Meograph, new storytelling startup that launched in July, gives online journalists and storytellers an added dimension that too often has been missing: context.

With Meograph, you can create what co-founder and CEO Misha Leybovich calls “4D storytelling” through a simple interface that lets users add images, video and text to a story they want to tell. It’s free.

“The big vision is that we want to democratize the creation of interactive video storytelling,” Leybovich said over coffee at ING Cafe in San Francisco earlier this month.

Today if you have a story to tell, you can publish a video to YouTube and write a blog post about it, but it starts to get funky if you want to add a lot of photos or tell how the story evolves over time. Meograph lets you create and share interactive stories that combine video with maps, a timeline and links, filling in that often missing context of where and when.

Below is an example of a meograph created by UniNoticias:

When you create an account, you log in to create a story in as little as 10 minutes by following simple prompts in an intuitive interface. Then you add media — any YouTube video, along with photos, maps, time stamps, narration and annotations — to give it that 4D storytelling flavor: content, context, interactivity and connection (and links to explore at a deeper level).

Producers can embed the resulting “meograph” on a website or in a blog, just as you embed a YouTube video.

“This is the next dimension of digital storytelling,” Leybovich said. “It’s not just passively watching a video. You can be involved and watch it in two minutes or spend an hour exploring links.”

Targeting Journalists, Educators and More

This is still early days for Leybovich and his partner, who make up the team. It’s a web-based application so there’s nothing to download and no mobile app, though you can watch a meograph on a mobile device.

“It’s hard to incentivize people to tell stories,” he said. “People like to take photos and do check-ins and simple one-off things. But no matter how easy you make the tool, storytelling is always going to require a process or plot.”

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Meograph CEO Misha Leybovich

Leybovich isn’t sure if a storytelling tool will attract millions of regular content creators, but he thinks it has the potential to attract millions of viewers. “A storytelling platform needs to take a different approach than a social network,” he said.

Meograph is off to a good start, with more than 8,000 users who’ve created more than 35,000 moments (interactive stories). Instead, the business plan calls for targeting journalists, educators, tour professionals, marketers, as well as specific use cases such as weddings, babies, graduations and genealogy.

“We’re focusing on anyone who’s not a professional content creator but who wants to easily and quickly produce professional-quality content,” he said.

Meograph has been focusing on producers rather than the end users who watch the resulting works, so there’s no search capability on the site, though that’s coming soon.

To date a few news organizations have been using Meograph, as well as tourism professionals who want their itinerary to come to life and universities that are using it for campus tours and to highlight study abroad programs.

Chicagotalks used Meograph last month to cover the Chicago Marathon. The site reported:

The reporters found they could take what they had reported during the marathon, at different times of day, and all around the race course and Chicago, and include their stories as “moments” on a timeline that displays the date and time of each moment and a view of the location. The race reporting is exciting because it gives you a sense of the race over time and space. The reporters included interviews, videos, photos, and lots of links to material like a map of the race course. One reporter got the story of the missing medals first hand. Another reported from her home, which is on the race course, presenting the race from a resident’s point of view. The reporting moments are vignettes, but reported using this unique tool, the user gets a customizable view of a big day for Chicago.

The time dimension is especially compelling: You can not only aggregate different contributors’ reports about an event but update your meograph in the days or weeks ahead — and anyone who has embedded your meograph on their site will then see the updated version.

Leybovich said there’s little competition between video-focused Meograph with Storify, which is primarily a tool for mashing up text, tweets and images (though it has now added video capabilities). We wrote about Storify two years ago.

Said Leybovich: “We want to be the democratized Adobe. Ninety-nine percent of the population is never going to learn to use those tools [Final Cut Pro, Photoshop and the like]. But everyone has a story to tell. Our goal is to make the storytelling process easy while making the output varied and interesting to watch.”

We’ll be watching Meograph as it evolves and gets wider uptake by prosumers and professionals in the months ahead.

J.D. Lasica is a social media consultant, strategist, public speaker, journalist and author. He is founder of Socialbrite.org, a social media consulting firm for nonprofits and a learning hub with hundreds of free resources and tutorials on how to use social media. He also runs Socialmedia.biz, a social media consultancy for businesses. J.D. was co-founder of Ourmedia.org, the first free video hosting and sharing site, and has been named one of Silicon Valley’s top 40 influencers, one of the top 100 influencers in social media and one of CNET’s Top 100 Media Bloggers. He has over 18,000 followers on Twitter at at Socialmedia.biz.