Ah, Web 2.0. Is there anything it can't do? Well, the list just got shorter with the beta launch of a collaborative book publishing community called WEbook
The idea is to create an open-source-style system for authors to create work which can be edited and modified by others: a hard-copy Wikipedia, if you will.
If you're wondering how the heck that would ever produce anything you'd want to read, then check out Pandora
– the sites first publication. Pandora
is a collaborative effort between thirty-four of the sites original alpha testers. Yes, that's thirty-four people, of which half are listed as authors of the work.
The hard copy book sells for $13.99, and any profits generated are split between the seventeen major contributors listed on the product page. A quick way to get rich, it isn't.
While I'm sceptical of how well a plot-by-committee novel will read, I can
see a future for the site in the publication of historical and technical works – works that often have multiple authors even when published by a mainstream press.
Unlike a traditional 'vanity press', WEbook will only print physical books for works that get voted highly. No matter how many people collaborate on a work, if it doesn't get the thumbs up from the majority of visitors it'll never see the light of the bookshelf. The good news is that the printed medium is just one of the formats the site offers its content in, alongside ebooks, audiobooks, and even specially-formatted mobile phone editions.
The funding for the project comes from investment outfit Greylock Partners, who have been the money behind other Web 2.0 projects including Digg and Facebook. Whether they're on to another winner here remains to be seen – I'm sceptical, personally.
What's your take: can massively collaborative authorship really make a readable book, or is it a project doomed to create barely-readable content? Share your thoughts over in the forums