Form will follow content in We Are Smarter Than Me, a book on social networks and business written by… a social network of business professors, students and professionals — on a wiki. They’re calling it a “network 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”).
A few books have recently been written on this topic, but they all fail to confront one central paradox. While they extol the power of communities, they were each written by only one person. We’re putting this paradox to the test by inviting hundreds of thousands of authors to contribute to this “network book” using today’s technologies.
The project is a collaboration between Wharton Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management and a company called Shared Insights. A print book will be published by Pearson in Fall ’07. The site reveals little about how the writing process will be organized, but it’s theoretically open to anyone. As of this writing, I see 983 members.
To get a sense of some of the legal strings that could enwrap future networked publishing deals, take a look at the terms of service for participating authors. You sign away most rights to your contributions, though you’re free to reproduce or rework them non-commercially under a CC license. All proceeds of the book will be given to a charity of the community’s collective choosing. And here’s an interesting new definition of the publisher: “community manager” and “provider of venues for interaction.”
The University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business is building an archive of primary source documents related to the dot com boom and bust. The Business Plan Archive contains business plans, marketing plans, venture presentations and other business documents from thousands of failed and successful Internet start-ups. In the upcoming second phase of the project, the archive’s creator, assistant professor David A. Kirsch, will collect oral histories from investors, entrepreneurs, and workers, in order to create a complete picture of the so-called internet bubble.
With support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Library of Congress, and Maryland’s business school, Mr. Kirsch is creating a teaching tool as well as an historical archive. Students in his management and organization courses at Maryland’s School of Business, must choose a company from the archive and analyze what went wrong (or right). Scholars and students at other institutions are also using it for course assignments and research.
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Creating an Archive of Failed Dot-Coms, points out that Mr. Kirsch won’t profit much, despite the success of the archive.
Mr. Kirsch concedes that spending his time building an online archive might not be the best marketing strategy for an assistant professor who would like to earn tenure and a promotion. Online scholarship, he says, does not always generate the same respect in academic circles that publishing hardcover books does.
“My database has 39,000 registered users from 70 countries,” he says. “If that were my book sales, it would be the best-selling academic book of the year.”
Even so, Mr. Kirsch believes, the archive fills an important role in preserving firsthand materials.
“Archivists and scholars normally wait around for the records of the past to cascade down through various hands to the netherworld of historical archives,” he says. “With digital records, we can’t afford to wait.”