‘Intersect’ Provides New Way to Share Life Stories Based on Time & Place

Often, the stories we tell — as journalists and as citizens — are part of an ongoing narrative. It’s easy, though, for parts of that narrative to get lost along the way. Our memories get hazy. We lose touch with the people we met on a trip, in school or at work. Even if we post photos and status updates to Facebook, they can be pushed quickly into the recesses of our profiles.

Now, there’s a community journalism site aimed at helping people remember and reconnect to their past and the people who were a part of it. Intersect, which was unveiled today, enables users to organize their stories into storylines that they can tag with a time and place to create an “intersection.” Users can then scroll through other users’ storylines and see if their stories intersect.

Peter Rinearson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former vice president of Microsoft, created the Seattle-based startup site and brought on about 20 people to be part of his team. Among them is Monica Guzman, who left her job as a reporter for seattlepi.com in May to become Intersect’s director of editorial outreach.

I interviewed Guzman on Tuesday evening via e-mail to find out more about the site and how journalists can use it. In the edited Q&A below, she talks about how the public and the media can use Intersect to tell better stories, and she explains how the site is different from personal blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

Mallary Tenore:
Give me a little background on what Intersect is and how it helps people tell stories.

Monica Guzman: Intersect brings together two elements — storylines and intersections of place and time — in ways we hope will make storytelling more collaborative and engaging. So if people post public stories about a soccer game, a parade, a concert, or a protest, those stories will appear on the storytellers’ time lines — what we call their life storylines — and also at the time and place they occurred, where we make it easy for anyone to find them. Some intersections could have just a few stories. But intersections that happen around major events, past and present, might have a lot. 

There are already lots of ways for people to share snippets of their lives through Facebook, Twitter and their personal blogs. Why should they give Intersect a try?

Guzman: We know people have lots of ways they can share online — I use a lot of them — and we think it’s pretty great that people are connecting in live conversations about what matters to them right now. But each of us has a whole life full of intersections and stories that build on each other and get richer over time.

On Intersect, the time that matters isn’t the time something’s posted, but the time it happened. And the chronology that matters isn’t the chronology of a blog or a Twitter feed, but of everybody’s interconnected lives. You don’t have to be friends with someone to discover a connection or find the stories they’ve shared publicly. You can upload different profile photos for different phases of your life and see how you’ve changed just by scrolling through your storyline.

In real life, our memories don’t scroll off a page and disappear, and our past can connect us as much as our present. When you pin your story to a place as well as a time, you make it easier for people to find out where their path has crossed with yours — whether it was at a meetup yesterday in Seattle or at summer camp in Maryland in 1985. You can also post stories about the places you intend to be in the future — like concerts or conferences — so the people you might meet there can learn more about you.

Who is the audience for Intersect?

Guzman: Early on, we think Intersect will appeal to people who think of themselves as storytellers, though we’re hoping people can make it their own and surprise us. We also think it’ll be fun for readers to discover stories around the places and times they’re curious about — whether it’s where they grew up, where they went to school, where they fell in love or where they traveled last year.

It’s always neat to find connections and intersections you didn’t expect. So we think historians could get a kick out of Intersect, as could families, professional and citizen journalists, and really anyone who likes to connect. I guess we’ll see!

How do you envision news organizations and individual journalists using the site, now and in the future? I’m wondering, for instance, if they could use it to save string on stories, to connect with sources or to display all of their relevant content on a given story in one place.

Guzman: I have some ideas, but I know we’ll learn a lot from how both professional and citizen journalists actually use Intersect. Some journalists I’ve talked to want to use Intersect’s ability to “borrow” other people’s stories into their storylines to curate coverage of the candidacy of a local politician or the life of a controversial highway.

Others want to see how people use it to post their take on a news event. We want to work with journalists to develop Intersect as a great tool for the craft, and part of my job is to learn how journalists want to use it and bring that back to the development team so we can work to make it happen.

How do you think news consumers can benefit from seeing stories presented in this way?

Guzman: When people tell stories on storylines and intersections that reflect real lives, times and places, then they can discover connections and layers of context they didn’t know were there — and keep uncovering them even after the story falls from the headlines. News readers can have a hand in that and collaborate with storytellers in the process. And when stories are laid out in storylines, and those storylines get to the larger narratives that form the background on the day’s news, news readers can make better sense of what’s happening. There could be a lot of benefits.

What is the value of helping people connect or “intersect” with others?

Guzman: A lot of experiences become richer when we share them. And when people connect on Intersect, they can share stories over their whole storyline, connect to people they discover at intersections of time and place, and remember together.

It’s fun to connect with someone you just met, so what if you could connect with someone who shared a great experience with you years ago, someone you can learn from even if you never met each other and neither of you knew the other was there? That could be pretty fun.

How will you measure the success of this project?

Guzman: We hope Intersect becomes a gathering place that encourages community, and that it becomes known as a place where interesting and engaging stories get told — including some that otherwise wouldn’t have been captured and shared. Over the longer term, of course, we’ll want the site to be profitable and therefore sustainable. For now, we’re pretty excited to see people discover how their stories — and their lives — intersect.

Editor’s note: Guzman and Rinearson visited Poynter this past summer to give the institute’s faculty and staff a preview of Intersect and to solicit their feedback. Rinearson is a former member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board and Guzman is a former college summer fellow.

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