25 May 2006

Crowds & Power, or the R & D of Innovative Fiction

I'll keep this short. Ran across this article on Wired.com today and immediately sensed a multitude of questions for us as well as some possible answers in marketing, distribution, design, narrative production, etc. I think it definitely has potential for addressing the concept of relations that Joe raised yesterday (relations with or without corporations), and Lidia’s comments on speed and an alt-market. It also seems to me that the innovation and interactivity of crowdsourcing is a positive sign for the kind of work we produce, that there are a lot of people who think like we do, whose creative concepts, whose ways of reading overlap with ours albeit in disparate fields. I think: “These people should be reading our work.” And I think: “What do they read? Do they read? What might I produce that they might want to read?” I’m also thinking about the discipline-bleed of the various problem-solving scenarios. Finally, too, a very interesting appearance of that chess-playing automaton that kicks of Benjamin’s notes on History.



revjustin said...

Viral content is an excellent means of side-stepping the traditional gate keeping of mainstream publishing. Why rely on the whims and desires of a publisher when the internet allows one to simply throw an idea out into the ethers and, with a little help here and there, catch fire?

My own blog (shameless self-promotion alert), flikrverse, is an experiment within the realm of viral content. It is an example of artists/writers/creative mutants, reacting and responding, experiencing and then passing on. It is one "crowd" as the Wired article calls it, spawning a newer (albeit much smaller) crowd.

The simple act of tagging some words with standard HTML code has changed the scope of my internal universe.

Ohh, I am horny with possibility just thinking about it.

In the few months since I have started the project, I have collected approx. 500 visits. For a poet/writer that probably falls into the "naive writer" class, that is a considerable jump in exposure. It is a hell of a lot more exposure than any workshop, seminar, or class I have attended. And it's free to both me and my audience.

Imagine what can be done when a group of accomplished writers/educators like you could do with a little self-promotion, and little investment of time, and whole lot of not giving a red-rat's ass about being accepted.

It's going on now and can never be co-opted by anyone (unless you want it to be). Make a possibility space a reality space.

Go ahead. I dare you.

Joe Amato said...

Michael, thanks for the link. Interesting piece. I want to mull it over for a while. For one, the obvious exploitation bells go off. Though the article tries to make it seem as if members of the "crowd" are finding real, otherwise unavailable work, the obvious benefit is to the firms. The firms are not outsourcing now, they're crowdsourcing. Oo la la, c'est magnifique, non? Or should that be tragique? (OK: think Cole Porter.) A good deal less money is being paid out, after all, so one has to wonder how the dividends will be divided (something in me wants to write a sentence now with the word "differend" in it -- but I'll resist).

And while the wiki model of communal knowledge-making has, to my way of thinking, real promise, if we're to start talking dollars and cents and publishing, I'm going to have to ask about attention as a nonrenewable resource. B/c one thing the web is very good at is eating up attention, and in some demographically bizarre ways. Can paying attention (in which it often seems as if one is as much consumed as consuming) be made to correlate with forking over cold hard cash? Or is attention in itself enough to hope for?

Hey, we all need to eat.

Anyway, thanks again for the prompt.



Unknown said...


Thanks for your comments. Regarding The bells of exploitation: I hear them loud and clear as well, particularly in the last sections about P&G essentially offering bounties for work their paid, insured employees can’t do and the fellow who pays $5 for work that fully-employed professionals rightly or wrongly value at $2000; and the shocking effect on people who, like the publishers you posit, need to eat, and for whose own industries (stock photography) they, perhaps prematurely, are predicting no future. In general, I’ve often encountered this disturbingly positive tone from Wired and other tech sources, the joy of that faith in Progress I mention elsewhere. I was thinking more of the potential of the tribal/communal model of posing and solving of problems (narrative, economic, etc.), solving our particular and varied problems on the web though an open crowd as opposed to a closed one, to use Cannetti’s terms, an open crowd that circulates titles, knowledge, becomes a sort of activist readership, aware (or more aware) of itself, and hopefully growing. And this blog is, I guess, the start of that (one of many on these subjects I’m sure). So the idea’s not so new, yeah. Anyway, your statement of the problem of attention and cash is essential to getting that community thinktank moving on that particular problem. My knowledge of how this can be better accomplished in the brick and mortar world, the kind of input that’s required here to start, I think, is far too inconsequential to be much help without more mulling. One of the reasons I think an open tribe is valuable.

& Rev_Justin:

I'm looking forward to taking a look at your blog, at which time perhaps I'll have more to say on these ideas.

Best all--


Carol Novack said...

Hi Mike. I composed a longish response to this thread, wondering where you wanted to take the crowdsourcing concept in regard to what this blog is aiming for, but my comment never made it to the blog for some reason I don't understand. Yes, who needs the capitalistic corporate mentality at the steering wheel? Certainly not us.

I was rather thinking that you were proposing the creation of a kibbutz of "alternative" writers to sell their works via the Net, the way those photographers do, but without the superfluous corporation. The end product might resemble a huge literary magazine (THE most innovative lit mag on the www, barring mine of course) with constantly changing contents readers could download, as follows, eg: Download Lance Olsen's "Amphibean Figurines" with original artwork - PDF $3; WORD: $6; Watermark Bond 30 lb off-white: $15. Or -- download an anthology of imaginary authors, including xxxxx (fill in all members of this blog) perfectly bound, for only $25. Download two anthologies and you'll get a third at no cost on Tuesdays during the month of June.

Now, who would pay for such downloads. There are a few online mags that actually charge subscriptions, but do I go there, I without a paying job or pension (or rich relative, for that matter). What? You kidding? There are also books one can download for money, particularly how to get rich books and maybe fantasy books. So how about INNOVATIVE books? Yes, I can see anthologies.
I'm wondering if it would fly. Just riffing with the idea now. It hadn't occurred to me until it occurred to me. While I loathe everything idiotic this country stands for at this moment in its history (or perhaps at the finale of its history), I think writers should get paid, even innovative ones. And then of course we could be subversive and insert little sociopolitical subliminal messages in our texts with accompanying new age hypnotic music. How about Glass? Yuck.

Ok. Now I wonder if this comment will be posted.

revjustin said...

Hey y'all,

The viral content model depends on contributions by the community as a whole. You have to open it up for anyone to use and contribute to. The attraction is that people can "own" a space to publish their own works for peer review/approval. Then people respond with comments, links, photos, etc. etc. etc. The services (www.flickr.com comes to mind here) are free and open and for the most part self-policing (yes - that works). The kicker is that expanded features are then offered at a reasonable "subscription" rate. In my Flickr example, they offer a 'pro' account where you get a much larger amount of storage space and a few other handy widgets for about 35 bucks a year.

Doesn't seem like it would work, but it does. I went for the expanded services within about a week of using the service because I quickly felt that it was so freaking cool and handy, it was very much worth it.

And that's the challenge -- offering "services" that people think are so absolutely cool, they are willing to pitch out a some cash for it. The idea is that the content is generated and managed by the community and that what you are selling is a better way of delivering that content. You make it free to bring people in and you keep it free to avoid driving away the purists who will deride you for being a sell-out otherwise (thus creating a negative buzz -- the death of viral content/marketing).

So, what I see as a possibility to further the avant-lit cause would be to create a writer's community that actively appeals to forward/inward thinking souls (some demographic research may be required here, but this could be done by associating yourself to other such virtual spaces - like Gather.com, LiveJournal, Flickr, etc). Allow people to post, get comments from fellow users, but then you offer them the service of your expert feedback/guidance. For a low yearly cost they can submit X amount of work to the editorial board for comments and review. Your community could then host a blog where the best of the best are published and then at periodic intervals, you take the works that really stand out and publish it in hardcopy format for people to have to hold.

Of course, as members of the editorial board, you can use this community as your soap box, sounding board, self-promotion tool, etc. Perhaps with the (financial) backing of an alternative press or a co-operative of presses, it could have a lot more legitimacy and credibility (and promotional potential).

Or at least that's what I see. Anyone game? I'd be glad to get things rolling.

I even have a name to ponder: PopTheBubble

Can you tell I'm feeling frisky today?

Carol Novack said...

Hey, Rabbi -- I for one have no interest in being on another editorial board (I publish an online mag in which editing is generally a group process -- the mag takes up most of my editing energies). Also, I don't go for the mythical concept of "the best of the best." It revolts me. There are so many wonderful, exploring writers about. And there are these dreadful, absurd competitions like Pushcart and O'Henry. Ok, let me not rant and rave. It's time to wander the streets of New York.

We're all so obviously caught up here in publishing, editing, writing, most in teaching as well, it would be easiest to simplify a collective "action" project to publicize adventuresome fiction, fusions, the whole shebang (shibang?). We could create a site where readers would download pieces; however, the site could also include little articles about the state of contemporary fiction etc. and a forum for readers to talk about the pieces they've downloaded and add their own for review there, if they wish. And we could certainly each invite writers we admire, emerging and otherwise, known as well as unknown, to join the collective there.

Methinks not too many folks are viewing these comments. It would be best to create a new entry sometime after Memorial Day to see what others think. If it's a "go," I'm sure we'd appreciate your technical assistance!