Thursday, April 5, 2007

The First Ever Wiki Novel

"Everybody has a novel in them, so they say. Wouldn't it be better, though, for a million people to club together to write one?"

This is the idea behind an initiative launched early February by Penguin Books, in collaboration with students at the De Montfort University in Leicester. Within 1 month they created the world's first 'wiki' novel. Nearly 1,500 people contributed to the writing and editing of A Million Penguins, over 11,000 edits were made. 75,000 people visited the site and more than 280,000 page views were recorded. As Penguin's Cheif Executive put it: "Not the most read, but possibly the most written novel in history."

Penguin's blogger, Jon Elek, summarized the experience in the A Milllion Penguins blog:

"I’d like to think that the wiki-novel in the end was self-referential rather than solipsistic. There are some great jokes (or “comic moments” may be a better way of putting it) in it about the process itself, which again brings us back to that old chestnut: the triumph of form over content. And this, I guess, is what people will say in the end: that it was an interesting experiment, shame about the writing. They will be neither right nor wrong. No, a community probably can’t write a novel, but I don’t think the question (which we posed, I concede) is of much use to anyone, especially since the words “community” and “novel” don’t cut much ice in a situation like this
Speaking of lessons not learned: the wiki-novel did not teach us either that a bunch of hacks with computers can all go write something on the same website. No, what’s been shown is that a bunch of strangers with both nothing to lose and nothing to gain worked toward a nebulous common goal. I guess its she sheer benevolence on display that amazed me most. Well done to all of you. Thanks for writing."

I read a few pages of the novel. Is it a good read? Definitely not.
But what do you expect without any engagements up front, no structure, no vision, no direction? The resulting novel is an awkward mix of styles and unexpected turns.
As any social experiment, the book had to deal with idiots, pornography and an obsessed banana fan. Yes, one 'writer' replaced all the storylines and characters with bananas.

Having seen too many movies with numerous screenwriters attached to it, we already know that a good creative product rarely evolves through involving as many contributors as possible. In the end,
it is still a matter of leadership: the vision and drive of inspired individuals eventually makes the difference between a creative disaster and a focused, innovative result. Maybe we need parameters, a crystal-clear vision and a leadership team to develop Wiki Creatives.
Or as Eric Raymond, chronicler of Open Source, put it: “I think that the cutting edge of open-source software will belong to people who start from individual vision and brilliance, then amplify it through the effective construction of voluntary communities of interest”.


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