The other day, I added a little feature to the if:book web site in preparation for our next major experiment, The 24-Hour Book. It’s a small digital timer the counts down the weeks, days, minutes, and seconds until nine writers (including myself), ten editors, and a team of volunteers hit GO on a mad scramble to write, edit, and publish a book in just twenty-four hours. Once I had the timer configured and running on the site, I took a moment to admire it. There have been a couple of 24-Hour Books. The first was in 2009 and the most recent was this year, both organised from the UK and involving if:book London. Each project is different in both its focus and its end product, but the common thread between them is the use of the timeframe to demonstrate the capabilities and explore the possibilities of working in a digital environment. In every case, we hope to produce something unique to its process, something that couldn’t be reproduced in any other environment.
Collaboration and data is really at the centre of the project (the timeframe is really just a convenient way to get both). Digital and online writing tools are at heart collaborative tools. Our tech for the project is based on a blogging tool and every blogging platform is built to handle multiple authors and editors.
But how do you get nine writers to collaborate in any meaningful way? That’s one of the major challenges facing the team. Together we must make decisions on what kind of book we want to create and only a handful of those decisions can be made ahead of time. Our early discussions have been enlightening, intriguing, hilarious, and hectic: confirmation that we have the right people for the job. Even months out, the adrenaline occasionally kicks in and we get a glimpse of the craziness that awaits us.
All this went through my mind as I watched the countdown do its thing. Turns out I stayed looking at it for quite some time. The numbers burned themselves into my retinas. I think my jaw went slack at some point. There’s nothing quite like watching a freight train bearing down on you. Even if it’s carrying fun and creativity with an impressive group of colleagues, it’s still a freight train.