Our world has certainly changed if Pearson, the publishing giant behind the Financial Times, Les Echos or Penguin Books, has decided to use a wiki to create a new business book. According to the Wall Street Journal in U.K.'s Pearson Tests The Group Dynamic For a 'Wiki' Book (paid registration required), Pearson will collaborate with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School on a book exploring how businesses can use online communities, consumer-generated media such as blogs and other online services. [Update: An alert reader -- connected with Shared Insights -- wrote me to say that there was a free link to the Wall Street Journal article mentioned above.] But read more...
This book will be called "We Are Smarter Than Me" and will be written by people like you and me who will submit their contributions to the WeAreSmarter.org website whose motto is "Be an author of the first networked book on business." The site contains the chapter headings and a few starting pages. Here is how the book will be written.
For instance, a chapter titled "We Can Research It," tells an anecdote about an Australian man who started a mail-order brewery based on votes by 20,000 cellphone users on what makes an ideal beer. Other participants can then edit the contents or add anecdotes.
The wiki leaders expect business consultants and executives to contribute to the book site, which, like Wikipedia, doesn't pay writers for their work. The site is open to anyone, but does ask contributors to supply information. WeAreSmarter expects to close submissions to the book wiki by the end of the first quarter next year and turn it over to paid ghostwriters to turn it into a 120-page business book aimed at the fast-growing airport bookstore market.
The contributors will not be paid but the book will not be free. It's expected to be sold for $25.99. And all profits will be given to a charity chosen by the contributors.
The WeAreSmarter.org gives more details on the goals of the book.
The central premise of We Are Smarter Than Me is that large groups of people ("We") can, and should, take responsibility for traditional business functions that are currently performed by companies, industries and experts ("Me").
And here is an example taken in the real world.
Procter & Gamble is recruiting 600,000 housewives to help market its products through word of mouth. In return for much greater reach and impact, the company is giving up control of the marketing message, relying on its community of customers/marketers to craft their own message in the most appropriate fashion.
If you're not familiar with this Procter & Gamble's project, please visit its Vocalpoint website (free registration).
The initiators of the project have planned to invite members of their communities, which are much bigger than I would have thought: Wharton Business School (675,000 invitees), MIT Sloan School of Management (400,000 invitees), Pearson (500,000 invitees) and Shared Insights (250,000 invitees).
For more information, you might want to read this press release, "More Than a Million Invited to Write and Edit First Collaborative Book on Management Best Practices."
But how many of these people will contribute? Let's go back to the Wall Street Journal for an answer.
One of the big challenges will be finding ways to motivate the professional experts, many of whom make money by writing books themselves, says Mr. Malone of MIT. "The question is, can we create an incentive structure so they'll put in some of their best thinking, or will this just be incidental thinking?"
All participaants will have to sign a Creative Commons license to avoid the issue of many individual copyrights.
Now, let's wait until next year to see if the wiki process can be successful for such a project.
Sources: William M. Bulkeley, The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2006; and various websites
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