Turning inner space into outer space

March 16, 2014

Steller tells stories with text, photos and videos, but not audio so much

There seems to be no end to new apps in the iPhone App Store designed to help tell stories — and that’s good news for journalists looking for ways to innovate.

The latest to make a splash is Steller, which was given a coveted Editor’s Choice. Note, first of all that the spelling is not a mistake. The app is a “teller” of stories that does so in “stellar” fashion — or at least that’s what I get out of it.

So let’s fire up Steller and see what we can see. The home page defaults to a storyline view that consists of stories about how to use the app. They’re nicely done. They not only provide fine teaching tools, but also provide fine examples you can emulate.

When you find a story that looks interesting, give it a tap to bring it into focus. Then swipe from right to left to turn the pages. The page-turning effect reminds me of Flipboard turned sideways.

The cover page is typically a photo with the title on it. As you flip through, you’ll find more pages like these, along with some that have videos — also with text. Missing for the most part is audio unless the video happens to have sound with it.

The lack of sound could be deal-breaker for some people since it’s a handy way to provide narration. A similar app with good audio support is Explory, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

On the other hand, Steller developers have promised plenty of updates, so enhanced sound capabilities could be coming soon.

Also on the home page are collections — basically story categories covering subjects such as food, music and the outdoors. If you “follow” these categories, they show up in the storyline.

Moving on from the home page, you can find yet more stories in the Discover section. This is divided between Editor’s Picks and Featured Authors, although it’s not clear how a story gets picked or featured. Still, it’s a good option for those who like to explore.

Other sections include Notifications, Profile and Drafts, but the most interesting of all is New Story. This is where Steller reveals its real power.

You create stories by choosing between three types of content (text, video or photo), then deciding on on a layout. Once that’s done you can edit the text or tweak the photo or video. The layouts all look professional so it’s almost impossible to create an ugly story.

You can keep going until you’re finished adding pages, then decide on how you want to publish. The story can go into collections you’ve already made or into a new one. You’ll then see it in the timeline and in your profile. If your story is not ready for prime time, you can save it as a draft.

If you publish something that later turns out to be embarrassing, just navigate to your profile and tap either the garbage can to delete it or the pencil to edit it.

Now you might be wondering about the point of publishing a story in Steller, which — let’s face it — is not exactly a household name. At least not yet. Fortunately, there is also the option of sharing via texting, email, Twitter or Facebook. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way of embedding a story on a website. Let’s hope that’s also in the pipeline.

Overall, I’m impressed with Steller. It’s an easy way to create great-looking stories. Updates I’d like to see are improved audio options and the ability to embed in a website or blog.

Steller has the disadvantage of being one just one of many apps that tell stories combining photos, videos and text. So it remains to be seen whether it will be able to break out from the crowd.

We may be at stage similar to where videos were at a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until Vine came along that one of them was able to gain some real traction. I’m keeping my eye on both Steller and Explory to see if one of them becomes the next Vine.