From fiction to fact: interview with Esa Nikkilä

September 29th, 2011 by

microtask_interview_esa_nikkiläOnce upon a time (summer 2010) in a not-very-faraway land (Tampere), a band of crowdsourcing pioneers began an epic mission. Their aim: to create the world’s first ever crowdsourced novel. Four months, 500 authors and 2500 tweets later, the 140story project was complete. The novel, Todellisuudesta Toiseen (From Reality to Another), has now been crowd-translated into 5 languages. To find out “the whole story” we tracked down 140story producer Esa Nikkilä:

First up, what makes someone decide to crowdsource a whole novel?

There are thousands and thousands of “frustrated authors” out there who would love to express themselves but never do anything about it. We just thought it would be a nice idea to give those people the chance to be authors.

How much control did you have during the 140story project? Did you see yourselves like film directors (with a clear overall vision) or more like moderators (standing back, checking quality)?

During our first book we were much more like moderators. Basically, we tried to make it as easy as possible for anybody to take part in the project. We gave our “writers” a lot of control over the direction of the story.

Crowdsourced translation: a good, bad (or ugly) experience?

We crowdsourced the translation with Transfluent and it was a pretty good experience. The novel was translated from Finnish into five different languages (Spanish, English, Swedish, German and French). This was great, although during the process we discovered that 12,000 people translating a novel sentence-by-sentence can sometime produce somewhat “variable” results. We did proof-reading checks after each translation to get the text as readable as possible. Overall though, we were very happy with the translations and with Transfluent.

If you were crowdsourcing a sequel, would you do anything differently? What did you learn from the process?

We learned a lot from the process. We are actually just starting a new literary project, Pirunmeri, with Finnish publishing company WSOY. As I said, with “From Reality to Another” we were like moderators; with Pirunmeri we have a much clearer overall vision and our “directing author” Mikko Karppi has way more responsibility. This time, we’ve abolished the 140 character limit and instead started setting writers specific tasks to guide the plot in the “right” direction. We’ve also included game and rating elements to motivate people. From Reality to Another proved you can crowdsource a novel. Pirunmeri is about showing how good a crowdsourced novel can be.

Are there any other creative crowdsourcing projects you really admire (especially Finnish ones)?

Nowadays, there are loads of good examples of “crowd power”. We have been really excited about both of Microtask’s Talkoot games, of course. Last month our company, Roisto, collaborated in a great crowdsourced graffiti project with Finnish artist Otto Maja in Tampere. Also, Finnish company AudioDraft has some very interesting projects going on. Then there’s exciting musical stuff like Imogen Heap’s collaboration with her fans and Kaiser Chief’s crowdsourced album.

Finally, what is your favorite book?

In the past few years I’ve been forced to read a lot of business books about innovation, start-ups, management and marketing etc. But really, that ain’t my kind of literature at all. It’s hard to name one favorite book, but if I had to I’d say Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Of course, in the near future my favorite book is going to be Pirunmeri – the novel by the people of Finland :)

  • Hyde

    “Good answer -Ville” (ed?) — Hyde

  • Tommaso De Benetti

    Yep, we left something there by mistake. Thanks for noticing ;)

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