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How this Book is Written

“Collaboration on a book is the ultimate unnatural act.”
—Tom Clancy


This book was first written over 5 days (Jan 18-22, 2010) during a Book Sprint in Berlin. 7 people (5 writers, 1 programmer and 1 facilitator) gathered to collaborate and produce a book in 5 days with no prior preparation and with the only guiding light being the title ‘Collaborative Futures’.

These collaborators were: Mushon Zer-Aviv, Michael Mandiberg, Mike Linksvayer, Marta Peirano, Alan Toner, Aleksandar Erkalovic (programmer) and Adam Hyde (facilitator).

The event was part of the 2010 transmediale festival <www.transmediale.de/en/collaborative-futures>. 200 copies were printed the same week through a local print on demand service and distributed at the festival in Berlin. 100 copies were printed in New York later that month.

This book was revised, partially rewritten, and added to over three days in June 2010 during a second book sprint in New York, NY, at the Eyebeam Center for Art & Technology as part of the show Re:Group Beyond Models of Consensus and presented in conjunction with Not An Alternative and Upgrade NYC. 


In the execution of code, the computer could care less about different styles of code, which design patterns are used, and where the curly brackets go. But in the human world, inconsistency becomes information. While stylistically different code can be flattened to a singular, executable voice, inconsistent human communication is harder to process, “decode”, and unravel (See the Can Design By Committee Work chapter).

In this book there are inconsistencies, occurring in the shifts between the distinct voices that constitute the text in its entirety. By constantly re-writing, over-writing, and un-writing the book, the residual material (that which remains unseen in the printed version) is also the material that expresses the mode of collaboration at work here. Each collaborative (futures) book is fundamentally a reference to a very particular micro-community. In this sense it can be seen as attributing to a social study. There is no generality in collaboration.

Three new core members joined Mushon Zer-Aviv for the duration of the project in New York: Astra Taylor, kanarinka, and sissu. Michael Mandiberg, Mike Linksvayer, Alan Toner, Adam Hyde and Marta Peirano joined at various times in person and online.

A brief outline of the calendar, methodology and participants can be found in the appendices “Anatomy of the First Sprint” and “Anatomy of the Second Sprint”.  

What is a Book Sprint?

“A book is a place where readers and writers meet”
—Bob Stein, Institute for the Future of the Book 

The Book Sprint concept was devised by Tomas Krag. Tomas conceived of book production as a collaborative activity involving substantial donations of volunteer time.

Tomas pioneered the development of the Book Sprint as a 4 month+ production cycle, while Adam Hyde, founder of FLOSS Manuals, was keen to continue with the idea of an “extreme book sprint,” which compressed the authoring and production of a print-ready book into a week-long process.

During the first year of the Book Sprint concept FLOSS Manuals experimented with several models of sprint. So far about 16 books have been produced by FLOSS Manuals sprints, some of these were 5 day sprints, but there have also been very successful 2 and 3 day events.

Because Book Sprints involve open contributions (people can contribute remotely as well as by joining the sprint physically) the process is ideally matched to open/free content. Indeed, the goal of FLOSS Manuals embodies this freedom in a two-fold manner: it makes the resulting books free online, and focuses its efforts on free software.

FLOSS Manuals has produced many fantastic manuals in 2-5 day Book Sprints. The quality of these books is exceptional, for example Free Software Foundation Board Member Benjamin Mako Hill said of the 280 page Introduction to the Command Line manual (produced in a two day Book Sprint):

“I have written basic introductions to the command line in three different technical books on GNU/Linux and read dozens of others. FLOSS Manual’s “Introduction to the Command Line” is at least as clear, complete, and accurate as any I’ve read or written. But while there are countless correct reference works on the subject, FLOSS’s book speaks to an audience of absolute beginners more effectively, and is ultimately more useful, than any other I have seen.”

But Collaborative Futures is markedly different. The difference between the Collaborative Futures and other Book Sprints is that this is the first sprint to make a marked deviation from creating books which are primarily procedural documentation. To ask 5 people who don’t know each other to come to Berlin and write a speculative narrative in 5 days when all they have is the title is a scary proposition. To clearly define the challenge we did no discussion before everyone entered the room on day 1. Nothing discussed over email, no background reading. Nothing.

Would we succeed? It was hard to consider this question because it was hard to know what might constitute success. What constituted failure was clearer—if those involved thought it was a waste of time at the end of the 5 days this would be clear failure. All involved had discussed with the facilitator the possibility that the project might fail (transmediale also discussed this with the facilitator).

Additionally, as if this was not hard enough, we decided to use the alpha version of a new collaborative platform ‘Booki’ <www.booki.cc>. One of the Booki developers (there are two)—Aleksandar Erkalovic—joined the team in Berlin to bug fix and extend the platform as we wrote.

We also had to develop new methodologies for this sprint. Try new things out, test ideas and review their effectiveness. All in 5 days.

As a result we have a book, a vastly improved (free) software platform, happy participants, and clear ideas on what new methods worked and what didn’t. We look forward to your thoughts and contributions… See Write this Book in the Epilogue.

Glossary (unconscious/semiconscious/conscious)

Glossary items are distributed across the book according to their appropriate place—relating to particular themes. The specific format gives them a distinctive voice to differ from the main body of text.

The glossary is a way of elaborating on a number of terms and expressions that, to some degree, form the kernel of the book. A focus is given to the semi-conscious and un-conscious dimension of this glossary (of any glossary?!). While some terms are clearly major threads running through the discussion and throughout the book, others pop up intuitively. The glossary is always also fiction, and supplementary. 

Art++ | Architecture | Autonomy | Bike-Shedding | Collaboration | Coming | Contract = temporary contract (friendship and otherness) | Discourse | Dissent | Distribution | Educational Intervention | Extraction | Free | Google Wave | Inconsistencies | Imaginary Reader | Invitation | Location-Locating | Minor | Mythologies | Non-Documents | Non-human Collaboration | Open | Progress | Acceleration/Deceleration | Speed | The Glossary of Tyranny | Tyranny | Vocabularies


Many thanks to Stephen Kovats who supported this enterprise with conviction. Without Stephen’s commitment to the project it would not have been possible.

Thanks to the curators of the Re:Group show, Eyebeam, Not An Alternative and Upgrade New York for hosting and supporting the second edition book sprint.

Also thanks to Laleh Torabi for designing the first cover and to Galia Offri for designing the second cover.

Collaborative Futures - First Edition cover by Laleh Torabi

Collaborative Futures - Second Edition cover by Galia Offri

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