Lawrence Lessig is really cool.
For those that don’t know him, he’s a Stanford law professor, author and the man behind Creative Commons (the new copyright system with “some rights reserved”). In his latest move of coolness, Lessig has decided to take his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace and open it up for revision. Lessig explains the project in a recent post:
Beginning in February, we’ll be posting Version 1 of Code to a Wiki. “Chapter Captains” will then supervise updates and corrections. Depending upon the progress, sometime near June, I will take the product and edit and rewrite it to produce Code, v2. The Wiki will stay live forever (under a Creative Commons license). The edited book will be published in the fall. I have donated my advance for Code, v2 to Creative Commons. All royalties beyond the advance will be donated as well.
. . .
My aim is not to write a new book; my aim is to correct and update the existing book. But I’m eager for advice and expert direction. If you’re interested in volunteering, email me at this address.
For those that don’t know what a wiki is, it’s a space where people can collaborate on a project. Anyone can write or delete what they want in order to create a better document. It’s a great tool that’s only beginning to be used effectively. Wikipedia is probably the best example of a wiki successfully at work. Here’s the Wikipedia definition for wiki:
A Wiki or wiki (pronounced “wicky”, “weekee” or “veekee”; see pronunciation section below) is a website (or other hypertext document collection) that allows a user to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows that content to be edited by anybody.
So Lessig is going to use the technology to revise his book. Since I haven’t actually read Lessig’s book (though I own it and have been meaning to), here’s the description of the book from Amazon:
“We, the Net People, in order to form a more perfect Transfer Protocol…” might be recited in future fifth-grade history classes, says attorney Lawrence Lessig. He turns the now-traditional view of the Internet as an uncontrollable, organic entity on its head, and explores the architecture and social systems that are changing every day and taming the frontier. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace is his well-reasoned, undeniably cogent series of arguments for guiding the still-evolving regulatory processes, to ensure that we don’t find ourselves stuck with a system that we find objectionable. As the former Communist-bloc countries found, a constitution is still one of our best guarantees against the dark side of chaos; and Lessig promotes a kind of document that accepts the inevitable regulatory authority of both government and commerce, while constraining them within values that we hold by consensus.
Lessig holds that those who shriek the loudest at the thought of interference in cyberdoings, especially at the hands of the government, are blind to the ever-increasing regulation of the Net (admittedly, without badges or guns) by businesses that find little opposition to their schemes from consumers, competitors, or cops. The Internet will be regulated, he says, and our window of opportunity to influence the design of those regulations narrows each day. How will we make the decisions that the Framers of our paper-and-ink Constitution couldn’t foresee, much less resolve? Lessig proclaims that many of us will have to wake up fast and get to work before we lose the chance to draft a networked Bill of Rights.
I think this is an amazing and pioneering project. Lots of people are talking about citizen journalism, but this is citizen publishing. Lessig is effectively using the democratizing power of the internet to democratize publishing (at least in a small way). It take a lot to get published and Lessig is leveraging his name to help your average netizens get their thoughts into print. I think the day Code V2 is released will be an important day for the web. What will all the librarians say about internet research after that book is released? All of a sudden there’s this book that will have been written collaboratively by all these random people that (most likely) is far more authoritative than most of the other books on the subject (and the whole thing will be available online . . . for free).
I wrote about librarians threatened by Wikipedia in August and in the entry I included these thoughts:
The idea of socially collaborative software, like Wikipedia, is one that stands in opposition of what a library stands for. Libraries are the home of a whole bunch of books whose authority tends to rest in its binding, rather than the information inside it. All the information found inside Wikipedia is up for revision; if anyone finds incorrect information they can go ahead and correct it. What happens when someone finds something incorrect in a book? (Dare I mention that some books are imperfect?) They are left to try to find a publisher to print their retort? In the end I guess should never expect a librarian to get along with a tool like Wikipedia, but it upsets me that these people guard the connections to information for America’s children.
Part of this entry was based on some of my personal experiences with librarians (and teachers in general), who are intimidated by the web (I know my mother, a school reform consultant, has also run into these issues). I really wonder what my old high school librarians would think about this project. Would they blow it off? Would they be scared of it?
In the end, I doubt the average librarian who scorns the net will think about this, but I really hope everyone else will.