clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

StoryCorps Using $1 Million TED Prize to Become an App and Go Global

The new Android and iOS app aims to replicate what used to require professional radio equipment and volunteer facilitators.


For the past decade, StoryCorps has amassed more than 65,000 recordings of ordinary individuals interviewing one another and telling extraordinary stories.

In doing so, StoryCorps has amassed the largest collection of human voices ever recorded, but is still limited by the time and expense of its approach, which relies on professional radio recording equipment and dedicated volunteers to act as facilitators.

Thanks to a $1 million prize from the TED conference, the organization is turning its process into a smartphone app in an effort to ensure even more stories get recorded, especially outside the U.S. The free app will allow anyone with an Android or iOS device to record an interview and have it uploaded for distribution and archiving into the Library of Congress.

That money has essentially already been spent, with more than $400,000 going to developing the app and the remainder being used for the added server capacity and companion website to support the app.

But the results of StoryCorps’ work are already priceless, having allowed people to learn never before known details about their loved ones and preserving experiences that would have otherwise died with those who lived them.

“It’s about communication,” founder Dave Isay said in a briefing with reporters. “It’s about creating a world that listens a little better.”

In accepting the award, Isay told of his own intimate conversation with his father, who came out to him as gay at 22. Hearing his father talk of the Stonewall riots that led to the modern LGBT liberation movement, Isay was inspired to become a radio documentary producer and tell the Stonewall story to a mainstream audience for the first time.

“It changed my life,” he said during his talk.

StoryCorps, Isay said, has helped many people at the margins of society to tell their stories and have them heard. While many of the interviews have yet to be heard, some are aired as part of a weekly NPR broadcast and still others have been published in books or as part of the group’s podcast. Over time, StoryCorps wants all its interviews to be made public.

“We are working to make that archive public,” he said. “It is going to take four or five years.”

As for the app, it’s initially a beta and in English only, though StoryCorps hopes to use the TED community to translate it to other languages. The app also helps people plan their questions and prepare for the interview as well as offer techniques to get the best audio quality possible, albeit less than would be the case with professional radio gear.

Instead of capturing thousands of interviews a year, the app could allow hundreds of thousands of recordings per year, or even more, Isay said.

Isay talked about the power each StoryCorps recording can have, talking about the one he did with his own father. Isay said he didn’t think much about the discussion until his father passed away suddenly.

“Together we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity,” he said.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.