Lasica using open-source editing

As many have noted, JD Lasica has posted chapters of his forthcoming book to a wiki. I didn’t get around to blogging this for a couple of days, however, until Mary Hodder wrote the blog entry I wish I had written: “How very au currant. Participatory book editing. Napsterization approves. Prrrrrrrr.”

But on the substances of the thing… First, the process. Lasica is using a belt-and-suspenders approach that doesn’t strike me as very au courant, inviting comments through e-mail, blog, and wiki. He writes:

Darknet: Remixing the Future of Movies, Music and Television will detail the rise of the personal media revolution and the escalating conflict between entertainment companies and individuals using the power of digital technology.

I’m nearly done writing it, so we’re at the stage where it’s time to bring in “the former audience,” as Dan Gillmor puts it, and invite the blogosphere to participate in the book’s editing (before it makes its way to its final editor).

Ross Mayfield at Socialtext was kind enough to set me up with a wiki last week. Don’t be scared — wikis are very cool new collaborative workspaces that let people edit and contribute to a work in progress.

Check it out at the Darknet wiki. Much of the book has to do with participatory media, so I hope many of you will join me in this experiment in collaborative editing.

For those who prefer just to leave comments, I’ll also be posting the chapters to my new Darknet blog.

Certainly, being open to multiple modes of work and communication is part of eating one’s own “living web” cooking. But I have to wonder whether manual effort will be needed to reconcile these modes. I hope for his sake that Lasica has automation for integrated the various types of feedback; combining queries and edits from multiple document versions—let alone multiple document types—is among the most inefficient things I do as an editor. After just a week, there are no comments on the blog and few wiki changes; most of the wiki edits consist of the addition of hyperlinks, which won’t help Lasica’s bound book at all. One new sentence of great substance helps Lasica’s narrative a lot, but because most wiki edits are identified only by user number, that could even be Lasica doing a little rewriting. (Professionally, I do appreciate the visitor who edited “where” to “in which”.)

I also find it interesting that both Gillmor and Lasica are inviting such participation when their work is so polished. They say they are releasing “draft” chapters but both are really revealing close-to-final manuscripts—at the very least, these are third or fourth rewrites. The next great step in participatory authoring (as opposed to editing) will be when someone is willing to share a version of their work that really is a first or second draft.

And finally, there’s the content of Lasica’s book itself: Excellent. The first three chapters have incredibly compelling anecdotes (such as a long telling of how three kids completely remade Raiders of the Lost Ark) and many insightful quotes on both the cluelessness and purposeful hypocrisy of media companies.






2 responses to “Lasica using open-source editing”

  1. JD Lasica Avatar

    Thanks for the observations, Xian, they’re dead on. I only announced this a couple of days ago, so we’re still early in the game, and I’m still getting the CSS kinks worked out at
    Most of the feedback I’m getting on the manuscript is coming behind closed doors, in a conference on Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms site. And so far, I don’t see much difficulty in incorporating the divergent strands of feedback into a final manuscript.
    As for placing half-finished drafts online, I’d like to see someone do that as well. But the more heavy lifting required of readers, the less they’re likely to participate, perhaps.

  2. Pete Avatar

    “the more heavy lifting required of readers, the less they’re likely to participate”
    This depends on the audience. In highly motivated groups, collaborative editing draws input regardless of the state of the text; but in others, and especially among nonwriters, rawness in text is more inviting than polish. When I was a freelance editor and worked with non-writer workgroups (engineers, for example, or nurses), they felt much more liberty to suggest ideas, phrasings, and methods of organization or logic when the text gave signals that it was rough.
    Such groups hesitate to comment on well-written copy out of a feeling that they’re not qualified, or that they’re treading on someone else’s hard work. And when there are still holes in an argument, more people have more opportunity to contribute by jumping in to help fill them. It’s why brainstorm sessions universally start with a blank sheet of paper: it elicits both the obvious contributions and the nonobvious ones. (That’s not an analogy one can carry all the way: a blank-page start would be singularly unhelpful to an author trying to advance a particular thesis or narrative.)
    Also, first drafts can carry metalanguage like [need an case study or anecdote here] or [does this push the point hard enough?], something that’s harder to incorporate into already-rewritten text.