Monday, July 2, 2007

Published By the People

Aiming to burnish its Web 2.0 credentials, Penguin Books in the U.K. is hosting a wiki Web site that allows people to write a novel collectively. The idea is to apply the same open-source model of Web-enabled collaboration that produced Linux, Mozilla and Wikipedia to journalism.

What implications might this type of organizational activity have for business?Since its launch on February 1, the novel at has grown from a single, Penguin-supplied sentence ("There was no possibility of taking a walk that day," the opening line from Jane Eyre) to 36,000 words and 11 different versions with 59 characters, including a dancer who tangos people to death. The content changed just about every minute as the wiki's 1,300 registered users world-wide rewrote the story, with some 8,500 individual edits.According to Business Week: About 75,000 people have visited the wiki, which Penguin locked for two hours each day to give volunteer monitors time to absorb changes and to delete pornography and obscenities.

Jeremy Ettinghausen, head of digital publishing for Penguin UK, praises the "astonishingly creative" work he has seen.

Elsewhere in the publishing world, The New York Times reports that a new experiment seeks to include newspaper readers in the journalism process. Assignment Zero (, a collaboration between Wired magazine and NewAssignment.Net, the experimental site established by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, asks the public for their combined reporting efforts.Assignment Zero will use custom software to create a virtual newsroom that allows collaboration on a discrete, but open-ended, topic right from the start. The topic will be crowdsourcing - the term used to describe the open-source phenomenon itself.

The "people formerly known as the audience," Professor Rosen says, will produce work to be edited by experienced journalists.This rise in the use of crowdsourcing leaves some in the corporate world wondering what applications the open source reference model could have for employee communications. With blogging already popular as a vehicle for disseminating executive briefings and anonymously reporting employee gripes, it seems natural that the crowdsourcing technology would be put to use in the workplace. Consider an open-source employee manual where workers could post step-by-step processes with editable tips for the effective completion of tasks, or an open-source living history of the company, complete with up-to-date client and project information. By integrating the wiki model into the employee communications mix, companies could maximize on the collaborative nature of their most valuable asset - human resources.

No comments: