Bjelkeman's travel notes

Travels with the cloud in my pocket.

Crowd-sourced books, a passing fad?

SSWC-boken at Sweden Social Web Camp 2010

“SSWC-boken at Sweden Social Web Camp 2010 by bisonblog, on Flickr

Most recently I have been participating in two crowd sourced books and picked up the results of a third. The first one I got prompted to contribute to is The Future We Deserve, @theFWD, which is organised by Vinay Gupta, @leashless. TheFWD essays are supposed to be about the future and about 500 words long, with a goal of 100 essays in 100 days. TheFWD has not been published yet, but you can help make it happen.

The second book, which I contributed to, got delivered into my hand at Swedish Social Web Camp #SSWC over the weekend. The book is called SSWC-boken 2010/The SSWC-book 2010. The contributors were mostly people who went to the #SSWC un-conference, who could contribute something new or something old which they had published before. The goal was to have the book available by the time #SSWC started. The initiative for the SSWC-boken was taken by Mattias Boström, @mattiasb, who works for the publisher Piratförlaget, @piratforlaget.

The third book, that I didn’t contribute to, which I was given a copy of at #SSWC, is called Intangible Artifacts. The brief for this book was loose, but focused around the urban environment. It was worked on by a number of people but the instigator was Martin Palacios, @palace, who works at Veidekke Bostad, a property developer.

Intangible Artifacts

"Intangible Artifacts" delas ut av @palace #sswc #digitalstorytelling

The three books have been put together using rather different approaches. The brief about Intangible Artifacts went out to the community that follows the #SSWC event, probably a couple of thousand people, with a narrow brief with, what I feel, an implicit goal of getting some quality essays written. The result is a slick book in full colour, with good essays following the subject matter around the urban landscape, with a fairly strong connection to social media. Resulting in 24 essays covering 78 pages. The quality of the production is what you would expect of a fairly edgy print magazine. They had a “zero” budget for the book, but I think Veidekke paid for the printing. The books were given away for free. Supposedly there are still some copies left. Otherwise you can read it online.


The brief for SSWC-boken was a lot wider. Essentially a short piece written by yourself. Again the call for essays went out to the community that follows #SSWC. The result is a thick book, with 180 essays making up 590 pages. The book is printed on-demand in black and white, it demonstrates to me how far the on-demand printing business have come, it feels solid. I haven’t read much of it yet, but people who have tell me that it is both serious and laughter inducing, and feels like a good cross-section of what the social web is like in Sweden in 2010. Piratförlaget paid for the printing, and asked everyone who wanted to buy a book at #SSWC to pay the printing cost, 100 kr, about 10 Euro. They are now selling the book online for 125 kr plus shipping. Go on, it is the Swedish social web book of the year, buy it!

The Future We Deserve

The Future We Deserve had in many ways a much narrower brief than both of these books. Writing a meaningful piece about the future in 500 words is pretty hard. This essentially meant that most people had to write something from scratch, or condense some earlier writing. I also think that the context means that people think carefully about what they write. These 500 words will follow you around for a long time and show how wrong you were. 🙂 #TheFWD is still being assembled and the funding for putting together the book is being crowd-sourced via Kickstarter. I would encourage you to contribute to the book, either with an essay, a couple of bucks or both. I know it is going to be worth it!

Different approaches

I think the main difference between these books were that TheFWD is worked on by a group of people that are unlikely to see each other in the flesh anytime soon. The SSWC-book and Intangible Artifacts were both written with a goal in mind, a meeting, #SSWC, where you could actually both see and get the book and meet the people who contributed. I think that put a lot more urgency onto the production and encouraged people to contribute in a more hands-on way.

A passing fad?

Are crowd-sourced books a passing fad or something which we will see a lot of in the future? I am not sure. Do assemblies of of essays make sense if you can’t package them nicely? After all, the blog part of the web is like a giant assembly of essays in many ways.

The hard copy version of the book, is it an echo from the past, where us born after the revolution the web represents, still value our words in bound print? I suspect it is. As soon as I had some decent bandwidth I downloaded the ePub version of SSWC-boken to my iPad and I expect I will read most of it there, rather than in hardcopy. The hardcopy book is heavier, doesn’t have search or lots of bookmarks (without getting messy) and can’t be synced with my iPhone when I am on the move.

But there is an intense pleasure to read a good book in hardcopy, not mentioning all the benefits of dead tree books. Which my home attests to, by having five wall covering book cases, with several thousands of books.

I think collection of essays, whether they are crowed-sourced or not, are here to stay. But hard copy versions of them are going to be more like the LP or the CD in the future, or even the hand written bible. A rarity, even if you can on demand print it. My books will age with me, clearly showing that I started reading before the revolution that is fast approaching our bookshelves. But their replacement is a thing of joy, rather than sadness, as never has as much been written before as today, and that is something to celebrate.

Picture credit for the Intangible Artifacts, Jan Videren

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Filed under: Books, Crowd-sourcing, Culture, ITC technology, SSWC

About Bjelkeman

Co-director: Akvo Foundation

+46-8-626 7609

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