storytellingWhen John Volturo left his position as CMO of BeachMint in July, it wasn’t to relax on a beach somewhere. The former Guthy-Renker and BMG-Direct marketer wanted to take the lessons from his career in storytelling and community building to reinvent collaborative content creation and entertainment for the mobile world.

Volturo launched Version 1.0 of Scriball in the iOS App Store about 10 days ago, inviting users to create “wacky Web tales that evolve from posts shared by you and your friends.” The premise of the app is asynchronous story writing, 121 characters at a time. The author begins a story thread by selecting a content theme, and writing the first – and sometimes last – line. Alternatively, the author can click the “surprise me” button and have professionally written first and last lines delivered to them.

From there, other users are invited to contribute additional lines to the story. Members of the community are invited to vote on submitted lines, with the most popular being permanently added to the story. The app currently offers several dozen content themes including chick lit, action, adventure, fan fiction, mystery romance, and LGBT. Authors can choose multiple themes and can even layer on top “moods” such as ditzy, embarrassed, energetic, mischievous, and scary.

Stories are currently limited to a maximum of 30 lines (authors can set limits of less than 30), largely because Volturo wants to make sure that enough stories get finished, but it’s likely that longer form Scriballs will be possible in the future. Why 121 characters? Because it’s not too much of a burden to create, and because a sentence of that length takes 9 seconds to read, according to Volturo, meaning that a 30 line Scriball will be a manageable length.

The founder and his team chose to roll out the app quietly, wishing to just sit back and see how users were engaging. The early response has been positive, particularly in the 13 to 25 year old female demographic and among professional authors. For the former, Scriball seems to be a perfect, lightweight entertainment experience along the lines of a “Mad Libs 2.0.” Not surprisingly romance and adventure have been popular content themes for this demographic.

For the professional crowd, Scriball offers a place to test out storylines and characters, and to seek feedback and inspiration from others. Volturo says he has already been approached by several literary agents and professors with ideas on how to engage with and add value to this community.

But Scriball is not just about content creation. In fact, only 52 percent of users currently create content. The rest are spending time – more than the creators in fact – consuming content and voting on proposed lines. In this way, the app provides a similar lightweight entertainment product along the lines of Twitter, sans links to outside content.

There are tons of game mechanics that Volturo can add to incentivize and reward desired behaviors like voting, sharing to social media, and contributing content. But this is still a very early version of the Scriball product and the founder is pleased with the levels of engagement.

Whether any of this leads to a runaway hit is yet to be seen. As my colleague Hamish McKenzie put it, “The product sounds fun and quirky – but I wonder who really is going to use it, and how often, and how quickly they might lose interest. Is it too gimmicky to be a business?”

There are no plans to monetize Scriball in the near future, although the options are obvious. Beyond simple mobile advertising, there are opportunities to have branded topics and contests, as well as to offer premium features to pro users. Down the road, a content marketplace may even make sense

Volturo has yet to raise any outside capital, instead bootstrapping things to date and relying primarily on outside contractors to build the early versions of the product. One of the biggest coups to date was the recent addition of former Fox Entertainment Group chairman and current MediaLink chief creative officer Sandy Grushow as an advisor, opening enormous opportunities in the media and entertainment space.

As Words With Friends and LetterBox have proven, language games can be highly engaging and wildly popular. And professional authors like Jennifer Egan and Margaret Atwood have taken to Twitter to write entire longform stories, proving that bite sized publishing and content creation is possible. With more and more people both creating and consuming content on mobile devices, the next logical step is collaborative creation. Scriball provides a lightweight and entertaining foray into the category.

[Image courtesy TangYauHoong]