Collaboration thoughts

Some of my favorite quotes that make me chuckle are the ones about collaborative authoring and the difficulty being people, not tools.

For example, Alan Porter recently wrote an article Wikis in the workplace: a practical introduction for Ars Technica. My favorite line from the comments was “Remember that the people contributing to it are the same people who steal each other’s lunch from the fridge and regularly screw up the different between reply/reply all/forward.” Bwah hah ha.

But intense collaboration efforts can be inspirational. For example, Adam Hyde, the founder of FLOSS Manuals, recently tried out the new collaborative authoring platform, an open source product called Booki. Last week they held a book sprint at Transmediale festival ( He was quite nervous about it – not only were they trying out a new collaborative authoring tool, but he also had not led a book sprint for a book that was not an instruction manual.

With five authors to start, and post-it notes galore, the team outlined the basic concepts and ideas they wanted to explore in the book. The Collaborative Futures book writting in five days is now available at With 33,000 words and a 200-500 copy first run, by traditional standards it’s a success, or as Mushon Zer-Aviv puts it, “It is not bad at all”.

I’m finding the blog entries that chronicle the event are as interesting as the book itself. Obsession about attribution, a healthy disdain for Web 2.0, anonymity, and collaborative economies, you’ll find it all in the book. The writers wrote from 10 AM to midnight four days in a row. Any writer can respect that level of effort.

One interesting story comes from one of the participants, “Collaborative Futures Day2: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?”

Around noon today we hear a knock on the door. Now let me just explain the set up, we’re working from a hotel room in a complex called IMA Design Village, on the 5th floor of an old (nicely) reappropriated industrial building with a jerky elevator and nothing to really point you at where we are. All of us were in the room at the time and we were not expecting any company. We opened the door and there stood a guy around our age who said he has heard about the project and he wants to contribute.

We were both amazed and mainly unprepared. He didn’t even say his name, he just said he had some ideas about collaboration and he really wanted to contribute. That was just completely great! But while we announced that the collaboration will be later opened to remote collaboration, at that moment, in that place we were completely unready for more people in the room. Adam (which the mysterious contributor said he met in some obscure music event in the city) have went with user-X downstairs to the cafe to discuss the contribution and he (still don’t know his name) will join us tomorrow writing a chapter for the book.

I didn’t hear which chapter the knock at the door wrote, but barriers to collaboration are lower all the time. Michael Mandiberg states a great summary for the sprint, “We spent most of our time talking about about trust, openness, fairness, attribution, respect, organization, and goals. This was a collaboration that had all of these principles, plus it had great collaborators. It was an incredible success.” Sincere congratulations to all the participants!