"Cowbird:" A Storytelling Site

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Listening to Third Coast International Audio Festival the other day, I discovered Cowbird, a spectacular, innovative "pioneering online platform for storytellers of any stripe." It has the goal of building a public library of human experience on the commons. Along with a few short audio stories from Cowbird, Third Coast Festival featured an interview with Annie Correal, Cowbird's content manager in which she explains the eclectic title of the project:

"The name is meant to reflect the qualities of the platform: quick and agile like a bird, slow and grounded like a cow. A lot of the recent Web (including sites like Facebook and Twitter) seem to be all bird and no cow, while more traditional formats like operas and novels seem to be all cow and no bird. Cowbird combines these two extremes, forming a space that is both contemplative and efficient. Also, real-life cowbirds are known as "nest parasites": They lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and fly away. We’re like a nest for our cowbirders: leave your stories here and we’ll take care of them for you."

Cowbird was launched on Dec 8, 2011 and takes submissions consisting of images, words and audio but it's not a curated space. Rather, it's a networked tool, a platform that weaves contributions from a wide range of amateur and professional storytellers into an easy, elegant and richly interconnected space for exploration and sharing. It handily weaves diversity with quality; exposes stories that might be hard to stumble across otherwise. My favorite thing about the site might be that you can search all stories by keyword; "rabbit," "lover," "winter," etc. 

Over the past year, it has quickly grown to become a respectful and supportive international community, including nearly 6,000 stories from almost 1,000 cities across the globe. Among the forms included are: 

• audio-visual diaries

• participatory journalism

• collaborative storytelling

• reflective writing about experiences 

• dialogue

• prose poems 

• photographs and interpretations 

• interviews 

Anyone interested in contributing writes a few sentences about who they are and what they'd like to do with Cowbird, and administrators welcome each new author into the Cowbird community personally.  To get a good idea of what the site's about, listen to the excerpts on the Third Coast site; I particularly like the one titled "1,000 Words."  (Find it under the section titled "Excerpts.")