Talking with Hugh McGuire about BookOven

On this week’s Innovators show I reconnect with Hugh McGuire. He’s the 104th guest in the current incarnation of the show, and was also the fourth. With Hugh it’s always about books and collaboration. Our first conversation explored one of my favorite projects, LibriVox, which brings people together to make free downloadable audiobooks. This time around we talked about his new project, BookOven, which aims to help authors, editors, and readers work together to create new books.

Writing a book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The loneliness was what got to me. I finished around the time the blogosophere was starting to emerge, and the collegial joy I found here made me think I’d never want to repeat that solitary experience.

Nowadays I wouldn’t have to. Authors commonly write books out in the open on blogs. BookOven aims to push that strategy further by providing a suite of online tools purpose-built for discussing, editing, and proofing long texts.

Given the rise of the 140-character blurb, this emphasis on the long form is counter-cyclical. But for me, at least, the pendulum is swinging back. Lately I’m snacking less on Twitter and enjoying full meals served up by the blogosphere, online magazines, library books. It’s been nourishing. But I’m also noticing that much of this work — in the commercial as well as the amateur realm — could benefit from better organization, editing, and proofing.

The collaborative restructuring of all kinds of professional work has only just begun. Hugh McGuire and I share the belief that our new ability to harness what Yochai Benkler calls the loose affiliation of ad-hoc teams will yield better results in many areas. Book-length writing is the domain that Hugh has staked out. How can the new modes of collaboration enhance this ancient practice? We’ll see.

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