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An interview with TowerBabel

TowerBabel is a start up based in Hong Kong, founded in April 2013. Its mission is to simplify the way the way we create, collaborate and share stories. It believes digital platform is more than just a distribution channel, it can innovate the way we create content and enrich the ways of storytelling. The Literary Platform caught up with Yeung Shing, Founder and CEO of TowerBabel to ask him a bit more about the thinking behind the platform.

Tell us about TowerBabel, and what inspired you to create it?

We all have stories to tell. Ever since the writing system was invented in ancient civilizations, people have been recording stories on clay tablets, scrolls, codexes, manuscripts and the like. These are early forms of books.

Now we are in the digital age, with the emergence of social media and mobile devices, it’s become ever easier to share and distribute information to the masses. However, very little has been innovated around the creation process of digital prints. The current concept of ‘eBook’ is merely reformatting text to fit on various digital devices for consumption, but we think it can be more than that.

That’s why we created TowerBabel, with the vision that the digital platform is more than just a distribution channel, instead, it can innovate the way we create content and enrich the ways of storytelling.

What makes it different to other reading and writing tools?

At the heart of our platform is a focus on collaboration. While writing is often viewed as a solitary experience, producing a book is never a lone sole endeavor. Even with self-publishing, you will still need a proofreader, editor, illustrator and book cover artist in order to become successful.

On TowerBabel, we have built solid technologies that enable the type of collaboration to happen. Just finished your first manuscript? Invite someone as contributor to help proofread, edit or design the book cover. Ever fancied writing a fantasy or sci-fi story with friends? We have the control tools in place for authors to create a world together, but branch off to different sub-plots and endings.

When you self publish your works with us, we never lock in exclusive publishing rights (unlike Amazon KDP select). You retain ownership of your content, and many authors use our platform as a portfolio showcase and a promotional venue.

Who uses it? Does it attract more readers or writers?  

We are currently attracting many indie and self-published authors on board. Our readers’ demographics are also quite diverse, with members mostly from English speaking countries such as North America, UK and India but we also see users from China, Mexico, Egypt, and all the way from Kenya. It’s really exciting to see the international breath of our user base, and we think it will be attractive to authors who are looking to reach beyond their local readership.

Have you noticed any interesting international differences in the readers/writers using the platform in terms of style, preferences, etc? 

In addition to books published by our members, we have a collection of great classic books, from Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Dickens, Tolstoy to Kafka, James Joyce and George Orwell. We noticed readers from non-native English speaking countries read a great deal of classic books. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t have easy access to them, unlike readers in America, the UK and EU, or perhaps it’s because today’s younger generation can’t read beyond Harry Porter and The Hunger Games…  Nevertheless, it’s always a welcoming sign to see that people still enjoy classic novels.

How important is collaboration to the creative process?

“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” – William Plomer

Collaboration fosters these types of connections; it enables the collision of different viewpoints and ideas that sparks creativity. One can look to the film and music industries as examples. A true masterpiece always involves artists, producers, directors and countless others working together.

But finding a good collaborator is no easy task. I always believe in diversity so I tend to look for someone that has a different background and experience, someone who can bring a fresh perspective to things and drive intellectual discussion.

What are the issues of collaborative writing and intellectual property? Who owns the collaborative writing project? 

One of the challenges of collaborative writing is how to keep the story structure and voice cohesive. In terms of intellectual property, on TowerBabel, the works are licensed under creative commons which is widely adopted on the web (e.g. by Wikipedia).

Collaborative writing has been practiced vigorously in the academic and business worlds, something born out of necessity – through division of labor and subject matter expertise, rather than creativity. In the creative space, script and screenwriters collaborate a lot; for example, the great TV series Rome is written and directed by different people.

In order for a collaborative writing project to be successful, it still needs a single editing voice (e.g. Executive Producer), and requires some degree of governance and project management.

There are lessons to be learned from the A Million Penguins experiment. It’s a big topic.

What lies in the future for TowerBabel?

We really want to create a more social experience for both reading and writing. At the moment, we are working on building up a community, a place for writers and readers to connect, share reviews, tips and form book clubs. In the longer run, we want to be a platform to help facilitate transmedia storytelling, by harnessing the power of technology.

We are still at an early stage and we are constantly listening to our users and improving our product. So come join our community and publish your works with us today. We would love to hear your thoughts.

You can test out the new TowelBabel platform now.


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