Interview with Victoria Ufondu of Jotspeak

Interview by Magdalena Ball

What is JotSpeak and why differentiates it from other literary/writing sites?

JotSpeak is a new audio networking site for the writing community. The biggest difference between JS and other writing sites is that we have tried to open up networking beyond the obvious. So instead of making it just text based, we’ve created a site where writers can record audio directly on to it, without any special equipment. It could be spoken word, an excerpt from a latest novel or a poem.

Tell me what spurred you to start JotSpeak.

I started JotSpeak because I have a lot of friends in the music business and I didn’t understand why there was a definitive cyber home for this artform and not for writers. Writing sites can be quite one-dimensional and aren’t yet dynamic enough to keep up with technology or reach the next generation of readers and writers. We need to be more imaginative with how we network, we create beautiful worlds and these deserve as many forms of expression as possible.

Tell me a bit about your own background – where does JotSpeak fit in with the other projects you’ve been doing over the years?

My background is in copywriting, I launched a small writing agency in 2008 which quickly led me on to creating websites and marketing material for companies. It got very stressful so I had to take a step back to look at what was wrong. Literature is first in my heart so I needed to create something like JotSpeak to stay true to it and not get sucked into living and breathing only to pay the bills.

Do you think that the spoken word form – poetry/narrative is on the ascendency?

That’s a tough question, only because it is such a huge scene while at the same time one that is still largely underground. Every week I’m discovering more and more events, and with each one I attend the connection to the art gets stronger. It’s such a very old tradition, the art of the story, that we take its power for granted. I think we are just doing a full circle now and moving away from high energy entertainment. I don’t even think its becoming more popular, people are just opening their eyes to what’s always been around.

You’ve got a tagline “giving literature back its voice.” Talk to me a bit about that.

It’s much like I’ve said above. Literature has become introvert, people don’t share stories the way our ancestors used to, unless its gossip. I think writers should remind people that before television and mass produced entertainment, people used to get together, share tales and actively take part in literature. It’s entertainment and should be ‘heard’. Its about the mouth and ears, not just the eyes.

Talk to me a bit about the process you went through to develop the site.

How long do we have!? Discussions about actually building the site and its feasibility started in October 2009. When I came up with the idea of a space that allowed you to record audio I didn’t even know if it was possible. There was a lot of talking, mostly about the budget because I had a very small one! Once we worked out that it could be done with the right software and OpenSource we went through developing the spec. This has to outline everything you want the site to do. Its like a big puzzle, as you have to work out the logical steps for users, and what features people expect whilst also trying to preempt their movements through it. After that the programming begins, and the design. JotSpeak was originally orange, but I decided to go with ‘coward blue’ because I knew that’s what most social networkers are used to. The luckiest thing is that I have programmers who break down the tech-speak for me. I’m a writer when it comes down to it. I’m not saying that writers can’t be technically-minded, but I’d rather talk about American lit than source codes.

How are you going about attracting members?

We’re attracting members by contacting specific people, going to events and networking on other social networking sites. We are also sponsoring two up and coming artists, Dougie Hastings and Alain English. There has been a lot of word of mouth sign-ups, so we’re thankful to the community for spreading the word and supporting us.

Are you seeing any trends in the types of submissions that you’re getting?

I haven’t personally had time to read many of the submissions yet. I really want to leave it until the last couple of days in August and then spend an equal amount of time with all the pieces submitted. Sometimes words can ‘grow on you’ and I want to keep it fair by reading things at the same time.

I’ve heard that you’re planning some charitable events. Tell me a bit more about those.

Yes, definitely. The aim is to introduce a Premium feature where authors can assign small costs to their audio, so that half is free and half, if the listener likes it, is payable. They will then get the chance to donate whatever their small earnings are to a charity of the month, voted on by the community. We’ve identified other things we need to work on before this, so it’ll be a while yet.

What’s the big vision for the site – how do you see it developing?

One thing I’ve never been short on is crazy visions! And it’s in my character to be impatient and want it all now – so I’m learning this will take time. I want to get started on creating an iPhone app and give members more flexibility with the recordings they make. But I’m told I give too much away, so you’ll have to wait and see, sorry!

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About the Interviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , and Imagining the Future. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks.