There is an accepted wisdom that content creation must be a solitary activity if you want quality and creativity. But this is a consequence of the content tools (pens, typewriters) that have been available. As collaborative, network-oriented content tools emerge, we will see a lot more collaboratively created content.
Content has a problem. When we work with large organizations one of the usual outcomes is deletion of between 50 and 90 percent of the content. Much of this content has never even been read once. For example, in a study by the World Bank, it was found that almost one-third of their PDF reports had never even been downloaded once. It is estimated that there are some 14 million pages on Microsoft.com. 3 million of them have never been looked at.
Even the pages that are looked at are often of a poor quality. We test a lot of technical content and there is much room for improvement. So, any new methods that could improve quality and reduce quantity would be very welcome.
Pair writing? Writing by committee? I can hear the sneers and growls from the creative geniuses and the lone wolves. For starters, this is not an either / or situation. I’m sure there’ll be lots of combinations of lone wolves and committees interacting. Whatever gets the job done. But collaboratively created content is a really exciting idea and should be fully explored.
If content creation does go collaborative then it will be following a trail blazed by science. When the Philae probe landed on Comet 67P it was an extraodinary human achievement. It was the result of thousands of scientists’ collaborate work. Recently, I listened to European Union Science Chief, Anne Glover, explain how they did the early development. Thirty scientists in one room, networked up. One scientist would make a suggestion on a screen in text and in real time the others would respond. They rapdily worked their way through problems based on a collective intelligence approach.
In science, the Web has facilitated an explosion of collaboratively created content. According to a Thomson Reuters report in 2010, the average number of authors for scientific papers increased by more than 50 per cent, from 3.18 in 1990 to 4.83 authors in 2010. According to Christopher King, writing for Science Watch in 2012, “Recent years have seen a steep increase in the number of papers with authors in excess of 50—and a particularly notable spike in reports whose author counts exceed 1,000 and more.”
“We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us,” Marshall McLuhan once said. The Web is a network, and in a network we network. Wikipedia is just one example of a successful online publishing environment that has been collaboratively developed. I heard a talk from Facebook employees recently saying that writers were always paired with usability professionals.
We are only at the beginning of a radical change in how content is created. The world is simply too complex and fast-moving for individuals to comprehensively understand, and react quickly to with simple content.
Next issue I’ll be getting some tips for pair writing from Netlife Research, who are pioneering this space.