Writing 2.0: On Being Transparent

transparency

We who blog, incessantly rave about the progressive attributes of transparency. It’s not a beckon call that we own; political activists have been screaming for transparency in government since, well, forever. Transparency provides credibility. The truth shall set you free. You pick the cliche, they’re all spot on.

Well, in this Web 2.0 world that we live in, transparency is beginning to take root in interesting ways. Take the age old process of writing non-fiction; I’m starting to see authors not only openly talking about their books in gestation, but reaching out to Joe Q. Public for participation in the writing process itself.

Since April of last year, Chris Anderson has been publicly blogging his thoughts about The Long Tail, the term he coined proper in 2004. His blog tagline describes his transparent approach as, “A public diary on the way to a book.” One of his recent posts, Death of the Blockbuster, is a perfect example of the transparent methodology I’m talking about:

I’ve been collecting data on just how bad it’s getting in the music industry, and this useful list of the 100 all-time bestselling albums offered another lens on the meltdown. I looked up the release dates of each and grouped them in half-decade bins. The data speaks for itself:

Chris Anderson graph

If you want to do your own analysis, the underlying data is in this spreadsheet.

Anderson engages with his audience, invites them to participate in his thesis and provides the underlying data behind his perspective. The above post has generated a link from USA Today, numerous comments and two follow-up posts that further this particular aspect of Anderson’s thesis. Aside from his trademarked phrase, “The Long Tail,” the entire blog is registered under a Creative Commons license, a copyright permission which allows anyone to replicate his content (as I did above), as well as to use his research finding for their own use (as long as they give proper attribution to Chris wherever they publish).

Share and share alike and build a better world.

This is how open, collaborative, iterative development works. Chris is writing a book, one which he’ll profit from, but his open-thinking and shared research and knowledge will undoubtedly assist others in their ventures, impacting industry in various degrees.

everything

David Weinberger, who is knee-deep in the process of writing his latest book, “Everything is Miscellaneous,” employs a similar approach to writing.

Joho the Blog isn’t a 100% topical slave to the complexities of data, information and knowledge (I rather enjoy his political and cultural posts), but when David does dive in, you can sense where his head is in the writing process. With some posts, he’ll directly reach out for assistance and perspective, while other posts are less direct with explicit ties, but steeped in organizational memes. David blogged before he took on his latest book, so he understands the value of releasing ideas out into the ether. Hell, he co-wrote the book on it.

Ideas out, ideas in. Links out, links in.

Now, this approach is far from widespread, as the majority of books still hit “the shelf” with guarded marketing plans as the only touchpoint into the potential reader community. Authorship equates with authority in many circles — circles which seem to care more about ownership of a thesis, rather than the conversation surrounding the subject matter and the avenues newfound knowledge takes once digested. But since the shelves themselves are changing and mainstream journalists and authors are beginning to blog themselves, this just might catch on and become SOP.

What would be the ramifications of such transparent collaboration beyond the target of binding particular pages?

David hosted an interesting thread about hyperlinks subverting hierarchies a few weeks back where the conversation shifted between the lines of power, organization and connections between people. Following that premise within the context of this post, imagine if authors who write life and death non-fiction (say, covering the war in Iraq) opened up to allow for community participation… Could the impact be greater than the explosion of citizen media alone?

Methinks so.