Crowdsourcing a textbook, Wikinomics experiment in the making

This is not the textbook approach to writing a textbook.  But then again, it’s a book on the topic of ‘Management through collaboration‘ so it would be a missed opportunity -dumb, almost– not to tap into the collaborative potential of social media.

Charles Wankel, calling himself ‘author and organizer’ describes this task as “a new authoring structure,” a 640-page book that will be “produced using an immense network of coauthors” –926 co-authors to be precise.

The web site, features a deep list of academics from all corners of the world (Botswana, Bangladesh, , Greece, India, Turkey, Slovak Republic etc)

It’s a social media experiment on a grand scale. The authors are supposed to contribute via an invitation-only wiki. They were sourced via LinkedIn. The book has an accompanying blog that for the moment, however, is not well updated. But it is indeed a demonstration of the principle of Wikinomics. The idea that mass collaboration will become the new normal, where ‘static, immovable, noneditable items will be anathema…”

Cult of the Amateur, full of holes, great read!

If you tend to get pulled into discussions about the pros and cons of social media, Andrew Keen’s The cult of the amateur is a good book to get you all fired up. It is full of holes, plenty of hyperbole, and comes across as an angry dissertation by someone who wanted to get things off his chest in a hurry. But that’s precisely why it’s important to check it out.

These are the kind of arguments someone in the room will bring up when debating whether comments ought to be moderated, or the management team should care about comments by the ’stupid public’ in relation to a YouTube video.

Keen is the kind of person who would have dismissed Abraham Zapruder’s film as unreliable and amateurish, just because he was not a real journalist. Keen is very passionate about the morphing or passing away of the old media. Some of what he observes is accurate, about the digital economy, the downside of internet as an economic and communication conduit. The usual suspects are paraded: click fraud, Google bombing, anonymous YouTube videos (like the Penguin attack on Al Gore by a PR firm), online gambling, fake blogs etc.

For every Perez Hilton and Matt Drudge, bottom-up distribution through blogs, podcasts, Flickr and Digg has created discourse about journalism and law, for instance –from the likes of Jeff Jarvis, Lawrence Lessig and Glen Reynolds. He omits mention of how the pajama bloggers he vilifies fact-checked and checkmated Dan Rather. He would be terribly upset that NBC anchor, Brian Williams writes a blog, and that the queen of England released her Christmas day message through the same democratized distribution network that amateurs upload content, YouTube.

But Cult’s true weakness is in mixing up his argument about amateurism, with an argument about all things digital. To suggest that YouTube, Google, iTunes and Craigslist is causing the extinction of newspapers, television and record labels misses the reality about how these older media were structured, and how some of them failed to respond to changing audience behavior and interests. Smart journalists realize that this isn’t the slippery slope, and that they could adapt. A few weeks ago Dan Shearer, senior editor of the Mesa Republic hailed a citizen reporter for being the first responder with information and pictures of a church fire.

“Ignorance meets bad taste meets mob rule” does fit some of the awful content that passes for entertainment and news, but we haven’t said bye bye to the experts and gatekeepers. It’s just that they are different, and operate differently. To me this has nothing to do with the democratization of media; it’s what we have put up for years on (sigh) the six-o-clock news on television, long before the digital tsunami hit.

Just for the record this is the lens through which Keen sees social media:

  • Amazon: “chief slayer of the independent book store”
  • YouTube: “a large commercial break”
  • Google: a “parasite,” and “an electronic mirror of ourselves”
  • Pastors who research sermons online are “plagiarists;” Lessig is “misguided;” the internet is a “moral hazard.”

There is hope. The last chapter, Solutions, does offer some ideas as to what could be done to save the world from going to hell in a hand-basket. But I won’t spoil it for you. It’s a book I still believe everyone, even those mildly involved in media and communications, ought to read, after Wikinomics. When looking up Wikinomics on Amazon, Keen’s book does not come up as “Customers who bought this item also bought,” recommendation. But then the “chief slayer of the independent bookstore” wouldn’t be reliable, would it?

Fifteen candles for the Web. Or what did Tim Berners-Lee unleash?

April 30th was a big day, in case it did not pop up in your Gmail calendar, Plaxo reminder or ToDoPub, the online to-do list.

I first heard it was the official birthday of the Web from a colleague, when he complained that someone had hacked into his web site. I suppose it was a *wicked* way of highlighting the awesome power now in our hands.

Fifteen years ago, Tim Berners-Lee unleashed this power when he applied hypertext (standing on the shoulder of Ted Nelson who conceived of the idea) and came up with the HTTP part of the web that’s almost invisible now, but knits the world together.

For some like the Magazine and Newspaper industry, ‘unleashed’ really became ‘unraveled.’ For others like Netflix, there would have been no business without this invention.

Fifteen candles later, this simple, almost invisible connective tissue of the web has reconfigured the way we communicate, market, educate and inspire each other. Oh yes, also how we find, rant, share and take notes among other things. I’ve written a lot about Wikinomics, and its malcontents and sometimes wonder if the information overload is slowing us down, rather than speeding us up. Birthdays are good times to look forward, back and sideways, aren’t they?

Recently I found an old printout of the famous “Rudman and Hart Report, (published eight months before 9/11) which had forecast in grim detail some of America’s vulnerabilities. It made a point of warning us that “new technologies will divide the world as well as draw it together.”

That irony strikes me as exactly what the web is good at –simultaneously connecting and dividing. It has made the world smaller and unified at one level, while fragmenting it into millions of niches. Or, as Thomas Friedman observed in The World is Flat, the ‘steroids’ (applications like wireless and file sharing) and the other flatteners like off-shoring, in-sourcing and open-sourcing are pulling the world in all directions. There are walled gardens like Facebook and there are open source textboooks.

And none of this could have happened without what Mr. Berners-Lee invented. Standing on the shoulder of this giant, companies such as iTunes took online music out of the the piracy world and into a business model that defies a label. Is it an application, a library, or a sharing platform? Basecamp takes files sharing into the realm of project management. There are hundreds of other examples. Without the web 1.0, there would have been no web 2.0.

As we head down the road to web 3.0, let’s tip our hats to Tim Berners-Lee.

Cult of the amateur: provocative idea, wrong lens

If you loved Wikinomics, you’ve got to read Andrew Sheen’s “The cult of the amateur.” It forces your brain to take a compare the seductive arguments about knowledge democratization, and the decline of social values as a result of user-generated content.

On the face of it Sheen is a cross between Vincent Bryan Key (Subliminal Seduction) and Neil Postman (Amusing ourselves to death) both warning about the dangerous trends in advertising (in 1974), and television culture (in 1986) respectively.

He sees the internet as the slippery slope of literary, moral and cultural standards, and seems to try hard to relate it to amateurism. Indeed, the struggle between old media and its receptacles, versus new media and the infinite pores out of which this new content is flowing is easy to cast as one between the good guys and the baddies.

But it’s not, and I discuss why, here in my detailed review of the book, at ValleyPRblog.

7 things in 2007 that changed the way I think

This year was a game changer. I got to work alongside some extremely creative people, on projects that involved new media, old media, networking, and lots of social media learning. The highlights:

  1. Attended a one-day AMA Phoenix workshop on mobile marketing.
  2. Started using Wikis for project management, article interviews, what-if projects, a rich-media resume, etc.
  3. Rediscovered the value of online surveys as due diligence for strat planning, marketing, and a tool for tapping into emerging trends.
  4. Attended the IABC International conference in New Orleans.
  5. Visited Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. A multi-sensory offline marketing eye-opener!
  6. Added Facebook and MyRagan to my social networks, that connect the dots between professional colleagues, knowledge, and work.
  7. Read Wikinomics. I couldn’t give a glib one-line explanation here about this amazing book.