Will Wright Brings THRED-ed Storytelling to Mobile Devices

We speak to Will Wright, who introduces us to THRED, a new social networking app that allows users to take images from various sources to create stories. Using the app, people can share their experiences in an easy to read way right from their phones. Get to know how Wright went from Spore to THRED.


Will Wright, creator of SimCity and The Sims, isn't in game development anymore but that doesn't mean that he's sitting back in retirement. In fact, the person who has largely been associated with virtual life is now creating a means for people to better express their real lives through an app called THRED. How does one go from developing games to creating a social networking app? Wright explains that although many might see a big divide between the two types of projects, he doesn't. Even his games, such as The Sims and Spore, weren't necessarily games in the traditional sense. Players treated them more as tools for self expression, community, and storytelling. THRED seeks to do much the same thing in a different way.

So, what is THRED? The short answer is that it's a custom photo sharing social networking app. It's similar in some ways to Instagram and Google Stories, except that it has tools for searching out images from the internet to add to your narrative. Stories are organized into panels, which can be browsed like book covers with a swipe. Tapping on one opens a user-created, image based, story similar to a comic book, comprised of personal photos and images from the web, which is read by swiping further.

Wright explains that the reason for developing THRED comes from an interest in seeing how you can use information from multiple sources like the web, Facebook, etc. He states, "I was interested in how we could take data that's surrounding you from all these different islands and streams, and bring it together to create content that you can share very easily."

Other applications are tied to larger services, originally meant for full monitors, and have to be shrunken down to fit onto mobile screens. But for many people, mobile devices have become their primary entertainment and computing platforms. Wright admits that he consumes most of his content with his phone and hardly uses his PC for it anymore. Wright further states, "These devices know a lot about us. They carry our photos, they know where we're going." THRED is designed from the ground up for easy access to stories from mobile devices, in an experience Wright describes as, "What can you do with one hand at Starbucks?" With THRED, he can quickly browse stories, and if he sees a story he likes, he can "dive right in."

In creating a story, or Thred, users arrange a collection of photos from various sources in sequential order. Images can then be customized with various editing tools like text bubbles, filters and stickers, which can also be converted from web images. Wright demonstrated this by bringing up a photo of his hotel, then searching the internet for random images, before settling on one of an old wooden sail ship. THRED automatically converted the small image into a workable sticker, and it could be placed anywhere on the photo. Most importantly, links can be placed onto images, which connect to other stories like hyperlinks. The end result can be any story you want to tell, whether it be a game, interactive fiction, a historical timeline, or a tour. By using THRED, your mobile devices becomes more than a means of just consuming information, but it also becomes a more useable way to create content.

THRED also keeps a record, based on the images you've used and its sources, of the different locations you've been to. The "My Day" tool picks through images based on the locations you choose and will automatically create a thred with embedded links for you to work with. In furthering the community aspect, links may lead to other stories that have occurred in the area, illustrating the geographical connection between narratives or your own stories. Other community features include a commenting system, bookmarking, hashtags and Likes.

Wright uses THRED to experiment in a number of different ways, but he currently has a particular fascination with history and the Russian space program. With THRED, he compiles photos and images of newspaper clippings to tell space stories that are narrated with text bubbles.

The app releases on the iTunes app store today, and it supports up to 30 images for a single story. Although the system could support more, initial tests showed that most narratives topped out at around 20. If users require more space, they can create new threds and link to them. Stories can be viewed from the app, via the THRED web application, or they can be exported for sharing on sites like Facebook.

However, even with the great potential THRED has for storytelling, the app is still in its early release phase. THRED is exclusive to iPhones right now, but Android and tablet versions currently in development. It also can't handle animated photos or videos yet - with both presenting a technical and usability challenge, since threds are meant for people to quickly read through and jump into at any point. Videos, on the other hand, require more time and engagement. But so many memes are spread using video and animations, that it would be hard to imagine a future for THRED without it, so it is almost certainly something to see in the future.

THRED is available for download now on the iTunes app store.

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