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Cowbird: From Journaling to Journalism

By CARISSA BLUESTONE

Cowbird works well as a platform for sharing travel stories and photos (Screenshot: Cowbird.com)

Sites that help you share trip photos and map favorite places are a dime a dozen. But Cowbird, a new diary platform with a global eye, could help you hone trip tidbits into travel journalism.

Cowbird’s lofty aim is to build “a public library of human experience” through short, heavily meta-tagged, multimedia stories. Although you can use the site as a private journal, Cowbird’s founder, artist Jonathan Harris, hopes the stories can be interwoven in meaningful ways to document unfolding global “sagas” (the Occupy movement, for example). It’s then that your thoughts on the interesting graffiti you photographed while on a weekend trip become participatory journalism.

Cowbird allows you to filter by Stories, People, Places and Topics (Screenshot: Cowbird.com)

It’s too soon to say whether Cowbird’s goals are attainable; in the more than 10,000 stories on the site so far, entries range from arch essays on missing an ex to harrowing snapshots of being a recovering addict. But some travel writers are already finding the platform useful. Brian Kevin, for example, is posting wonderful updates as he winds his way through South America, researching his upcoming book The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail through South America. And unlike Facebook fodder, even unpolished entries seem thoughtful and heartfelt.

And that’s the whole point of Cowbird. Though its tools are current—the site uses Creative Commons licenses to allow fellow storytellers to use your content (with attribution) in their own remixes—its editorial attitude is old school: “Many social networking tools encourage incessant, continuous updates, under of the premise of fostering ‘nowness,’ but we prefer a different kind of nowness…Live your life. Take your time. See, and feel deeply. Later, with the clarity of hindsight, tell stories to make sense of your experience.”

A little preachy? Sure. But it hits on exactly what characterizes great, enduring travel writing. Whether you decide to share your work or not, looking for ways to meaningfully contribute to one of the sagas could add an interesting dimension to a trip.

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