Interesting piece yesterday at the Chronicle of Higher Ed: Blog Comments and Peer Review Go Head to Head to See Which Makes a Book Better. UCSD communications professor Noah Wardrip-Fruin has written a 300-page book entitled Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, to be published by MIT Press. MIT Press, in keeping with standard scholarly publishing practice, is having the manuscript peer-reviewed by Professor Wardrip-Fruin’s colleagues in academia. But alongside that traditional peer review project, Professor Wardrip-Fruin has thrown open the gates for a parallel crowdsourced review track: he’s posting the complete manuscript, a few sections at a time, to the Grand Text Auto group blog. Readers of the blog can post their own comments on the draft, keyed to the numbered paragraphs of Wardrip-Fruin’s text.
Experiments in crowdsourced editing of academic work are known in the art. Larry Lessig, one of the giants of the cyberlaw/IP field, turned to the Internet for help updating his landmark book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. The text of the first edition was posted to a wiki, where users could add their own contributions. A year and a half later, the result of the process was Code Version 2.0, which was published both online and in hard copy. In one respect, Professor Wardrip-Fruin is taking a more conservative route than Professor Lessig, allowing Grand Text Auto’s readers to comment on, but not to edit, his text.
What’s novel and exciting about Professor Wardrip-Fruin’s experiment, though, is how it puts crowdsourced editing in (presumably friendly) competition with the traditional process of academic peer review. It should prove fascinating to hear, at the end of the day, how Professor Wardrip-Fruin rates the relative quality of the feedback he received through both mechanisms.