An Open Web Book Sprint

This book was created in a Book Sprint over 5 days between January 17 and January 21, 2011 in Berlin.It was an enormous achievement by the handful of people brought together to write a Book about the ‘Open Web’.

The even was hosted by transmediale.11 and the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin (CHB), based on an idea and concept initiated by transmediale artistic director Stephen Kovats and Adam Hyde of FLOSS Manuals. To write the book we used the FLOSS Manuals installation of Booki (http://booki.flossmanuals.net).

On the first day the CHB Director Can János Togay and CHB Curator Vera Baksa-Soós welcomed us and gave us an excellent introduction to the CHB. It is an amazing building and a very forward-thinking organization. It was both an honor and a privilege to be welcomed and hosted there. Our context for the sprint was very interesting on another level too. Hungary has a somewhat acute problem at the moment with self-censorship, free speech and open expression. The CHB is an adjunct organisation of the Embassy of Hungary in Berlin and therefore, technically speaking, not in Germany, but on sovereign Hungarian territory. Given the current debate in the EU on press and internet restrictions, there is considerable poetic irony that the Book Sprint about the Open Web took place there.

Most of us were confused by the proliferation of the term ‘Open Web’ since any discourse of the net has abused both terms over the last decade. None of us really knew what ‘open’ was anymore or what is meant these days by ‘the Web’. What then was the ‘Open Web’?

Bassel Safadi, contributing remotely from Syria, gave us a clue. He outlined a stack of conditions that would lead him to agree to a web service being identified as ‘open’. Then the conversation turned to mapping this idea onto a book structure. Jon Phillips (suffering from a delayed flight) arrived around 1800 and we continued. After the first night we had a structure, but it was not complete. We still were not exactly sure what the open web was even though we could talk with some meaning about the conditions that needed to be fulfilled.

We started writing anyway at 10:00 the next morning. Everyone picked a topic and started putting their ideas down. The sprint facilitator (Adam Hyde) was pretty certain this book did not have to be long, and it could be simple since if we (relatively ‘old hand’) web users could not say what the Open Web was, and there is very little other literature out there about it, then a short clear book about the Open Web was going to be a good first step. It should be a strong attempt at setting up the parameters and defining the terms of this discourse.

At the end of the day we had dinner and wrote some more and then realized we had a better idea of what we wanted to define. Book Sprints are noisy environments and throughout the day there were many discussions about issues and ideas we wanted to clarify, discard or write about. Hence after a day of this we had a better shared language for discussing the content and we were moving towards some kind of simple thesis. John West (journalist) joined us for a few hours and wrote some material and discussed the introduction chapters in detail with sprinter Alejandra Perez. After dinner Jon Phillips, Chris Adams, and Michelle Thorne pushed for a rethink of the table of contents, and then we started getting closer.

The next day we made a few smaller tweaks to the structure and started writing. We carried on throughout the day with only a few breaks, finishing around midnight. We also asked for some feedback from people we knew. Overnight, a few comments were left by these people, most notably Mike Linksvayer (VP, Creative Commons) went through the entire text and left some very useful and worthwhile comments.

Later Mick Fuzz woke us all to the fact that we needed to get a move on. He was not convinced we had enough material at this point of the sprint and he gently provoked a more thorough review of where we were. This was an important point of clarity that motivated us to start early and start strong the following day.

The fourth day we were in the zone and wrote well. The discussions became fewer but denser and closer to the source of what we wanted to say. We had already learned a great deal from everyone involved and brought our own ideas more sharply into focus. We had a few more people drop in remotely. Luka Frelih from Slovenia and Tuukka Hastrup from Finland popped in throughout the day with helpful contributions.

The last day. We shifted rooms, moving to the CHB ‘Panorama Hall’, an amazing space with a double story projection screen window, and started writing. We projected  a dynamic visualization of the evolving text on this screen creating a live visual manifestation of the Book Sprint (http://wall.fabricatorz.com/).

We cut five chapters down (about freedoms) into a much more succinct and healthy chapter. Then we just sprinted. 19,000 words. Push the publish button, upload to lulu.com, distribute the epub. Done!

500 copies were printed the next day at a local Print on Demand service and distributed at the Transmediale Festival.

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