Agamonee Barbaruah interviews Astha Singh, co-owner and speaker for Muuzzer, an app for writing (on Android phones)
Q. How is it going with Muuzzer?
A: It’s going fine. We have been working on Muuzzer for almost a year now. So, after we built the app, we launched it in June. We have received a great response with 15000 installations till now, and almost five and a half thousand pieces of content, have been written on the app. People are writing in all the different language options available on the app, though it is mostly in English and Hindi at the moment. Our company is based in Hyderabad. So, we have a lot of people writing in South Indian languages and Bengali. Our main focus is to allow people to write in vernacular languages. That’s how we are changing the narrative, one day at a time.
Q. What is the meaning of Muuzzer?
A. It is a play on the word ‘muse’, muse of an artist. ‘Muuzzer’ is not even a word. But it’s easy to remember and sounded right.
Q. So how many language options on the app do you have right now? Are you on Android?
A: There are 12 Indian languages in Muuzzer, and five global languages including English that we are supporting. And we support Assamese also on this app. Yes, we are currently on Android.
Q. If somebody wants to write in Assamese, they can?
A: Yes. From Northeast, a lot of people are mostly speaking in English. But in Assam, the people are mostly communicating in Assamese. My co-founder of this app, also my husband Udayaditya Baruah, actually comes from Guwahati, Assam. Look, if I talk about Hindi authors, I can still name a few. But if you ask me to name any author in any other language or state, it’s difficult. Historically, a lot of good literature came from Bengal. It’s not known enough. So, that’s what we want to address.
Q. In that case, the stories that come out in different languages on Muuzzer, do they get paid?
A: Not really. [They get around Rs. 1000 to 3000 only]. But we hope that our writers will get paid eventually and take it up as a career option. Not everybody has writing opportunities like say, you have. But how many people get these opportunities to write and publicise their content. We want to create those options for users of our writing app. Yes, doing that will take some time. We want to get good quality authors on board. Then we’ll contact companies like newspapers etc., where you can hire people directly from our app. So, it will become up-work for writers.
Q. So, either you’ll pay or reach out to people who’ll pay writers who have been using your app?
A: Yes! We are running some competitions on Muuzzer. That is to encourage people to write good pieces of content. There are three writers per competition that win prizes. Apart from that, there’s no payment option, right now. But, we do have plans to do it.
Q. So, why did you think of a coming up with a writing app per se?
A: I’ve been writing for a very long time, to express myself. My husband and I are connected in a reading/writing way. When I initially started off writing online, my page was going very well. I was able to connect with people, who were appreciating what I was writing. Then, I started getting pings where people said, “I follow you, but you didn’t follow me back.” The reach of my online posts started reducing. Uday, my co-founder, faced the same issue. This whole idea therefore, in starting a writing app was to create a space where I could write and be considered for the content I produce. Uday and I exchanged ideas and that’s how the idea of this Muuzzer app was born.
Q. What’s a snippet or scribble feature on your app Muuzzer then?
A. Snippet is like a short story. You can write in 320 characters. It’s like a Twitter tale. Scribble is something when you’re writing which is neither a story nor a poem. It’s just a thought that came to my mind; an unstructured content that you can write. You can remember and follow up later.
Q. How many words can it have?
A. Scribble can have up to 5000 words. We have not kept everything short, except snippet, which is like 320 characters. Apart from that, poems and scribbles you write can be up to 5000, stories can be up to 15000 or 10000 characters.
Q. What age does your appeal most to? Young or old or everyone?
A. I studied in ICSE board, which had these essay writing competitions in school. That is when this whole idea of writing took shape in my life. People start writing, at about 12-13 years and go on till you’re 23 or 24. After that, people who are in the writing field will continue to do it. But it becomes just a hobby for a lot of people, who do a day job. Now, the people who are active on our platform, are primarily 13-24 years. That’s our main traffic. But the way we have made our application is for anyone and any age group to come and write.
Q. So the younger age folks seem to interact more with Muuzzer?
A. Yeah. In fact, if kids say that they want to become writers, the parents will say that you should finish your engineering (or medicine or some other course) first. Things have changed, with the OTT platforms like Netflix coming up for movie makers. Language isn’t a barrier anymore if context can create traction. But how many of these platforms really offer anything for writers.
Q. Do you do anything that can assist writers and they can get payment?
A. Yeah, that’s the whole idea. We want to be something like Netflix for writers. Eventually, we just want people to write the content and we’ll get it translated in as many languages as we can – whether it is in Tamil or Assamese. The second thing is that – if the short story or novel that they wrote is good, then it can be adapted by any of the shows or channels. The third thing is, a coffee table book. We can get a coffee table book printed with our collection of the poems that people wrote. That’s the whole idea. Now, if it gets adapted for a show, the writer would get paid straight away. But let’s say they write a book, and one of the poems belong to you, then whatever number of books that get sold, you will get a percentage of that sale that happened. That is how we are building this whole system. But, it will take us some time. Because right now, the two of us are working on the platform. We don’t have a team yet. We are looking for investors. Because we don’t want to leave it to be a writing platform.
Q. So, what does your writing competition basically give then — to you and to them?
A. Right now, we feature the content of the number of winners on Instagram. They’ll get more traction on their page and they have a prize money. For the last few months of the competition, the first winner got 3000 rupees, the second one got 2000, and the third one got 1000 rupees from us. From August, onwards, we have been having six competitions which are Live and which will have money again. Now what we get out of it, is that – when we say, there is a writing competition going on in our app, it grabs people’s attention. We got some really, quality writers on the platform and really good content for it. If you open our app and check “competition” you’ll see winners and look at their content — which is beautiful. What we are getting out of it, is quality.
Q. …and they are getting money?
A. Yeah and more than that. Last time when someone won here, the lady dropped us a mail saying thank you in an emotional manner. I think it’s not just about the money, because 2000-3000 rupees might not change somebody’s life. But that recognition on an Indian platform means a lot to people. Also, sometimes people have a writer’s block. These competitions help them get through it and we give them writing prompts to start writing. There’s also a thing in our app called, ‘The Writing Prompt.’
Q. I found other writing apps but couldn’t find the people who made them. But found you directly associated with Muuzzer!
A. One of the problems of these content platforms is that the focus is on the content and not on the creators. If you use Tiktok or Instagram, you will see the idiotic reels that people make. I drop mails to people, who are genuinely trying hard to write good content. I give them feedback that you can write very well, if you improve your grammar or change your style of writing. That sort of helps me know what they’re thinking. Uday and I strongly believe in talking to people. It’s not about giving them a good platform to write. It’s also about helping them and supporting them.
Q. COVID has offered people more time in general. When COVID ends, do you think people will still keep writing?
A. We were supposed to launch our app by June 2020. But we missed our golden window, because of family problems. When we launched our app, it was pretty much already June 2020 and these restrictions were sort of lifting up. But the response we got was still amazing.
People, during this whole COVID period, have started to look at things in a different way. Everybody has paused and got in touch with their old hobbies. People have found some stressbusters and that is what Muuzzer also offers.
Q. So even if COVID goes, say, the attachment will remain?
A. It has now become the responsibility of people like us to let people know, that, you get in touch with yourself and know yourself better, no matter how busy you get. One thing we found out was, people who talk in English think they’re cool. But people should start respecting their regional languages and start creating content in those regional languages. That’s where the real powers lie. That’s why we had made this platform in a way, that is at par with any of the uber-cool platforms. We have kept it minimalistic so that it gives you the feeling that it’s a premium platform and we are Indian at our roots. That’s what we’re doing.
•(Astha Singh is an MBA with 5 years of work experience. Her co-founder and husband, Udayaditya Baruah who’s Assamese, has 13 years of experience. He completed his college in 2008 in Pune where he did Engineering.)
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