Digital storytelling by big data and AI: What Google & UNHCR partnership suggests.

Last week, some might notice something different on the Google’s top page. Not a creative doodle. I’m talking about a line of small letters under the search bar,  a warning about the Syrian crisis and a link to a website called “Searching for Syria.” If you click it, a landing page below appears. And it will certainly prompt you to do something to stop this unprecedented human tragedy.

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“Searching for Syria” is a new public relations partnership between, a google’s philanthropic arm,  and UNHCR. And this is also a powerful digital storytelling project we rarely see in the NGO and non-profit world.

The “Searching for Syria” website combines UNHCR data and stories, and Google Search Trends and other sources to deliver answers to the five most common queries that people around the world are asking about the Syrian refugee crisis:

  • What was Syria like before the war?
  • What is happening in Syria?
  • Who is a refugee?
  • Where are Syrian refugees going?
  • How can I help Syrian refugees?

Jacqueline Fuller, VP of, says among the top searches in Germany, France, and the UK last year was: What is happening in Syria?.The website responds these questions by providing a visually-striking content including short editorial passages in five languages, refugee profiles, and 360-degree photographs and videos. The website also offers options for your actions: sharing content via social networks, donating or signing up to UNHCR’s #WithRefugees global petition.

This type of multimedia digital storytelling style has already become common for the new generation of social impact-oriented charities like Watsi, Pencils of Promise, and charity: water. As nonprofits start to realise the power of digital fundraising, they are migrating much of their communications to the digital and mobile spaces. However, as Network for Good’s State of Storytelling whitepaper suggests, non-profits lag behind the usage of video, SEO, and interactive websites. Specifically, they are still struggling to adopt the video communication despite the fact it’s the fastest growing communication tool. We all know visuals can be worth more than 1,000 words.

Deep Learning and Artificial Intelligence

While non-profits are slowly adopting the digital and mobile shift, businesses are already leveraging not only SEO but also an algorithm, AI, deep learning and machine learning to tell stories. For instance, an AI called natural language processing can read the post or text and determine its “sentiments.” By using this technology (Nvidia or many AI companies offer the service), you can test which stories or social media posts generate the most positive response from the audience or event predict what kind of emotional sstructures of stories can make the audience happy.  Machine learning has already used by many tech companies, from Twitter to Pinterest to Facebook, in order to provide the users with more relevant posts, tweets, photos or even live-streaming videos. Learn how AI and deep learning control what you see on your Facebook or how Twitter is using AI to build a better customer experience.

As we see in this UNHCR/ partnership, charities can afford those advanced technologies for their data-driven digital storytelling by partnering with a right tech company. I feel data-driven approaches are something charities need to adopt right now and to do so, they need to tap into companies’ or universities’ resources more creatively.







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