questions. The you know, interviewee was actually asked in the first place, you can ask a lot of it. I mean, there, if you ask someone, tell me about your religious identity. Probably 20 ways, Gary, that you could probably rephrase that question and ask the same question. But everybody's gonna ask it differently. So our AI allows for that type of interaction?

Gary Pageau  
Yeah, I mean, it's, it's pretty impressive, because like you said, the person who's asking the question, may have never met the person, and will ask the question in a way that was like, completely different than the way it was posed to the original person. Right? The business model, from, from your sense, is you provide this service? Is there like a lifetime fee? Or is it by person is it by time, what's the business model here?

Heather Maio-Smith  
If businesses license the software, it's called conversa. And it will be available, like I said, in March, that's a licensing fee. And that's an ongoing fee. And then you just pay a small fee, for every StoryFile that you opened up, every story round count you open, if someone did a story about life, if they intended to do multiple, multiple StoryFiles at different points in their life, or they intended to do a lot of different questions, and just do it all in one go. There are different packages. So you might buy the Premium Package, or you might buy the just 75 questions at a time type of thing, that's a one time to merge. And it's and it's saved and preserved forever. Fine, in your, in your relatives, on stored by life, you have the opportunity to either make it public through any means you want, like you could post it on your Facebook, etc. Or you can keep keep it completely private. And you can invite only your family members that would be able to talk to you, or friends or things like that, or, you know, we have clients that just will do their whole StoryFile their whole life story, and leave it in their will, for example, everyone has a different purpose, let's say. And

Gary Pageau  
so obviously, that's precipitated on the fact the StoryFile will be around in some form, for it to be left to somebody, is there a way to make this available, quote unquote, forever? I mean, other than your company been around forever, we intend to be around forever? Because it's very much tied to your platform, right? It's not portable, in the sense

Heather Maio-Smith  
very much. Yeah, you won't, you can download, if you buy the premium package, you are able to get the the video footage in the video content that you've recorded. It just won't be interactive. Released, that content is still there. Yeah. Contents still there. I mean, the benefit of doing it with us is we do preserve it for you, right utility and store it for you. And so it's, you know, that that's a definite huge plus.

Gary Pageau  
Yeah, I'm not I can't imagine, yeah, organization would take to manage all these video files that are going to be created for the process.

Heather Maio-Smith  
It wouldn't be interactive, unless some other entity came up, you know, and was able to do the same thing. If we happen to not me, you know, around

Gary Pageau  
God blowing, you're gonna be around forever. That's not where I was going with it. I was just very specific. And most, I mean, this is almost like a very interesting kind of social media network in the sense that it is social content within a family, you know, relatively private. And you know, most of them offer some way to export your data out of it at some point, you know, but of course, in most cases, the value is within the platform, the best value you don't want people exporting and trying to do someone that because it's awful to manage.

Heather Maio-Smith  
It would be similar to you know, video companies, video production, companies of film narrative interviews of oral histories of people, all the So it would just be the difference of being able to ask what you want to ask have just pointed conversation versus watching five hours of video. Yeah, of an individual. How has

Gary Pageau  
the process from from because you were getting feedback from customers? How has that evolved over time? Has you find you found certain types of questions, get better response? Or how has it evolved? So I'm sure it's changed over time, since you've launched this three years ago,

Heather Maio-Smith  
it's just been getting bigger, that's bigger. The storylines that we have actually haven't changed that much, you'd be surprised if people are pretty predictable. And we take the approach that there are universal concepts, universal constructs, universal questions, you know, things that are going to be universal forever, you can go back in 2000 years, and you can read some of the stories and read some of the literature from, you know, from the dawn of time, and all the issues, I mean, they're all pretty much the same. Everybody wants to learn something, right. And so we took that approach and said, Alright, we're not dealing with current events, we want to get at your worldview, and your values and your, your, your life and the choices that you made the lessons you learned through living that life. And trust me, everybody on the planet has a story to tell, I can learn something from every single one of the people that I encounter every day, it just met, you know, it's just a matter of me sitting down and actually having a conversation and being able to do that. Also, they're there, if you, if you do make it public, which we would love everyone to do, because then you've got a real archive of humanity. And, you know, I would be able to meet someone that I would never have been able to meet, I wouldn't be able to meet people that even lived in the same time period that I did, but that I didn't have the opportunity to meet, or I would never, never would have had the opportunity to meet or get to know, I think that

Gary Pageau  
you've actually hit on a point that is kind of forgotten today in our sort of current media culture where people think history started when they were born. And realized that, you know, their grandparents or their parents or their great grandparents, or everyone has run into similar situations. And you know, they may not have been dealing with, you know, smartphones and tick tock, but maybe they were dealing with something else that was just important.

Heather Maio-Smith  
Humanity's constantly dealing with the same issue, you're right, the technology may have changed, or the the emphasis on different things and might have changed or made larger or smaller, you know, but the basic human issues that we all have relationships and life and navigating this world, we are going to continue to have an everybody, you know, will have for for all time. So that's what we want to learn, you are made up of every person that lived before you in your, in your sphere. So and all of that influenced you. So if I had the chance to leave my StoryFile from my future generations, and they got to know me, they asked me questions about my life, and internalized my story that is only going to make their identity richer, their life richer. And it's going to you know, give it gives you a chance to somehow affect those lives of future generations that will come after you in a way that we've never been able to do before. Or you're

Gary Pageau  
just launching the the files right now. Correct.

Heather Maio-Smith  
Storify life was just launched.

Gary Pageau  
Yep. And that's sort of right in time for the holidays. Yeah. And there's no shipping problems. Yeah, no, no container off China. So you can

Heather Maio-Smith  
buy it like, instantly, you can give it give it the same day.

Gary Pageau  
So so that's your consumer facing product. But I wanted to I did want to follow up on on the b2b product that's been launched. In March the versus side, which hasn't been really talked about. So this is something is in terms of a business model. If if, if a company were dealing with the memories market or family heritage market or even genealogy, this would be a certainly a great way to to create a companion to that,

Heather Maio-Smith  
right. It's a service that you could offer all of your customers and you and anyone can do these these storage files for anyone.

Gary Pageau  
And would it be integrated within their website? Is it something they would install or to just be like a portal within your environment?

Heather Maio-Smith  
It depends What type of business they are themselves? If you're crowdsourcing, like let's say you want to do a small oral history archive, and you're crowdsourcing that you can embed it in your website, and you can have everyone answer pretty much the same question. If you wanted to just do specific families and work with them, you want to develop the they, let's say they want their own custom scripts. So you do your research, you do your own story, that storyline line of questioning for them, and then you professionally recorded for them, and then you know, enter all of that data into conversa. That's more of a bespoke product. Sure. It's something that production companies are starting to do for as its service for individuals that, let's say, I have my mom, she, and she lives in a different state, and I want her to do a StoryFile, but she needs help. I would call her she can't travel, right? Or she can't manage to she doesn't, she's not, you don't want her to do it herself. Even though, you know, my 79 year old mother did it herself. So it's not like it's not rocket science, you can do it. But if you want to have a little bit more professional spin on it, you know, you want someone to walk them through it, you want someone to be there, you know, for continuity or, you know, good lighting, let's say and really take the time to do it. There are production companies that are springing up that are offering the StoryFile service that were they'll do, they'll come in and do it for you. Well, I think

Gary Pageau  
that's even with so many families now who are remote right now you have the older parents who live in one state and the younger kids live in another state, right. And like you said, there may not be able to travel or when they do travel, they may not want to take the time to spend what time they have over the holidays doing this when they could so I think that's a great idea.

Heather Maio-Smith  
A lot of small, you know, local production companies that do oral histories and, and narrative interviews of people that they could add this service to it, and then the family would have an interactive interview, you know, that day, that same day, they could have it

Gary Pageau  
when you see customers interacting, you know, I'm sure you've done the observations of people watching the

Heather Maio-Smith  
my favorite, favorite thing, my favorite thing?

Gary Pageau  
Imagine there's a lot of tears and things like that when they're when when they're hearing this stuff. Yeah, we're actually having the interaction.

Heather Maio-Smith  
Yeah, it's been amazing the reactions that we do, that I've seen over the years, it's, you know, the, the idea, the intent is for you to forget all the technology that goes into it, and around it. And just feel as if you're really having a conversation with somebody, and they do feel, you know, we've had people that have talked to individuals, they don't even know. And when they're finished, they thank them for, you know, profusely talking to them, and oh, my god, I love you, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. You know, and, and they know, we tell them, It's a recording of the individual, the person, but they think that there's there really there. It's like, it's amazing to watch. And if the person that's done, the interview is honest, and is honest, when they tell their stories, and they go through their life history, it can be a very emotional thing to hear a lot of stories because a lot of people have been through some amazing experiences that they do tell us so

Gary Pageau  
they may actually feel more comfortable talk sharing those experiences to a camera than to someone in person actually. Yeah, yeah, that's true. Well, listen, Heather, I really appreciate your time today. And can you tell us where people can get more information about StoryFile and story, follow life

Heather Maio-Smith  
and go to StoryFile.com/life? Or StoryFile.com? And find out? Yep, anything on Instagram and all of the above all the places that go places you can find it. Okay, well, thank

Gary Pageau  
you very much best of luck. And I look forward to seeing hearing more about the conversa platform. Yeah.

Heather Maio-Smith  
I mean, I'm excited for people to use it and companies to start doing it as a service for people. I think it's gonna be a really great, great opportunity for some people to add to their repertoire.

Gary Pageau  
Well, again, thank you much and take care.

Erin Manning  
Thank you. Thank you for listening to the Dead Pixels society podcast. Read more great stories and sign up for the newsletter at www.thedeadpixelssociety.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai