The second version of Antho was a service that curated digital museums of personal histories for families, built on top of an app that allowed friends and family members to contribute additional stories in perpetuity. It incorporated multiple perspectives, journalistic interview techniques, art-gallery-inspired presentation, and a combination of high-definition film, high-fidelity audio, archival photography, and lightly-edited transcription. I worked full-time on this entrepreneurial venture from 2013 to 2015.
This version resulted from months of iteration and research. According to our customer development research, a significant majority of our research subjects were (1) motivated to do family history work by a desire to know more about their family heritage, (2) thought that stories were the most valuable aspect of family history, and (3) felt that time was the greatest barrier in enjoying more of their family history. They also felt that (4) the most compelling way to document a life story was a collection of both autobiographical and biographical accounts. In other words, our target audience of Millennials was not as motivated to write down old stories as they were in discovering new stories from our parents and grandparents.
We conducted secondary research on the family history industry, poring through books and trade journals to give us context of the supplies and demands of family history economy. Seeking for ways we could innovate from current stale business models, we met with the former CEO of FamilySearch and a local director of a genealogy research center.
We wanted to take advantage of our target audience’s desire to discover, by developing a potentially scalable small business idea that would compile the stories of parents, and put them online to make them more accessible and engaging to younger audiences. We hoped to inspire greater intergenerational progress through more transparent and authentic family narratives. The premise of the company was based on a hybrid content-creation model that incorporated both user-generated biographical content and company-curated autobiographical material. Through our research on Clayton Christensen’s business theories, we decided to focus on a “job to be done,” which was documenting life stories of those who were older, whose stories were almost finished, and in danger of losing their memories.
To engage younger families in the work, we took a digital, interactive, and multimedia approach. For inspiration, we looked to contemporary museums for principles of curation, and took design tips from various print publications. We analyzed StoryCorps and Humans of New York for new, creative approaches to life storytelling, as we sought for deeper and more meaningful interview questions and answers. To cater our content to users of all ages and devices, we studied and implemented responsive web design.
This research-driven iteration eventually led to dozens of new clients. We traveled to client’s homes, set up a Canon DSLR camera and a Zoom audio recorder to shoot HD film and interviewed the primary subject(s) along with a few close relatives. We built out themed storylines, timelines, and family trees, complete with films, audio clips, and guestbook functionality.
Despite the eventual closure of our company, the experience has invaluably emboldened and enlightened me in the nuances, guiding principles, and trade offs in risk-taking, prototyping, and innovating.
Dive more deeply into the details of Antho II's interactive design through the pages below:
- We could have spent more of our inspiration research in people’s homes, observing how families put together family histories. This could have resulted in insights not obtainable at a coffee shop or over the phone (or by interviewing just one individual).
- We could have done more to preserve our team (or call for reinforcements), when we suffered attrition from unexpectedly incapacitating life events.
- We were amateur designers and programmers, and it was probably buggier and slower than the typical prototype. Without years of experience, we were not yet craftsmen in technology, and all our work, as a result, was relatively less efficient and precise. Knowing this, we should have chosen to test the idea first with a low-tech prototype. If we had tried but could not come up with a low-tech prototype to test the idea, then — remembering our weakness — we should have seriously considered changing our idea to one that we could test with a low-tech prototype. This would have expedited the design process and given us more chances at iteration.
- We may have been able to foresee the potential external family issues that resulted from a relative’s at-the-time recent diagnosis of terminal cancer (during our startup, two close family members ended up succumbing to cancer’s fatal effects). We could have waited for a more opportune season in life, when such events and its attendant limitations would be less likely to disrupt our work.
- When professional advice was given to us, it was given so liberally and varyingly, that we could have chosen almost any avenue we wanted. We should have filtered it based on the source and if the source was successful through applying his own advice. Instead, by rationalizing that certain advice “fit our situation,” we inadvertently followed the advice that fit our wants, not our business's needs.