When you’re the first-ever foreigner to participate in Mongolia’s national wrestling tournament, you need a better way to tell your story than a mere travel blog. That’s why Misha Leybovich created Meograph, an interactive program that captures narratives in four dimensions.
“We’re trying to invent a new kind of storytelling,” the well-traveled entrepreneur said.
Meograph combines video with text, embedded content, and Google Earth and Google Maps to allow storytellers to recall their accounts in the context of space and time–both concepts that Leybovich became fascinated with at a young age.
“When I was eight years old, I read a book called Flatland by Edwin Abbott, and it was a mind trip as an eight year old,” Leybovich said. “It was about how to think about different dimensions: how someone in two dimensions would think about three dimensions and how someone in three dimensions would think about four dimensions. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed in the back of my mind with how do you visualize space and time together and really convey meaning through the relationship of the two.”
Before Meograph, this infatuation led Leybovich to pursue a career as an astronaut. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in engineering and a hint of business background from being the first engineer student at the university to be elected student body president, Leybovich traveled the world for a year. He returned to attend MIT, where he received two masters: one in aerospace engineering and one in technology policy.
“Most people give up the dream of being an astronaut at age five. I was 25,” Leybovich laughed.
Instead Leybovich left Boston for Argentina, where he studied tango for six months and traversed South America before settling in at McKinsey & Company for a two-year consulting stint. True to his seeming inability to stay in one place too long, Leybovich spent his first year for McKinsey in Atlanta and the second in Shanghai. His passport last year acquired 35 new stamps before he quit his job in January to move to San Francisco to start a business. Here, near his college town, the Orange County native coordinates with a team dispersed throughout the U.S. to change the way people are telling stories.
“I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial, i.e. a troublemaker, when I was a kid … When I decided not to be an astronaut, I wanted to do something that bridged the world of technology–which I loved and I’m trained as an engineer–and business, because through business, you can actually build companies that build technology that benefits people’s lives,” Leybovich said.
He believes that while everyone–every company and every individual–has a story to tell as well as creativity, not everyone knows how to employ the creative tools at their disposal. He and his team built Meograph with the intention to target those who aren’t well-versed in Final Cut Pro or Photo Shop or who are simply intimidated by beginning a story with a blank page or looking for a unique way to share a narrative.
“What we do is break down stories into simple prompts, step-by-step. A story is a collection of moments, so for each moment we say, ‘Tell us where the moment happened, tell us when it happened, tell us what happened, and give us some associated media.’ That’s a moment. Give us a few of those moments, and you’ve got yourself a story,” Leybovich said.
Because of Meograph’s highly visual way of incorporating geography into each story, it’s a platform that’s particularly useful for educators as a creative method of teaching lessons and for journalists as a new means of contextualizing the news. For the individual, its most evident use is a travelogue, but Leybovich is excited to see what people come up with once Meograph is available for public use in July.
“One of the coolest things about creating a platform like this is you really don’t know ahead of time what people are going to do, so I’m looking forward to the way people surprise us,” he said.
And what of the company’s tagline, “four-dimensional storytelling?”
“Four-dimensional just being space and time. Space is three dimensions, and time is the fourth dimension,” Leybovich said. “It started out that way because I’m a nerd and I like things like that, but what I’ve found is that it evokes the idea behind a new type of storytelling, one where you’re not passively sitting back and watching it but where you can actually engage in the story and dive into it.”
In the future, Leybovich plans to extend Meograph’s four-dimensional concept into other realms. He envisions a Meograph for medicine where rather than maps, the fourth dimension will be a rendering of the human body, and the Meograph will become a tool doctors use to educate their patients. Wherever a story can be told, Leybovich wants to employ Meograph’s principles.
“Whether [your story] is a global spanning one or whether you’ve stayed in the same town your whole life, everyone has a story to tell, and the cool thing is we’re trying to invent a new type of storytelling,” he said.