Widbook Widens the Writing Network

Rachel Lieff Axelbank
From the May/June 2014 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

A Brazilian start-up is presenting writers with a new members-only online space that’s part word processor, part collaborative platform, and part creative playground. Widbook, a free social network-cum-writing platform launched in São Paulo in June 2012, aims to explore some of the still-uncharted territory created by the publishing industry’s collision with the digital age. What this looks like in practical terms is a free social network for writing and sharing work, and with the opening of a satellite office in San Francisco last October, Widbook is quickly gaining steam internationally. This past January capped a six-month period during which Widbook’s membership grew more than five times, to more than two hundred thousand members.

“Traditional media, including books, are being disrupted,” says company founder and CEO Flávio Aguiar. While the advent of e-books represents a general disruption of the established publishing industry, Aguiar says Widbook is pushing that innovation further. “We think that things shouldn’t only be adapted from the traditional market. That’s why we created a new process for writing and reading.”

Users create a profile (photo optional, three favorite genres mandatory) and can then write or upload documents, collaborate with other users, and curate a “bookshelf” of member-generated content. The site’s word-processing interface simulates the layout of a printed book, with an option to upload a cover image or include photos and video along with the text. A table of contents at the beginning and footers on each page automatically update as the writing progresses.  

Once a piece is written or uploaded, Widbook gives no option to save a writer’s work—only to publish the work to the site’s larger forum, allowing other members to collaborate or leave comments on a given piece-in-progress. Check-boxes under a work’s privacy settings can be changed to disallow input from the online community, but it’s not possible to write anything on the site and have it remain invisible to other users. (An age-restriction check-box—in tandem with human monitoring behind the scenes—keeps material containing explicit content out of the traversable domain for users under eighteen.) The publish function requires that users select a genre for the piece (from a list of thirty-six, including History, Fanfiction, and Poetry), and identify the language it’s written in (from a list of more than three hundred fifty, including Greenlandic, Dinka, Minangkabau, and Indo-Pakistani Sign Language).

Content composed and published through Widbook can neither be viewed on the website by nonregistered users nor exported for access via other platforms, so its prospects for influence on traditional publishing remain unclear. This, according to Aguiar, is part of the whole point. “Nobody knows what’s next, but the market needs to adapt,” he says. “There’s a whole new digital world to explore.”

Rachel Lieff Axelbank lives in New York City and Hawaii.