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John Simkin

Book Production and Forum Software

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An interesting book has just been published called “We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People For the People” (Dan Gillmor). The book looks at the war the web has changed the way we create and obtain information.

Gillmor points out that the book was written by using his weblog. He posted draft chapters and his readers made comments on his work. Some reviewers have pointed out that they would never be willing to write a book in that way as it shifts the balance of power between the author and his reader. However, Gillmor defends the process as he argues that it has resulted in a better book.

Gillmor goes on to say that in future book writing will become more like a conversation or a seminar. Gillmor adds: “The lines will blur between producers and consumers, changing the role of both in ways we’re only beginning to grasp.”

Gillmor goes onto argue: “The communication network itself will be a medium for everyone’s voice, not just the few who can afford to buy multimillion-dollar printing presses, launch satellites, or win the government’s permission to squat on the public airways.”

I fear Gillmor is being over optimistic. I suspect that although the technology allows this to happen, most people will remain passive consumers of information being fed out by multinational corporations. However, I do believe that forum software does offer an opportunity for changing the way books are produced.

Larry Hancock is currently discussing his book, Someone Would Have Talked, on our forum. The thread has had 180 contributions and has received 4,611 page views. This feedback has enabled Larry to make changes to the second edition of the book. Although Larry clearly remains the author of the book, the second edition has been produced by something I would call collective intelligence.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=693

JFK researchers are also involved in another experiment. I am organizing an online conference on the JFK assassination during the week 21st November – 27th November. So far we have 24 people providing papers/articles. A much larger group have promised to respond to these contributions. This will turn these articles into seminars. I am currently negotiating with a company to publish the completed work. I think the end result will be a new kind of book that is different from what has gone on before.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1891

Only forums like this makes this type of research possible. It is often been said that when Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web in the late 1980s he had found a way of linking thousands of computers up together. In fact, he did something more profound that that, he linked up people’s brains together. This has resulted in some educators to question previous definitions of intelligence. When you link brains up in this way you create “community intelligence”. The important thing now is not individual intelligence but community intelligence. Forums allow you to organize this process.

Here is an example of how this process works. For example, a member posted a picture of JFK in a back brace. The photograph showed Kennedy with another man. One of the members asked who this man was? Another pointed out it was Earl Smith. Another added that Earl Smith had been ambassador to Cuba between 1957-59. At the time I was doing research into the death of Dorothy Killigan. I had read in a book by Penn Jones, that just before her death, Killigan gave copies of her notes to a woman he called Mrs Earl Smith. This woman died two days after Dorothy Killgallen. I asked a question about the name of Earl Smith’s wife. One member responded by saying her name was Florence Smith. A search of the internet revealed that Florence Smith’s working name was Florence Pritchett. Like Dorothy she was a journalist and in fact had worked for the same newspaper just after the war. Further research revealed that they had been close friends. I then posted a question asking if anyone had any information on Florence Prichett. One member, was reading a book at the time about Jackie Kennedy. He said that in 1960 she came close to having a breakdown because of John Kennedy’s affair with a Florence Prichett. This sent me into a completely new direction. I was able to find out that Florence and JFK became lovers in 1944. In fact, they were expected to get married but as JFK was a Roman Catholic and Florence was married to someone else, this became impossible. JFK married Jackie but continued his relationship with Florence. The relationship continued until he was assassinated. JFK even visited her in Cuba several times. They had houses next to each other in Palm Beach. Recently released FBI documents show that this relationship was being monitored. Several times members of the Secret Service had found the couple having sex. This was all going on when Earl Smith was working in secret with the CIA to try and overthrow Castro. Although JFK originally approved the idea, he ordered it to end after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Smith and his crowd ignored this order. It now appears that it was Florence Smith who was Dorothy Kilgallen secret’s source on the assassination. This is why they both had to die together.

Do you think this approach has potential in your subject area? For example, could this method be used to produce teaching materials? What about a history book on post-war Europe written in this way? Or, a book on the future of books?

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