Networked Books

Books in the cloud, aside from the business model implications, opens up the world of social knowledge for the contents of a book.  While book publishing sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble allow readers to post feedback/reviews of the books they bought, what would happen if these readers could comment on specific portions of the text shared freely to all.  A nightmare for professors but then students probably already have access to such knowledge anyway.  The following article is by a student.

Reinventing the Book: The Transformation to the Networked Book

 by Qater Al Nada Mohsen

A network is a shared common location that has real entities of ideas, moments, thoughts, facts, images, videos, links, etc. Thus, the naming, networked book, was originated from the shared location of all of those entities together. It is a redefinition and a reengineering of paper book that we have today. As Marshall McLauhan said: “The age of writing has passed. We must invent a new metaphor, restructure our thoughts and feelings”.

The first time the naming and the idea of the “networked book” was posed, was at the Computers and Writing Conference by Kim White. Then in 2006, It was followed by Farrar Straus and Giroux’s creation and launch of the Pulse, a new title for the blog, RSS and email, and the GA3R 7H30RY which is an online book in progress created to generate discussions about video games. Consequently, the institution of the Future of the Book is taking a headway lead in forming and supporting those projects. Thus, as a definition, a networked book is an open book designed to be written, edited and read in a networked environment.

Much of the examples of networked books online are:

1)      Wikipedia: so as Ben Vershbow said: “A vast, interwoven compendium of popular knowledge, never fixed, always changing, recording within its bounds each and every stage of its growth and all the discussions of its collaborative producers. Linked outward to the web in millions of directions and highly visible on all the popular search indexes, Wikipedia is a city-like book, or a vast network of shanties. If you consider all its various iterations in 229 different languages it resembles more a pan-global tradition, or something approaching a real-life Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And it is only five years in the making.”

2)      Networkedbook: after it was suggested in 2007 by Jo-Anne Green and Helen Thorington, the “Networked book” is now an online editable book that combines web 2.0 features of WordPress, CommentPress, and BuddyPress as well as those of Wikipedia.

3)      Wikibooks: is a branch of Wikipedia that contains 2,340 networked books for reading, editing, rewriting and reengineering.    

4)      The Mongoliad: is a novel by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear and the public. It explores the full meaning of the networked book idea in that it is not only a text novel, but also video, music, imagery containing novel. And it doesn’t stop there! Between the actual lines of the story, there are articles that readers post about the content of the novel. Furthermore, the novel has a social media companion for users to interact.

However, misconceptions in applying the “old” metaphor of the paper book to the networked book still exist. Consequently, Flicker, MySpace, YouTube and many other social media websites are not considered networked books yet. Why? Is it a bias for the book, whether paper or networked, to have pages, chapters and text? Can’t it be like a huge set of documentary movies like YouTube for example? Does a book, whether networked or not, need to have an editor, direction or even coherence? Ben Vershbow quoted Tim O’Reilly saying the www one enormous ebook, with Google and Yahoo as the infinitely mutable tables of contents.

            The networked book, being a fast evolving book, might be a disadvantage. Consider the case of the paper book and the old writings of Adam Smith, father of the modern economic theory. If the networked book existed in Smith’s age, and Smith was able to write his “Wealth of Nations” in it, instantly it will be accessed by David Ricardo, Thomas Robert Malthus and James Bond to edit Smith’s revolutionary idea of the microeconomic theory and its effect on the macro-economy. If Smith’s idea gets edited by whomever, nobody would ever know then that such idea existed and no one would search its correctness after Smith. It will be only rediscovered if somebody restates it again with an absolute proof of validity that can’t be negotiated. Still, the possibility of it being edited exists.

            On the contrary, this fast evolution of the networked book can transform this kind of books into the best learning and storage of information places, if coordinated properly. An example of that can be Wikipedia and how they hired coordinators and editors to revise the constantly increasing amount of pages and paragraphs added every day. Still however, those editors have to use appropriate coordination techniques to revise the articles; i.e. revision will be harmful if they didn’t.

             Another useful way of coordinating the editing is Crowdsourcing. A definition for this term is that it seeks to tap into the collective intelligence of a crowd or community for accomplishing a specific task or solving a specific problem. There are two types of Crowdsourcing that are used all around the World Wide Web. They are either inside the firewall, or outside it. For inside the firewall Crowdsourcing, a company might create a blog inside its network for editing only by its employees. Outside the firewall outsourcing is demonstrated by Amazon’s user reviews.

            Yet, you might wonder however, how can editing be done by the outsourcing of reviews and the like to the crowd? One way this question was answered was by Amazon Mechanical Turk and Innocentive; they hire the crowd. This way there would be a monetary extrinsic incentive for the public to participate with credible information. Moreover, this incentive was given in a form of grades by my teacher, Dr. Nelson King who crowdsourced writing the Social Knowledge Articles to info 200 students, fall 2010, AUB.

The networked book, or the multiple-author workspace, is a new thinking environment. As the crowed wrote on Wikipedia, and was later reproduced on, “Individual points of view are mediated by multiple voices. This may allow for a more democratic approach to issues and a multifaceted rendering of topics not possible in the single-author print model”. Therefore, the way this article, “Reinventing the Book”, was written, replicates a version of a simplified idea of a primary networked book. It has links towards sources of articles and gathered ideas from the crowd. It is the start of a processed book in the Social Knowledge website. As Joseph Esposito calls it: “It is more than simply building links to it; it also includes a modification of the act of creation, which tends to encourage the absorption of the book into a network of applications, including but not restricted to commentary”.


For the Reader: Suggested books to read further:

 1) Web 2.0 and Libraries: Impacts, technologies and trends