Henry over at Crooked Timber posted over the weekend about Yochai Benkler’s new book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom, which has just been released by Yale University Press. Benkler has also made the book available in PDF format, and has created a wiki for the text, allowing for a different kind of interaction between readers and this text:
The basic idea is to make this Wiki a place where people who read the book can do at least four things. First, collaborate on writing a summary of the ideas and claims of the book, as an initial point of entry. Second, provide an easy platform through which to access underlying research materials: both those used in the book’s notes, and more importantly, resources that are useful for further research, refinement, and updating. Third, the Wiki should be a place where participants can describe, link to, and analyze examples of the phenomena the book describes. The purpose is not to “make the case” for the book or find “gotcha” counter examples. What we are trying to do is provide a real research tool, annotated bibliography, and platform for collaborative learning. Examples and counter-examples should be selected and described with that purpose in mind. Fourth, the Wiki is itself a learning platform about what is valuable in a learning platform. Through separate pages devoted to ideas and experiments of what can be done with an online book to make it a learning platform, we hope to expand the range of uses to which this Wiki can be available.
In certain ways, a wiki is of course the ideal format for such a project, allowing as it does for multiple, collaborative authorship and a relatively boundless expansion. But the wiki seems also to maintain a separation between the primary text and its related paratexts — here are the static PDFs from which the author speaks, and here are the malleable wiki pages on which readers chime in. One of the questions I’m pondering as we move forward with the ElectraPress project is how we might imagine bringing those voices into closer conversation.