In 2016, StoryTourist was one of the five finalists in FutureBook's 2016 BookTech Company of the Year Awards. Last year, the AR-enhanced, geolocated storytelling app - described as "Pokémon Go for stories" - took part in the Dutch accelerator programme, Renew the Book. Now, with a good chunk of funding under their belt, the team have released their first full release, a Sherlock Holmes StoryTour set in London.
The self-guided tour, based on The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, is approx. 5 km long and takes between 1 - 2 hours. After downloading the app on iOS or Android, participants join Sherlock outside the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street and follow him through the streets of the capital as he solves the case, passing the Sherlock Holmes statue and Covent Garden before finishing at the Sherlock Holmes pub.
The tour uses GPS to determine when the user has reached the correct location, then presents the corresponding segment of the story in both text and audio. The user also has the ability to immerse themselves further by taking photographs using customized filters – allowing them to wear Sherlock’s iconic pipe and hat while standing out front of 221B Baker Street, for example. The app is offered free all summer, giving the team opportunity for feedback.
“You will walk into the story and have the chance to experience the text and the settings with all its visual impact, sounds and smells,” founder Johanna Forsman says. “The tourism industry has already developed the interest in location tourism through popular film and TV series. We are convinced that all book lovers and nerds out there will have the same passion to visit the locations mentioned in their favourite stories."
We asked Forsman to share a few of the insider design choices and challenges behind their first StoryTour.
What was your biggest technical challenge in creating the app?
Since the app is based on an idea that I had when I was fifteen years old, and neither me nor my co-founder Andreas has a background in programming, I would say that the biggest challenge has been pacing ourselves and realising that our vision might take some time to actually implement technically. We have some great programmers, who have been very patient with us!
What mistakes did you make, or dead ends did you go down, along the way?
We have made a lot of mistakes. It’s always a struggle when you try to explore all possibilities while at the same time staying focused on what seems most likely to fly. A lot of the mistakes are just inexperience though. Hopefully you learn, move on and avoid it the next time.
What are you most proud of about the finished result?
I am proud of lots of things! Not only the app and how great it turned out, but also the team that has stuck together through all of the ups and downs. All of the support we have gotten from people around us, cheering us on when things felt impossible, also make me feel very proud.
Who wrote the story and how did the AR element shape the narrative?
The Sherlock adaption was made by a talented man named Evan Farbstein. He actually just came by our office one day and said: “Hey, my name is Evan. I like what you´re building. How can I help?” This particular Sherlock Holmes short story is quite light hearted and playful, so we kept that tone in the visual elements as well. We have added different images at each StoryPoint that is connected to that part of the story that you get to take a selfie with to save and share with others. The narrative didn’t really change because of the visuals, but we did change some street names and other geographic clues, to give the walk a better flow.
Who’s your target audience and how do you know this is what they want?
We know that there already are a lot of “StoryTourists” all around the world, who read fiction instead of guide books when they plan their holidays, and go look for places where famous authors lived or books are set. So far the response that we have gotten from our audience is great, and since the Sherlock Holmes StoryTour will be free during the summer we hope to get a lot of response from people trying the app in London.
The publishing industry has been very curious about our concept ever since we were part of Futurebook’s Book Tech Company of the Year competition. We have some really interesting projects that we are working with, and a lot of interest from publishers who are curious but have – quite understandably – wanted to see the finished app before committing to the concept.
Where has your investment come from?
We are mainly self-funded and boot-strapped, but we just recently received an innovation grant for creative start-ups from the Swedish government. We have spent the last year in a great business incubator in our hometown Malmö called Minc, where we have built a great network of contacts and investors, and have just opened our first seed round.
What’s next for StoryTourist?
We hope to get a few days off to enjoy the sun. After that we will start producing more StoryTours, fill the app with great content and live happily ever after…