IVP - Behind the Books - Introducing IVP's Wiki-Books

April 1, 2008

Introducing IVP's Wiki-Books

One of the biggest limitations about publishing print books these days is how quickly material gets out of date. We labor for months or years to publish a book, and soon after it comes back from the printer, something happens that makes us wish we could reprint. We notice embarrassing typos. Significant developments occur in a theological debate or cultural issue, or an important new book needs to be added to a bibliography. We can make corrections at the next printing, but that could be months after the initial release. We occasionally do revised and new editions of our books, but those often don't happen until years after publication.

Well, thanks to new technology, a remedy is in the works. We are pleased to announce that we will soon be launching IVP's own Wiki-books, using a program platform similar to that which powers Wikipedia. These are not replacing our print books, but are online, open-source versions of selected titles. That way we have immediate flexibility to change the text, whether something in the main content, or to update a bibliographic reference or biographical information. Typos can be corrected immediately. If an author has second thoughts about a statement or a change of heart on a position, things can be revised right away.

And we benefit from our readers' collective wisdom and expertise as well. Sometimes we get letters from our readers telling us that they noticed that a citation was incorrect, or that a reference to Bultmann really should have been Moltmann. Well, with the new wiki-editions, readers can make those changes directly themselves.

For certain volumes, like our reference books, wiki-editions create the opportunity to fill in gaps in our print books. For example, our Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters or Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals certainly couldn't include every imaginable commentator or evangelical notable. The books are hefty enough as they are! But with unlimited online page count, we are able to add neglected personalities that otherwise wouldn't get covered. If readers think we overlooked someone, they can insert their own entries, whether of still-living thinkers like N. T. Wright or obscure geniuses like Franz Bibfeldt.

Some might object that all this will dilute the authoritativeness of our books. On the contrary, we trust that the wisdom of crowds and the self-correcting nature of wiki-technology will provide the peer review and accountability needed to weed out theological error. No single author is an expert in everything, and by opening up our books to open-source contribution, we benefit from scholarship and perspectives from around the world.

If you're worried about losing authorial intent, the technology has a "track changes" function that allows you to revert to the original edition to compare differences and even see the entire history of addenda and revision. This provides the additional benefit of seeing the development of content, how an argument was edited or a paragraph shifted one way or another.

Will all this be monitored? Well, it may be next to impossible for us to police every single change, but editors, interns or other staff will periodically review global changes. In fact, improvements may loop back to the print book. If readers make significant enough changes (and have sufficient peer review, by way of reader ratings), we may well introduce the new material into the print editions of our books. Imagine a four-views book that neglects a key position. An online commenter could provide a fifth view, and we might decide to publish it in the next print edition of the book.

These online wiki-editions will have virtually unlimited room for bonus material that didn't fit in print, whether extra chapters, or in the case of conference collections, additional papers, responses or panel discussion transcripts. Wiki-books also provide something readers have been asking for for years - customization. Other publishers are already selling books a chapter at a time. Professors often assign selected chapters or articles for coursepacks. If students don't want to purchase the whole book, they can get access to only the needed material. If you want just the Reformed commentators, or the Lutherans or the Baptists, you can set the parameters so your desktop edition provides exactly the version and content you need.

We're not unaware of the potential for abuse. In beta testing, we asked the authors of our four-views book The Nature of the Atonement if they wanted to add any additional response or rebuttal to their counterparts' comments. Tom Schreiner took the opportunity to cut out several key paragraphs from Greg Boyd's response to penal substitution. Boyd retaliated by deleting whole sections of Schreiner's chapter and declared that Christus Victor had triumphed over the powers and principalities. We're still exploring how best to prevent abuse; the software will alert administrators if it appears that someone is taking advantage of the system, if, for instance, someone does a global search and replace to swap "God" out for "Bob." At a minimum, all reader/contributors are required to register and log in.

All of this is a natural development in the evolution of books and technology. CD-ROMs of our reference books and commentaries introduced convenient searchability to our texts. Wiki-books take things a step further, adding reader interaction and leveling the playing field so all can dialogue with authors' content, shape books and participate in the exchange of ideas. So look for our online wiki-book store, coming soon! We look forward to your participation.

Posted by Al Hsu at April 1, 2008 5:41 AM Bookmark and Share


Wow. I'm impressed. And the endeavor ought to give you some great things to blog about over the next few years too!

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at April 1, 2008 3:08 PM

InterVarsity Press hereby informs you that this post is in fact an April Fool's joke. We disavow any legal liability for any claims of damage, injury or hardship as a result of this post, as well as any actions or reactions undertaken by our blog readers.

Comment by: Admin at April 4, 2008 11:28 AM

Oh the hardship! And we can't even sue you. : )

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at April 4, 2008 12:51 PM

OH NO! You had me completely. In fact, now I'm really thinking about it. Is the idea really so outlandish?

Comment by: Mark Goodyear at April 7, 2008 9:20 AM

No, the idea is not that outlandish. It's actually sort of already happening - just not with traditional print publishers' books, because nobody can figure out how to make money off of it without resorting to advertising. The value of open-source Wikipedia-like stuff is that it's open to anybody. But if it's only open to people who pay for some sort of registration or online access, that limits how open-source it would actually be.

I think it's possible for us to have e-books for all our books online, or wiki-versions of non-print-published books, but probably not e-wiki-for-sale-online-and-in-print books. Not any time soon, at least. At any rate, all of this would be a technological nightmare that we certainly aren't equipped to handle yet!

Comment by: Al Hsu at April 7, 2008 9:56 AM

Very well done...I love the bit about the fictitious back and forth between Greg Boyd and Schreiner. It IS fictitious isn't it?

For a real life use of wikis for the purpose of advancing the gospel, check out - www.gospeltranslations.org

Comment by: Every Square Inch at April 8, 2008 3:01 PM

Boyd and Schreiner are unavailable for comment; they inadvertently deleted each other... ;-)

Comment by: Al Hsu at April 9, 2008 8:29 AM

"I delete you." Hmmm... a modern argument climax.

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at April 9, 2008 5:22 PM

Was stopping over to double-check when True Story and Who Gets to Narrate were (/going to be) released and decided to check out all the blogs for the first time in a while. (I should add them to my Reader...)

I'm a little late checking out the April Fools posts; however, I wanted to admonish IVP for following in the footsteps of Heroes of the Internet like Google. I knew y'all were cool!

Be sure everyone else knows the silliness was much appreciated. (And make them offset some carbon in real life, too!)

Comment by: Ashleigh at April 13, 2008 12:49 AM

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