Posts about books

Apologizing for the book

(recovered post; comments lost)

I’m sparing you drafts of my book as I write it and instead discussing the ideas here and getting smarter for it. But I thought I’d share just a few graphs from the next-to-last chapter, this one on the book industry asking What Would Google Do?

I confess: I’m a hypocrite. If I had followed my own rules – if I had eaten my own dogfood – you wouldn’t be reading this book right now, at least not as a book. You’d be reading it online, for free. You’d have discovered it via links and search. You’d be entering into a conversation around any point in the book. You’d be able to correct me and I’d be able to update the book with the latest amazing stats from Google. This would be even more of a collaboration than it already is. We might form a society of Googlethinkers on Facebook and you’d offer better advice and newer ways to look at the world than I have been able to. I might make money from speaking and consulting instead of a publisher’s advance.

But instead, I made money from a publisher’s advance. That is why you are reading this as a book. Sorry. Dog’s gotta eat.

And the truth is, I already do most everything I describe above – on my blog. I believe the two forms may come together eventually. But in the meantime, I’m no fool; I couldn’t pass up a nice check from Collins, my publisher, and all sorts of services from Harper-Collins, its parent, including editing, design, publicity, sales, a speaker’s bureau, and online help. That’s why publishing is still publishing. The question is, how long can it stay that way?


Charlie Beckett’s Supermedia, Saving journalism so it can save the world has been pubilshed in the UK and soon will be in the US. It’s really a treatise on networked journalism.

I was honored to have been asked to write the foreword. Snippets:

First, let’s get this straight: No one says that amateurs will or should replace professional journalists. That’s not what networked journalism is about. Instead, networked journalism proposes to take advantage of the new opportunities for collaboration presented by the linked ecology of the internet. Professional and amateur, journalist and citizen may now work together to gather and share more news in more ways to more people than was ever possible before. Networked journalism is founded on a simple, self-evident and self-interested truth: We can do more together than we can apart. . . .

By joining and creating networks of journalistic effort – helping with curation, editing, vetting, education, and, yes, revenue – these news organizations can, indeed, grow. Newspapers can get hyperlocal or international. TV stations can have cameras everywhere. Investigators can have many more hands helping them dig. News sites can become more efficient by doing what they do best and linking to the rest. Reporters can get help and corrections on their work before and after it is published.

The tools journalists can use are constantly expanding. Links and search enable journalism to be found. Blogs allow anyone to publish and contribute. Mobile devices help witnesses share what they see – even as it happens – in the form of text, photos, audio, and video. Databases and wikis enable large groups to pool their knowledge. Social services can connect experts and communities of information.

This, I believe, is the natural state of media: two-way and collaborative. The one-way nature of news media until now was merely a result of the limitations of production and distribution. Properly done, news should be a conversation among those who know and those who want to know, with journalists – in their new roles as curators, enablers, organizers, educators – helping where they can. The product of their work is no longer the publication-cum-fishwrap but instead a process of progressive enlightenment.

So the means, economics, architecture, tools, and technology of journalism all change. What I hope changes most, though, is the culture. I hope journalism becomes more open, transparent, inclusive, flexible. I do believe that journalism will be stronger and more valuable as a component of networks than it was as the product of professional priesthoods. I also believe the amateurs who help in this process will be stronger for learning the standards, practices, and lessons journalists have learned over the years. Both will be better off for realizing that we are in this together, we are members of the same communities. But even with all this change, the essential task of journalism is still unchanged: We want to uncover what the world knows and what the world needs to know and bring them together. . . .

That power – the means, opportunities, and implications of networked journalism – is explored most ably in the pages that follow. Until now, networked journalism has been the subject mostly of blog posts and conference panel discussions. The idea and practice of networked journalism needs this thorough examination and this manifesto in its favor. And I second Charlie Beckett’s contention that we in the news business and in society need networked journalism not just to protect but to expand journalism’s future.

Ãœberpedia lives

In 2005, I suggested that an old-style publisher’s response to the crowdsourced publishing of Wikipedia should be to create a vetted version of it, to add value and publish the thing. Fred Wilson called it the Red Hat Wikipedia. I called it the Ãœberpedia.

Well, that’s just what is happening to the German Wikipedia thanks to Bertelsmann.

The idea is to use Wikipedia to capture the zeitgeist by selecting the most popular entries, Beate Varnhorn, the editor in charge of Bertelsmann’s reference works, said in an interview by telephone. “We think of it as an encyclopedic yearbook,” Dr. Varnhorn said, leaving open the possibility of new editions if the 2008 version is successful. . . .

Yet Bertelsmann says the project should not be judged as a re-creation in book form of what appears online, but rather as an attempt to harness the collective wisdom of Wikipedia’s users. “Most of the key words are related to current discussions,” Dr. Varnhorn said, whether the subject is the French first lady, Carla Sarkozy, “or a German best seller, a successful TV show or new electronic products — all key words you normally don’t find in a traditional encyclopedia.” . . .

Bertelsmann had a staff of 10 condense and verify the material found online, particularly the “most risky articles,” though Dr. Varnhorn spoke with respect of the amateur writers and editors on the site. “You find errors in the German Wikipedia, but they really try to keep errors as far away as possible.”

The material on the Wikipedia site can be used free under the terms of a license that, among other things, requires crediting Wikipedia as the source. Bertelsmann agreed to pay one euro per copy sold for use of the Wikipedia name, which will help support the site’s operation, according to Mr. Klempert.

But he added: “It is not about the money. It is a very good example of the power of free knowledge, so anyone is free to use the content and do interesting things with it. It’s a nice experiment to see if the Wikipedia content is good enough to sell books.”

New ways to tell stories

At an event last week, Disney head Robert Iger talked about technology providing new ways to tell stories. I came home and found a link from Springwise to this intriguing project at Penguin, the publishers in the UK, trying to do just that. The first in the series tells a tale via Google Maps. And here’s a story written live. Who says that stories must be books and that books must be books?

No regrets

Craig Silverman is getting lots of good and deserved publicity for his book, Regret the Error. Here’s a Montreal Gazette column about it. Yesterday on Sirius, I heard a meaty CBC interview. The other day, I was listening on NPR to his annual appearance ranking the year’s f-ups.