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One of the biggest limitations about publishing print books these days is how quickly material gets out of date.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.