But sometimes the topic just won't quite fill up those ~300 pages, so
many books get padded out, or trimmed instead to article-length.
On the Web, though, both the book and the article (and, happily, any
size inbetween) _must_ be published with one main 'front' webpage, and
any number of subpages, hyperlinked.
But the (very unhappy) convention we've inherited from paper publishing
is that for a 'book', that main page is just a list of chapter titles...
but this has never made sense to me. (I call it the 'stripped grapes'
model because it looks like a skeleton left over from a bunch of tasty
I've always recommended instead at least imitating those British-style
'analytic' tables-of-contents, that include _summaries_ of each chapter,
point by point-- and for a webpage, this could easily look more like a
FAQ, condensing all the most important bits of info on the topic... most
particularly _not_ omitting the best links to other sites.
So this book-frontpage is now morphing into a topical 'portal' ...and so
should probably even include relevant _news items_ at the top.
Very few topics actually have such FAQ/portal pages yet, but it's not
hard to create a decent one in a day-- you start with Google or DMoz,
and look at every recommended page, and start building an outline of the
topic that acn supply the context for each direct link to each useful
page you find.
(About.com is an increasingly close approach to this, but I find their
frames and ads absolutely unbearable. And they break things up into way
too many pages.)
Ultimately, I think you want this portal-page to reach chapter-length
(30k-100k) with as much clear summary (and links) as you can pack into
But even if you can only spend a day, and find a few dozen links,
_because_ each of those links can be seen as a 'chapter', I'd claim
you've managed in that day to write the Web-equivalent of a book...
http://www.robotwisdom.com/ "Relentlessly intelligent
yet playful, polymathic in scope of interests, minimalist
but user-friendly design." --Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
> But even if you can only spend a day, and find a few dozen links,
> _because_ each of those links can be seen as a 'chapter', I'd claim
> you've managed in that day to write the Web-equivalent of a book...
No... you'd have assembled the web equivalent of an anthology. That's
an editorial task that is entirely different from writing a book.
I don't mean to say that writing blurbs to contextualize the links so
assembled isn't important and valuable... quite the contrary.
But perhaps what you've just described is simply an annotated list.
You're focusing on the quantity of labor, I think, while I'm focusing on
the utility/expressiveness of the product.
I'm trying to say that _if_ you have a book in you, on some topic, you
can write it in a day-- if you use the 'opportunistic hypertext' method
(surveying what's already out there), and then write a chapter-length
page that fits all the best of those found-links into an overview.
So with Web hypertext, how many of the linked pages you wrote yourself
stops being remotely relevant-- if an adequate subpage is already out
there, it's just foolish to duplicate it.
I just coined the term "action linking", while trying to express the
idea that my webpages capture still-images of my process of
This is by analogy to Jackson Pollack and the 1950s 'action painters'
who were explained as capturing a still-image of their energetic
So if I energetically spend a day doing Google queries, looking for
details on some topic, and if each time I find a good one I copy and
paste the URL into the webpage I'm creating, the gap between research
and writing is efficiently minimised.
Current example (Egypt): http://www.robotwisdom.com/science/luxor/
> You're focusing on the quantity of labor, I think, while I'm focusing on
> the utility/expressiveness of the product.
I *think* I'm focusing on *quality* of labor.
> I'm trying to say that _if_ you have a book in you, on some topic, you
> can write it in a day-- if you use the 'opportunistic hypertext' method
> (surveying what's already out there), and then write a chapter-length
> page that fits all the best of those found-links into an overview.
If you create a text by linking to external sources, then you didn't
really "have a book in you." Instead, the book was already out there,
and you were the first person to notice it.
> So with Web hypertext, how many of the linked pages you wrote yourself
> stops being remotely relevant--
Whether I did or did not write a page in such a "book" would be
extremely relevant when I'm up for tenure!
Skill at annotating and linking is, I think, generally
underappreciated by the senior academics who determine what
constitutes valuable scholarship in local departments. Yet Vannevar
Bush did recognize the value of scholars exchanging linking schemas.
Oh, well... today's amateur webloggers are tomorrow's tenured
> if an adequate subpage is already out
> there, it's just foolish to duplicate it.
If you're capable of creating excellence (beauty, clarity, passion),
then it may be foolish to settle for linking to adequacy. And maybe
you won't know whether you're capable of excellence until other people
read your efforts and tell you so.
BTW: I have nothing against the subject overviews that you describe.
In fact, I think a lot of college professors who post nothing but a
course syllabi on their websites would do their students, and the
Internet at large, a great service if instead they posted an annoted
list of links related to the course subject matter.
We do that, among other things, over at <http://allmyfaqs.com/>.
You're not getting my point. If the book is in you, then the most
efficient method for posting it to the Web is by surveying what's
already linkable, and ***adding just your 'diffs'***,
> Whether I did or did not write a page in such a "book" would be
> extremely relevant when I'm up for tenure!
This is a specialised concern-- I think netnews would be better off if
we ghetto-ized you guys in an 'academia.*' hierarchy, so you wouldn't
distract discussions of knowledge and insight with discussions of status
> If you're capable of creating excellence (beauty, clarity, passion),
> then it may be foolish to settle for linking to adequacy.
Fine-- if you want to create an excellent web-book on some topic, take a
year and do so. When I devote _my_ day to the topic, I'll certainly
include your links.
> I think a lot of college professors who post nothing but a
> course syllabi on their websites would do their students, and the
> Internet at large, a great service if instead they posted an annoted
> list of links related to the course subject matter.
The 'annotated' part is what's missing, webwide.
Well, when I wrote /my/ book, it took me two years (and yes, it's
published on the Web with your typical front page table of contents of
hyperlinks, non-annotated). When I talk to other authors I find that
my experience is not unusual, although I've heard people say they
wrote a book in anywhere from a couple of weeks to up to ten years.
Most serious authors spend as much time editing their work as writing
it, check for rhythm, grammar, structure, syntax, blah blah blah.
I think partly you are deriving your viewpoint that the knowledge to
write a book comes from various sources already on the Internet. In
the case of creative works, the ideas come from personal experience or
ideas in your head. Also, most of the time the author wishes to lead
the reader down a well-defined road of discovery. Having an annotated
contents defeats that purpose.
Mmm... I smell trollbait! But I won't bite.
(Check my sig for Pete's sake... I'm hardly at Rich Snob U.)
I will suggest that the assembly and assimiliation of source materials
is a time-consuming part of the process of "writing a book" -- at
least as I understand it. Creating a full-length book (for the web or
otherwise) might involve sorting through long shelves of paper
archives, hunting down obscure references, cross-checking facts,
assembling a biography of a figure who has never been the subject of a
biography, attaining court records, running time-consuming laboratory
Doing this original research takes time. Even in some alternate
universe in which all relevant information that one would need is
freely available on the Internet, it would take time to *read* all the
material thus found before creating a 'diff' that would contribute
anything more than "here's my take on what I found while surfing
I'm not questioning the value of web pages that annotate other
sources, or of weblogs that are designed to share one's ongoing
thoughts, discoveries, and reflections on a topic.
> > If you're capable of creating excellence (beauty, clarity, passion),
> > then it may be foolish to settle for linking to adequacy.
> Fine-- if you want to create an excellent web-book on some topic, take a
> year and do so. When I devote _my_ day to the topic, I'll certainly
> include your links.
Thank you. If I read you correctly, you're saying that my year-long
investigation of the topic (together with the silimar efforts by the
autors of the other sources you cite) would enable you to present your
take on that topic in one day.
But I don't see that you've addressed my original suggestion -- that
what you're talking about is editing an anthology, rather than writing
the web-equivalent of a book. Each one valuable in its own way.
But if a "book" has only one day's worth of work in it, then I'd
suggest it's not much of a book -- no matter how useful and efficient
it might be under another name.