If you have never heard of Cowbird, do not fret; you are not the only one. I was introduced to Cowbird in my Emerging Technologies class at Clemson University and I can honestly say that I am so very thankful. In essence, “Cowbird is a community of storytellers.” Like the title of this blog post states, it is very much the lovechild of Twitter and traditional blogging. Cowbird is a social network for stories. Unlike Twitter, users can go way over 140 characters to tell their stories, as well as use video and audio to enhance their stories. And unlike traditional blogging, the user interface is much more heavily based on interaction with the other users, making it much more social than traditional blogging. According to the Cowbird, this is how they describe the site:
We build the world’s simplest and most beautiful storytelling tools, and we offer them for free to anyone who wishes to use them. When you tell stories on Cowbird, we automatically find connections between your life and the lives of others, forming a vast, interconnected ecosystem, in which we all take part. Our goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons, available for this and future generations to look to for guidance.
I recently posted my first story to Cowbird called ‘The Color Orange’ and it is about my journey through college. For those of you that know me well, you know this story all too well. For those of you that don’t know my college story in detail, it’s something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a long time now, but for some reason, the setting of Cowbird made it much easier to express and put out in the open. Besides the basic idea that Cowbird is much more social than traditional blogging, the site gives off a much simpler vibe than most blogging platforms, allowing the author to focus on what’s important: the content. This being said, Cowbird users need to be dedicated to their storytelling and to engaging with other storytellers; if they want to have an audience for their work, they need to actively seek other authors and ‘join their audiences,’ so that they’re story can be read. Users most also know how to use all of the functions of the site, including the topic tags, location tags, etc., otherwise, their story will not be heard.
As much as I enjoyed my experience sharing my story on Cowbird, I am having trouble deciding whether or not I want to become an avid “citizen,” as they call it, of the online community. Whereas a blog can serve as a platform for individuals who want to get their voice heard by all netizens, Cowbird gives off the vibe that your voice will only be heard by citizens of the Cowbird community. In that same sense, even though there are multiple traditional blogging platforms that have different user interfaces, all blogs are mostly straightforward and easy to navigate, even for non-blog users. In contrast, Cowbird, while simple, uses a very different interface that might be striking to people unfamiliar with the site. Nonetheless, I really do enjoy the artistry and seriousness of the content that is posted on the site. It reminds me of why I am so passionate about writing. Like the creator of the site, Jonathon Harris says in this NYTimes article, “It’s soul food, not fast food,” and that is why I truly do appreciate the all-encompassing goal of cowbird.
In all honesty, however, I do not see how Harris is generating any sort of substantial profit from Cowbird. There aren’t any advertisements on the site, so that source of income is not being utilized. I suppose the site could be used for companies to find new artists, copy-writers, etc. for employment purposes, but do companies really actively go searching for things like that? I do not see the site as having any real business value, but simply as another outlet for today’s artists to get their voices heard. I feel like a majority of Cowbird users already have careers in their line of work and simply use Cowbird as another creative outlet. Not that any of this is bad, though. Even though there might not be any business value in Cowbird, as a creative individual, I truly do enjoy the site and it’s purpose. Whether or not this will take off, though, will be interesting to find out.