We all know what it’s like to be captivated by a good story. Ben Watanabe, founder of 96 Problems, wants to make that experience even more accessible.
“You see all these people binge-watching shows on Netflix or tearing through huge books like ‘Game of Thrones,’” Watanabe says. “All of this content is designed for sitting down for extended periods of time. But when you quickly check your phone as you get on the train or in an elevator, you aren’t going to watch Netflix for five seconds. You usually open Twitter or Facebook and see what’s going on in the world.”
The Tokyo-based tech company has developed a way to capitalize on that brief moment, stemming from a philosophy that views the consumption of great stories as one of the supreme joys in life. They have created an app that allows you to bring stories with you wherever you go, but stories that are more suitable for momentary glimpses at social media.
The app, called “Everyst,” was launched in beta in December 2016 with the goal of revolutionizing the way fiction is consumed in the digital world. Unlike existing digital mediums such as “chat fiction” and traditional Japanese ketai shōsetsu (cellphone novels), Everyst’s method of story delivery is distinct in that it uses the drip-fed aspect of Twitter to inject its characters into our social media lives.
“You won’t follow a murderer online … but you might watch a crime show on TV about a fictional murderer and follow their dramatic story arc,” Watanabe says. “With our stories, we put these character dramas into your social media. Some characters tweet as if they’re actually using Twitter. Other characters — sometimes webs of characters — are essentially ‘publishing’ their inner monologues on Twitter. We like to say that ‘not all characters acknowledge the camera,’ so to speak. There is a wide range of possibilities to interact with our stories.”
Watanabe is describing a new way of consuming fiction. Most of the user experience is within the Everyst app itself, as tweets from characters are strategically timed and sent to their phones via in-app push notifications, but users that retweet interesting moments from Everyst stories give nonusers a wholly different experience entirely.
“Imagine you’re on the elevator for a moment,” Watanabe says. “You check your Twitter and see a friend has retweeted an account of a guy with an animated avatar who is tweeting about traveling through the mountains of Romania by train. You click on it, and as you read the tweet stream, you see the account tweeting about seeing wolves outside the train window, along with an illustration of that very scene. Suddenly you realize that the account is updating the life of a fictional character and that you’re on the elevator in the middle of an unfolding vampire story.”
Such interactions are the sort of consumer experience that brands have been eager to merge their content with. Domestic game developers Area 35, makers of the game TinyMetal, as well as actor Masi Oka, producer of “Death Note” on Netflix, are partnering with 96 Problems to create branded content using the Everyst story telling model.
With Everyst, 96 Problems is breaking new ground in the world of graphic novel publishing. As the app is monetized by publishing branded stories, it is able to offer stories completely free to the user as well as pay independent manga creators to develop original content for its platform.
“Normally a brand would pay a social media agency to tweet about their product, but that is often no better than a car salesman,” Watanabe says. “Our model allows both big brands and small content creators to reach consumers in a unique way.”
Watanabe was motivated to create Everyst by a deep respect for the power of storytelling, something he gained from his American mother and Japanese father, who shared their mutual love of stories with their son.
Watanabe says, “At Everyst, we are focused on keeping stories in people’s lives. By putting our stories right there on social media … more and more people can see and enjoy great stories.”
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