Pearson Education Undertakes Wiki-style Book
Following in the steps of the user-created world found on the Internet, a major book publisher is putting the content-creation of an upcoming project into the hands of the masses in a fashion similar to Wikipedia, a Web-based encyclopedia that online contributors help create and edit.
“We Are Smarter Than Me,” the tentative title of a book scheduled to be published this fall by Pearson Education, will rely on the contributions of a multitude of registered members on the Web to create this experimental work. The book’s content will focus on the model of collective authorship, found in blogs and social networks, which is obviously how the book itself is being created. Authors Barry Libert and Jon Spector—who originally proposed the project—will help oversee the compilation of the contributions for “We Are Smarter Than Me.”
The project, a collaboration between Pearson and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the MIT Sloan School of Management, will depend on the input of “experts” found throughout the Web. More than a million professionals and scholars associated with both schools received e-mails inviting them to participate.
Why is this new form of collaborative authorship by thousands quickly becoming a preferred form of information exchange? The project “represents some of the best thinking and best practices in communication—real communication—out there, and we wanted to be part of it,” says Pearson Education Editor Martha Cooley,
“I don’t think the traditional model of the single-authored book is one that we consider less desirable,” Cooley says. “Rather, we view this model as an alternative to the ‘single author as expert’ model, which was really the only one available for a long time. Collaborative intelligence won’t take away from the contributions by individuals: their knowledge, their experience, their skills will be included. However, with this model, where the author is not an individual, but rather a community, you get the intelligence that has been refined by conversation, debate, and generalized back and forth.”
With more than a thousand contributors registered to participate in the project by the end of 2006—to edit, add and delete content from a Web site set up for the project—the question now arises, “What safeguards are in place to ensure only legitimate and documented information is used in the final book?”
“We’ve got a few different mechanisms in place,” Cooley says. “First, we will have individuals who will take the lead on specific chapters and in specific subject areas. In addition, as this is the first time a print publisher has tried something like this, we’ve enlisted some additional help through our advisory committee, which includes Thomas Malone, a senior faculty member at MIT Sloan, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and author of ‘The Future of Work,’ and Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia.”
Donna Carpenter, a writer who has helped pen best sellers for Jim Champy, Tom Peters and Sen. John Kerry, will work on the final manuscript, and ensure the final manuscript is of high quality, says Cooley.
“The ideas will still be from the wiki,” she said. “The only drawback is that the book will only be able to capture the ideas at one point in time—it’s not constantly changing, the way an online document is—but we plan on overcoming that limitation by coming up with new editions of the book or books based on new topics in the wiki on a fairly regular basis.”