Where were you when you heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed? Like millions of others I was on Twitter when I first heard the news. But if it wasn’t there I would probably have heard via Facebook, or some other social network.

Social networks are now so much more than simply ways for us to interact with one another, they are also the channels that many of us now use to gather news, tell stories or share insight. It’s a promise that makes traditional media nervous — and rightly so — but until Storify appeared it was hard to imagine exactly how these new social and fluid networks fitted into the media mix.

Now we know, or at least have a starting point.

Storify, which allows anyone to build their own stories using a wide range of social networks, is one of the most exciting new media tools to emerge in recent years. The free service makes it easy to find Tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos, Google searches and Flickr images on a particular topic and “mash” them up into a timeline of events, a showcase of responses or a news story.

But the major thing Storify does is make it easy. You don’t have to be an expert programmer, a propeller-head or hold a degree in multimedia manipulation to pull together a coherent stream. It’s a straighforward drag-and-drop operation. You can include just about any online stream of information and combine those into fascinating timelines of events.

Not only that, Storify “stories” can be published directly to other sites or embedded in existing stories.

The job of journalism is to tell stories. It is also to make news easy to understand and use. I previously wrote about The Explainer and how it could be used to provide context to complex stories. Storify is very different to the idea of an explainer but serves a similar purpose: it makes it easier for readers to visualise and digest news.

One of my first experiments with Storify was one on the Walk to Work campaign in Uganda. Growing unhappiness with Yoweri Musveni’s government had prompted sustained protests by opposition parties, including a Walk to Work campaign. The protests resulted in violence, police action and repeated arrests for opposition forces. The news from Uganda was generally bad but not all that plentiful. Twitter, however, was abuzz with news and so I constructed a timeline of events. That story is embedded below.

For more examples of Storify in action take a look at the Storify website. Then create an account and get going.