Storytelling for the WhatsApp generation

A US-based start-up, Fools and Geniuses, has just launched the first fully-immersive real-time story told through a messenger app to the public. Released on 23 January on iTunes Last Seen Online, tells the creepy story of Amy Morris, a 25 year-old-girl who disappears after a night out with friends. The app costs GBP0.79 /USD0.99 (€0.92) in the App Store worldwide.

As well as a narrative, the voyeuristic tale gives the reader access to Amy Morris’ personal text messages. The story begins at 8.17am local time the day after you download the app, then over the course of seven days the user receives 500 text, image, audio and video messages from Amy’s family and friends as they slowly uncover why she never made it home – all in real time.

The reader also has access to the character’s extensive chat history which allows the user to delve into Amy’s past, relationships and secrets, as they try and piece together the clues for themselves.

Adam Lowe, co-creator and writer of the story said: ‘Technology and storytelling have often been seen as opposites. However, the truth is that technology can offer new ways to deliver compelling narratives. We’ve used a medium that millions use every day to deliver a real-time experience unlike any other.’

The creators of the app say they want to change the way people experience long-form stories by delivering them in real time through ‘WhatsApp-style’ messages. It removes the need to flick through a novel, allowing you to read the story through bitesize messages delivered to your phone.

So why the shift? According to Comscore, 91 per cent of our time on mobile is spent within messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Shib Hussain, co-creator added: ‘We wanted to create something that feels in line with our behaviours on mobile, and taps into a trend of telling much richer, immersive stories. So, we made Last Seen Online. It’s fiction for the WhatsApp generation.’

Lowe and Hussain, who formerly launched Tab Dating, a Chrome-based dating app, previously worked in digital advertising, telling stories for some of the world’s biggest brands such as Google, Siemens, Nike and Axe.

The startup plans to push out more immersive, real-time stories over the next few months, an Android version is in development and planned for early 2017.