Messaging platforms are now more popular than social networks - and a new real-time storytelling app is hoping to capitalise on the trend.
Last Seen Online is "fiction for the WhatsApp generation": a real-time story told through a messenger app about a missing girl who disappears following a night out with friends. Over seven days, readers delve into the chat history - and therefore life - of 25 year old Amy Morris, and begin receiving messages from her friends and family as they realise she never made it home.
Launched last month, it's the first in a series of stories the Last Seen Online team plan to develop that immerse the reader in a drama in real time.
There are two London-based founders behind the app, Adam Lowe and Shib Hussain. Both have backgrounds in digital advertising at agencies including RG/A London, BBH London and Isobar, telling stories for brands such as Google, Honda, Axe, Kelloggs and Russian Standard Vodka.
What's the gap in the market?
Lowe and Hussain consider their unique selling point to be the realism and immersion their readers get from a real-time story experience. "You can't skip ahead ahead or 'play the next episode'," Lowe explains. "You wait for the story to develop over the seven days, just like you would in real life. This makes fiction more believable, and challenges the binge culture we have all become accustomed to. It reintroduces tension and emotion in a new way. We want people to go to bed not knowing what's going to happen the next day. By using a variety of media such as audio, imagery and video, Last Seen Online brings fiction to life to make the reader feel like they're living the story with the characters as it happens. "
Success so far?
Last Seen Online has only been on the AppStore for a month, but Lowe is pleased with their progress. "We've had great feedback from the story so far, great customer reviews and messages of genuine concern for the characters involved – people have really connected with the story and 'Amy' the missing girl. Because the app delivers notifications to your phone (similar to other messenger apps), it all feels very real."
The app is currently only available on iOS but, due to demand, an Android version is on the way soon. "We're also working on more real-time stories as we speak which will immerse the reader like never before in a variety of different plots that will appeal to more audiences, from sci-fi, to thrillers and beyond."
"Real-time fiction is a completely new form of storytelling," Lowe says. "As with any new form of technology, it's always hard to get people to try it. But the early adopters so far have had great, positive feedback and it's inspired us to start creating more stories this way."
Lowe and Hussain hope that the brand will become "the home of real-time stories" and "create a new genre for consuming longer-form content."
"The more believable you make fiction, the better story it is," Lowe insists. "We believe using a messenger app is the way to do this as you can consume the story through bite-size messages and different medias that only add to the realism."
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"There's a great community of readers around the world who want to be entertained and experience stories in new ways. Work with them and get feedback early on, they're definitely on your side and want new ideas to succeed as much as you do."