Biograph was imagined and designed by people who love and study storytelling. Our team includes award-winning poets and scholars: people who care deeply about community and the arts. Biograph was created by authors for authors. It’s designed to bring the joy of storytelling to everyone with a smartphone—no matter how much writing puzzles you.
In designing the app, we had two modest goals. First, we wanted to revolutionize the writing process by bringing innovative digital tools into everyone’s hands. AI-powered transcription is a game-changer, empowering writers to tell stories with rich context and atmosphere in real time. Suddenly, the most ephemeral language can be preserved.
Second, we wanted to dig into the past and recover some enduring truths. When you turn to some of the greatest literary achievements in our culture—say, The Iliad or Hamlet—you discover that they’re not the work of an isolated genius. Rather, great literature comes from collaboration and community. We aimed to create a space for that collaboration, free from the toxicity of Old Social Media.
Biograph thus looks in two directions at once. On the one hand, we’re facing the future, bringing exciting technologies to writers. On the other hand, we’re looking to the past, reviving community as the key to great writing. In this article, we walk you through some of our thinking, showing you how we were inspired by figures like Shakespeare—and how we were motivated by the failings of Old Social Media giants to build something better.
A Common Myth About Authors
Good writing doesn’t come from some isolated genius in an ivory tower, staring out at the stormy sea. Rather, it comes from a community, the richness of conversation, debate, and gossip.
You probably know those epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, supposedly sung by a poet named Homer. But you might not know that Homer isn’t a real person. In fact, there probably never was a poet named Homer. Really, “Homer” is many different poets—travelling musicians and singers who went from town to town, playing hand-held harps and singing songs about the Trojan War.
These songs and stories only gradually coalesced into the poems we know today; they weren’t even written in a stable form until they’d already been circulating for centuries. The story of Troy isn’t the invention of one genius; instead, it’s a collaboration of hundreds, maybe thousands of poets singing and improvising, some simultaneously, others asynchronously.
Still skeptical? Consider all the souls who shaped Shakespeare’s plays as they moved from his ink-stained page to the stage and finally into print: the bard, who jotted down notes in his garret; the stage manager, who kept the only complete copy in the house; the workers in print shops who set the type of Shakespeare’s texts, often introducing their own peculiar spellings in the process. A masterpiece, Shakespeare suggests, must be a communal product.
The Biograph app helps you build that community in the present. Our app is private by design. That means you get to invite people to your stories, on your terms. You construct the community you want to support and shape your story. You don’t have to posture for followers or verify yourself with a Blue Checkmark.
Death of the Author
Unfortunately, many of us put authors on a pedestal, as if authorship were an elite prerogative and not an inalienable right of all persons. A culture that does not recognize the potential authorship of every person cedes power to centralized authorities, or even worse, a single authoritarian dictator.
In his 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” Roland Barthes regrets that “the image of literature to be found in contemporary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his person, his history, his tastes, his passions…” Barthes offers a different vision of literature: collaborative to its core, where every piece of writing is cobbled together from scraps of other writing. It’s quotation all the way. The obsession with authors is not only misleading, Barthes says; it also blinds us to the communal, collaborative circumstances under which writing really flourishes.
Barthes expresses one of Biograph’s core beliefs: that life writing doesn’t merely describe life after the fact. Rather, it creates the future. Writing doesn’t just document reality: it helps make reality. As Barthes puts it, authors are “born simultaneously” with their text in the act of writing.
Biograph celebrates everyday acts of authorship. You can open our app and record a 60-second biograph anytime, anywhere, whether you’re illuminating grand revelations or memorializing mundane moments. Further, our conversation-based format is designed to make writing less intimidating and more enjoyable. When you open Biograph, you’re just casually thinking out loud. No need to even think of what you’re doing as writing—until you’re ready to.
Authors in the Age of Social Media
Good writing emerges from a community—shared language and support, the free exchange of ideas and influences. In Shakespeare’s day, those communities met in scummy taverns in Eastcheap. Nowadays, those communities tend to clamor online, in Twitter threads or Facebook groups—what we call Old Social Media. For those of us who love writing—and writing communities—this is a sad turn of events.
It’s true that Old Social Media has created dynamic and meaningful communities for writers. Think of someone like the best-selling poet, Rupi Kuar. Rupi has built a global audience and sold millions of copies on the strength of her Instagram posts. She doesn’t have elite degrees. And when she started, she didn’t have any connections to fancy literary agents and publishers. All she had was an internet connection. And that’s all she needed to reach audiences who might otherwise never turn to poetry. Through Old Social Media, writers have found support and encouragement online through hashtags like #amwriting and projects like NaNoWriMo.
But there’s a reason Old Social Media CEOs refer to folks as users rather than authors. A “user” is someone who uses something or someone—like technology, heroin, or child labor—but a user also refers to the one being used. Where authors possess the authority of experience, social media users are dispossessed of experience, autonomy, and self-knowledge by manipulative black box algorithms and deceptive third parties with competing interests.
Richard Seymour describes social media as “An addiction machine…We are users, much as cocaine addicts are users.” Sure, you can be both an author and a user—you might use Old Social Media technology to compose and share your work—but using Old Social Media is radically different than using a word processor, the post office, or a megaphone.
In a survey of authors using social media, Audrey Laing found that “Many authors were unclear about the benefits of using social media, in terms of building a fan base, or in terms of enhanced marketing effectiveness or sales.” Old Social Media promises community and support. But it ends up being a distraction and waste of time for authors. As one author reported of their experience on social media: “[It’s] cheap financially, virtually free, but takes about 2 hours each evening so expensive in time…is yet another distraction from writing.” As Laing observes, “Using Facebook and Twitter was sometimes seen as something that authors ought to be doing, for the sake of marketing, publicity and making contact, but the benefits were intangible so this ‘time spent’ was sometimes seen as time wasted.”
And that might be a rosy assessment. Who hasn’t watched a community on Old Social Media descend into a circular firing squad? Even the most supportive online communities end up toxic. That’s no accident. Old Social Media depends on your outrage to keep you scrolling, posting, and, above all, seeing ads. And that’s the true problem. Old Social Media might’ve become, accidentally, a space for some literary communities to flourish. But Old Social Media doesn’t care about community. They care about clicks. And they’ll gladly watch a cherished community burn if it keeps the advertising dollars rolling in.
Biograph is different. We don’t depend on ad dollars. Our app isn’t built around monetizing your outrage or pitting you against others. You can find everything you loved about social media here: community, accountability, and inspiration. But you don’t have to endure the toxic aspects of Old Social Media anymore: no more time sucks; no more verbal food fights with strangers.
Authors in the Age of Biograph
There’s a lot to like about Old Social Media—if, like us, you take the long view of writing and authorship. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have become contemporary versions of the Renaissance atelier or the Homeric performance: places for writers to collaborate with and support each other. And—as Foucault might like—the Internet has made it possible for us to preserve scraps of everyday language, language that might otherwise fall beneath the dignity of authorized writing and so be forgotten too soon.
At Biograph, we build on the promise of Twitter and Facebook: ennobling everyday acts of linguistic brilliance; creating community for writers on the Internet. But we intend to do so without the limits and pitfalls of Old Social Media. Our app can be a space for deep and serious reflection (see, for example, Toby Altman’s creation on the corner of Jackson and Dearborn) or you can use it to create thoughtful birthday cards, thank-you notes, and family mementos. You can loop in your siblings or work in private; find a broad community of Biograph authors or share your reflections with a trusted group of friends. You define what your community looks like—and how you experience Biograph. Here, unlike on Old Social Media, you’re not a user: you’re an author.