This weekend the Christian Science Monitor took an interesting look at group-authoring projects and the software that facilitates them. The article looks at a couple different approaches to what you might call crowdauthoring (which comprises a subset of what are being called "Networked Books;" I'll parse the terminology some other time). The piece examines straight-up, Wiki-style collaborative efforts such as the project mentioned in my previous post, as well as a more considered method being explored by McKenzie Wark, in which readers are invited to contribute comments to his book Gam3r 7h3ory while he's in the process of writing it, then alter the actual text as much as they like once it's been published. I think this hyrbid model is really smart. As I've previously noted, I'm skeptical about laissez faire crowdauthoring, as it entirely jettisons an ultimate authority, which is kind of like a kitchen without a chef. As CSM reports, Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger has similar concerns, and has recently launched Citizendium, his own hybridized model of a wiki reference work, which will be authored by the crowd, yes, but edited by experts.
Any way you cut it, this is an exciting moment in book publishing: We're witnessing the birth of a new medium. I found this quote from the CSM article is provocative in this regard: "The book is now a place, as much as a thing that somebody reads," says Paula Berinstein, author of an upcoming article on the trend in Searcher, a magazine for database professionals. "It's a place where the author is more the host, or the maitre d' in a fancy New York restaurant," she says. A great example of this, not mentioned in the CSM piece, is Richard Frenay's project, Pulse.