Saturday, August 13, 2005

Why we created Glypho?


Glypho is a website we have created for online collaboration in fiction writing. I believe that this site will be a valuable addition to the online readers and writers community. In this blog, I intend to describe the thought process and philosophy behind Glypho.

Artistic Creation Viewpoint

In the last few years, the internet community has seen an upsurge of blogs, wikis, message boards, and forums. Creative energy has been flowing into the internet from all around the world. However, little has been done to direct all this creativity into a common channel for artistic creation like fiction. I believe that internet has immense potential for facilitating collaborative work from like-minded people sitting in opposite corners of the world. Let me first delve into some of the existing mediums where internet users spend a lot of time writing:
  1. Blogs: Very nice for individual authors to publish their opinions and ideas. Some blogs do allow you to add other users as editors, but it still is not great for large scale collaboration.
  2. Wiki: Excellent model for document creation and maintenance, but is this a good model for fiction creation? No. It is too flexible for fiction writing: you cannot afford to have someone change the foundation in the first chapter, on which the tenth chapter is being written now. Besides, the only way to contribute is to directly edit the text. There is no other brainstorming tool except a discussion board. And above all, how do you end a novel in Wiki? I will come to the technology part in the next section.
  3. Forums and Message Boards: Nice for discussing news releases and common interests. Some enthusiasts have turned a forum into a running storyboard. It has been lot of fun but hasn't generated much notable work. I am not blaming the writers here, it is the model that is not particularly suitable for fiction writing.
So, what is missing in this picture? None of the above models are built to support fiction writing. This is where Glypho comes in. Glypho is a collaboration model completely geared towards effective fiction writing in a group. Here is how it works:

  1. A user creates a project containing the story idea
  2. The first chapter is opened for contribution
  3. Other users submit plot ideas and characters based on the synopsis and chapter contributions
  4. Multiple users submit contributions for the same chapter using tips from 1. and 3. Each chapter contribution requires a minimum of 1000 words.
  5. Readers submit reviews and rate the submissions generated in 4
  6. Each contributor refines his submission based on reviews from 5
  7. After an interval of 30 days, the best contribution is selected as the chapter
  8. The next chapter is opened for contribution
  9. 2-7 are repeated till the project closes - contributors get the option to close the chapter after the 5th chapter is complete
This model has the following advantages:
  • Opens the basic building blocks of fiction: characters and plots, for discussion and brainstorming
  • Employs a democratic process ensuring that the best contribution always wins
  • Good tool to get ideas to overcome writer's block
  • Anybody having a vision for a story, but not enough time to write it, can simply post it in Glyhpo for the community to develop it
  • Readers and other writers of the story can quickly put their 2 cents by suggesting a plot or character through a clearly defined form
  • Writers have access to a huge pool of characters and plot ideas to form a chapter
  • 1000 words minimum for a chapter prevents trivial posts from unfavorably altering the story
  • Writers get a chance to constantly improve their chapters based on the reviews received in the 30 day contribution slot
  • Writers compete with each other to add the next chapter, thus increasing the chances of better posts
  • One chapter is completely in the hands of one writer, thus making the contribution consistent
  • 30 day contribution deadline makes the fiction creation time-bound
  • Option to close the chapter makes it easier to conclude a novel. If the writer of the best contribution chooses to "close a chapter", the story concludes there
In summary, I believe that this model will help readers and writers from diverse backgrounds, and different levels of interest and competency, to work together and create long-lasting quality fiction.

The Technology Viewpoint

Ok, this is where my primary expertise lies. When we started using Wikis and Blogs, we always asked these questions to ourselves:
  1. Why does the spell-check have to popup in a new window? Why can't it simply show the errors right there on the rich-text editor?
  2. Why can't I simply save something as draft intermittently, go grab some snacks or look at the latest postings in Slashdot, and then come back to where I left it. Why does it have to take me back to another screen when I save something as draft?
  3. Why can't I have dictionary always in the side to refer to? After all, most writers always have a dictionary handy for writing.
  4. Why can't I toggle between the reader comment page and the text I am editing, without having to open the comments in a new page?
  5. Why learn this new Wiki language if we already have the nice WYSIWYG editors?
  6. Why does every click have to generate a complete page refresh in the browser? It wastes bandwidth and substantially lowers user experience.
  7. Why can't pages take up the whole browser window? While the screen sizes in the market are increasing, most of the sites show their content in a narrow strip, thus wasting much of the screen space. HTML always had the ability to size things by percentage - why not use this feature to make the content flexible for all resolutions?
  8. Back button use: A user does edit/read actions 1, 2, 3, and 4. If wants to go back to 1, he has to click "back", "back", "back". Why can't he simply click on 1 and be there? I have introduced a way to do this using embedded tabs that lets users toggle between multiple edit/read sessions without fear of losing the text you have typed in or losing the context in the editor.
In Glypho, we have avoided all these navigation issues and have created a editor where writers and readers can have access to all the tools they need without having to open new browser windows, experience popup windows, or click on the back button several times.

Moral Viewpoint

We believe that openness and free flow of ideas is good for the society in general. At the same time, we think the idea contributors should get credit their time and effort, whenever the opportunity arises. I found the perfect solution in Creative Commons.

If you have reached this point in the blog, thank you for your interest in Glypho. Please play around with the site and give me some feedback.