100 Unread Messages accompanies the American Interior book, film and album by former Super Furry Animals frontman. It tells the incredible story of John Evans, a distant relative of Gruff, who travelled across America in the 18th century looking for a mythical tribe of Welsh speaking Native Americans.
The idea for the app comes from a song Gruff wrote about the family of John Evans sat at home waiting for news that never came. With such a rich array of content to pick from we loved the idea of telling the story in 100 messages. The messages are distributed across a map following John's journey and are delivered in the form of film, music, photos, drawings, text, spoken word and gifs. All artwork was done by the brilliant Pete Fowler.
There's lots to say about why we like this app but I thought I'd pull out three things that are noteworthy.
1. The smart stuff in this app is hidden. Like everything else we do we look at the story first and decide on the best way of telling it. It was app of the week in The Guardian and Stuart Dredge clearly got the experience we were hoping for:
"As a technology writer who’s spent a lot of time covering apps in the last five years, my favourite thing about the American Interior app is the way it helped me get lost (again) in the John Evans story rather than thinking too much about the format in which it’s being delivered. It’s not a whizzy app: it’s a great story."
2. Every message is a Twitter card which means it can be shared as an individual piece of content embedded in a tweet. Twitter now does deep linking, which means that you can link to messages deep within the app. So if you click on a link in Twitter and already have the app and it will fire it up and bring you to that message. If you don't have the app it will fire it up in the store for you to buy.
3. There is something really interesting in the snack sized portions and physical gesture required to open each message that fires off a shot of dopamine in the brain. The first time I tested it with all the content in was on a 2 hour flight. I planned to test the first few messages but before I knew it the plane was landing and I'd pretty much been through most of them. It's incredibly addictive and a behaviour we're certain to do more research on for future projects.
Tonight (Wednesday) Gruff is performing at the Apple Store on Regent Street. He'll be telling the story and live tweeting it via the messages built into the app. So people at home will be able to follow the story Gruff tells in the store via a selection of cards embedded in Twitter.
Credits should go to everyone at Storythings for the work that went into making such a thing of beauty, Nathan Hull at Penguin for generally being ace. And the lovely Cat and Gruff and their team in Wales for their spirit of adventure.
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