We are smarter than Me

October 16, 2006

Friday saw the launch of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, an organisation dedicated to understanding how to take advantage of “collective intelligence… new communication technologies – especially the Internet – [which] now allow huge numbers of people all over the planet to work together in new ways.” One of their first projects is We Are Smarter Than Me, a collaborative effort by to write a “network book” – a book written by multiple authors, leveraging their experiences and intelligence to create a new kind of textbook (which, in this case, already has a publishing deal – Pearson, 2007). This is the kind of wiki book I conjectured in the founding article.

“Since the beginning of publishing, books have been written by individuals or by small groups of people (experts). This has even applied to recent books that describe the power of community intelligence. We Are Smarter Than Me will test this paradox, and determine whether a community of authors can write a compelling book better than individual experts.” – WeMe FAQ

WeMe neatly sidesteps the issue of author royalties by proposing a system in which all the authors, including those cut from the final edition, will be given an equal vote on the distribution of book royalties to charity, with the sweetener that “All contributors will be listed, in print, as authors. You’ll be able to take a copy of the book and show it to your friends, colleagues and family.” How lovely.

Such an approach would not be thought to encourage contributions according to the traditional publishing model, but WeMe is inspired first and foremost by Wikipedia, an enterprise which proves that people are far more willing to share information for the greater good than history, and copyright law, has supposed. They also cite Google as an inspiration – an organisation which has not been shy in making clear its legal ownership of all content stored on its servers, despite its “Don’t Be Evil” motto. But then Web 2.0, even more than 1.0, is all about trust.

The WeMe model is the next iteration of that explored by The Institute for the Future of the Book in their collaboration with author McKenzie Wark, GAM3R 7H30RY, a website that will one day be a book – once a community of readers have given their two cents on the posted draft. This is the dream of most publishers: full audience feedback before the book hits the market (and you can bet every one of those who comment will be buying the book, an attempt to formulate a critical theory of computer games, once it hits the shelves).

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