Like birds, most fish have something to say, especially when it comes to mating calls. You can read it about in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago for the New York Times’ Science Times. But what does a talking fish sound like? Look like? In fact, it was exactly those questions that led to the creation of Stroome.

Rush to Produce video for the Times

The decision to publish the fish story happened in a hurry. On a Thursday afternoon, I received a phone call from one of my editors letting me know the piece would be running the following Tuesday. I had already decided that I wanted to create an accompanying web video but this was an unexpected hustle. I would have to have both the story and the video full edited and delivered by Monday evening.

I quickly called Cornell University’s PR department. They agreed to film the aptly named professor Andrew H. Bass as soon as he was available on the next afternoon and send the footage overnight. However, they only had access to a video camera that shot pro DV sized tape. This meant that not only was I going to lose more than a day waiting for the shots but I would also have to hire a local video house here in Los Angeles to transfer the interview into a mini DV format which I could edit with my own equipment.

A similar scenario unfolded with professor Joseph Luczkovich from East Carolina University. He had a friend shoot him using a digital camera while I conducted the interview over the phone and while I received the file within hours, it was formatted for a PC and I had to find a way to convert it for my Mac. Since I had no time to find friendly shareware, I had to pay for a program that I only used once.

Thankfully, when the audio files of fish grunting, humming and jack-hammering came in, they were easy to incorporate.

By the end of the weekend, I had a cut ready to send to the New York Times for their approval. I began to upload the file, but in the middle of the transfer the connection dropped. As I did not have authority to alter any file on the New York Times’ computer system, I had to start the file transfer all over again. This happened with several versions as the deadline approached in New York. A kind editor stayed late that Monday night to make sure the file had landed in the system properly and to drop it into the web version of the story.

i-055c61601e14b26c4261524be56e90aa-noisy fish grab.jpg
NYT fish story includes audio from the fish

On Tuesday, when the story ran, everyone’s efforts paid off. The piece, What’s Making that Awful Racket? Surprisingly, It May be Fish, raced up the popularity charts. I refreshed my browser every few minutes until I could victoriously watch it land on the “Top Ten Most Emailed List.”

I am certain that images and audio certainly contributed to that result. However, the process to bring it all together made it clear to me that the production flow was profoundly flawed for collaboration and sharing.

Emergence of Stroome

Out of this confusion arose the phoenix we now call Stroome. The site was developed to solve the problems I encountered working on the fish story. Today, instead of files and tapes being sent from one location to another silo, everyone involved would simply join the “NY Times Fish” group that I would have created on Stroome. Each individual with content – video, audio or photographs – would then upload to that group. Using that material, I would have been able to edit the first version for the New York Times to instantaneously view. If any editor saw the need for a change, she would just click on “Copy and Remix” to make the changes or add any necessary comments. All of this would have been kept private to the group until the story was ready to be pushed across the web.

There is a multitude of other ways to use Stroome. Anyone can create a group — public or private — and share and remix content with friends, colleagues or like-minded Stroome members. Shared video can be shot at the same place or from across the globe. Stories can focus on a single narrative or take multiple directions. I hope many uses will also be found for it which I cannot conceive. Kind of like the inconceivable idea of talking fish. Except it’s true. Fish do talk. You can even get a ringtone for your mobile phone. Check it out.