Three years ago, Lake Forest residents Michelle and Richard Forsythe sought digital answers to an analog desire.
The couple, who met in a writing class more than 17 years ago, found it difficult to find comprehensive information about French wine and other topics that interested them beyond short articles that were easy to read on mobile devices.
"What if we could put all of this interesting stuff in one place instead of scouring the web, the way we used to do in bookstores, and browse and walk up and down aisles and say, 'That looks interesting'?" said Michelle. "That's what we tried to recreate for the iPhone."
That has led to the creation of NoteStream, a multi-platform app that showcases long-form content in a mobile-friendly way, building a curated virtual library ranging from lifestyle bloggers to authors of classics such as Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."
"Most people go to a website and have an infinitely long web page, but it doesn't make stuff readable," said Richard, NoteStream's chief technology officer. "It's great to just skim through to find a fact, but it's not good for reading interesting articles."
The couple is challenging what has become a widely viewed idea of mobile readers.
"A lot of publishers, they've been herded into thinking that content has to be short, it has to be brief, and NoteStream proves that that is not the case," said Michelle, the company's chief executive officer. "Long-form content is more shareable and has a longer shelf life."
NoteStream started out as "amusing little drawings on screens," as Michelle put it, that evolved into the current app, which is handled mainly by Richard, who has a background in technology.
"The world is moving into the mobile phone," he said. "Fewer and fewer people have access to a desktop."
While Michelle, who dabbled in fashion design and mortgage lending before delving into the tech industry, is the first to admit that she's not "a technology-type person," that trait has helped to fine-tune the use of the app.
"My job is to make it workable as a user who's not a tech-centric person," she said. "I ask, 'Am I going to use this? Would it make sense to me? Would I have to go through this complicated tutorial?' I want it to be really intuitive."
NoteStream has more than 30,000 users, and the couple are in the process of launching an Android version of the app.
In the past few months, the app has grown to include the launch of virtual book clubs and partnerships with the Aquarium of the Pacific and Roger's Gardens to put out their content through NoteStream.
Pacific Symphony recently began making its program notes — information published in a program — available through the app in advance of a performance.
"It makes the information about concerts available earlier in a format that is approachable at anytime, instead of just when you're walking in the door," said Frank Terraglio, vice president of marketing and public relations for Pacific Symphony, which performs in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
"Our overall goal is to serve the community in ways they want to be served, and as we start seeing people interact more on mobile devices, we need to be in that space."
This month, NoteStream released David and Michelle Gardner's "iCandidate," the first book exclusively written and published for the app.
The thriller, which launched on Feb. 1, is being presented as more of a reality series with characters resembling the current Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.
App users can vote for specific candidates, steering the direction of the book's plot based on the votes.
"We started talking about the possibilities of what an app would hold for an interactive novel, not just a novel on paper, which is a static form, but as a novel that would interact with readers," said David Gardner. "The response has been fantastic."
Michelle Forsythe said the feedback from "iCandidate" has generated interest from a couple of other authors wanting to release their works through the app. She added that NoteStream has already lined up another book in March, "Divas," which will also be an interactive novel.
"Everything we've been doing has kind of been leading up to where 'iCandidate' is going to take NoteStream," Michelle said. "We're building in technology where readers get to vote in the app and influence the story. We're releasing video, we have characters in the book that are releasing their own blog posts. We're getting this multi-dimensional interact experience."
Also in the works are podcasts with actors trying to play the roles of the candidates and a live chat where readers will be able to talk to the characters.