RE: [rumori] Open Source Novel by Douglas Rushkoff (fwd)

From: Robbins, Christopher (
Date: Tue Jul 10 2001 - 08:30:43 PDT

While Douglas spends so much time in this article trying to prove that he
DOES have a business plan, he seemed happy to neglect the fact that what
he's doing is not truly open source. It's Open in the sense that anyone can
add to it, but open in the Microsoft SOAP sense of it, that he can then sell
it, not the poeple who have added to it.

Don't get me wrong, it is an interesting collaborative on-line book writing
experiment, but it is not Open Source. And while I think it is great that so
many people are applying the Open Source paradigm to other walks of life,
this is, to my mind, an abuse of that term.


-----Original Message-----
From: Steev Hise []
Sent: 10 July 2001 16:04
Subject: [rumori] Open Source Novel by Douglas Rushkoff (fwd)

Forwarded msg from the author:



You're all invited to join in the creation of EXIT STRATEGY, an Open Source Novel by ITP faculty member Douglas Rushkoff.

It goes live today, Monday, July 9, at Yahoo Internet Life.

This online release is important to me; it's the first time I've foregone a US print deal in order to give my text away for free. And it will only work if people truly feel invited and welcome jump in and participate. This book is not about me -- it's about all of us. (So please forward this to appropriate friends and lists!)



An allegory of the story of Joseph, Exit Strategy is the tale of a young hacker named Jamie Cohen who, betrayed by his posse, ends up as the right hand man of one of New York's most powerful venture capitalists. He becomes part of a plot to launch a new online program capable of hypnotizing web users into passionate consumers and investors. But his hacker buddies have also developed their own new networking tool - "Teslanet" - which could make the Internet, and the NASDAQ pyramid, itself, absolutely worthless. Jamie must decide who is friends are, and how to execute his own exit strategy from the market madness. Meanwhile, his hallucinations of brokers turning into bulls - real bulls - are loosening his grip on the real. Or are they?


Although the book takes place in the near future, the text itself only "surfaced" online in the 23rd Century. The entire text is annotated with footnotes so that terms like "Microsoft" and "NASDAQ" make sense to the future reader who, presumably, lives in a world beyond such things.

The book is now online as an "open source novel." This means that online readers can add their own footnotes and annotations to the text, in the voices of their own future anthropologists. 100 of those footnotes (the ones generating the most conversation) will be included in the subsequent US release of the book, and the authors will be sent free autographed copies, and invited to the book party in NYC.


Here's the piece I've written about the Open Source book project -- it will be appearing in the Guardian of London next week.

Amateurs Once More Douglas Rushkoff

The internet is for amateurs. No - that's not an insult, but high praise. 'Amateurs,' by definition, do what they do for the love of it. Because it's fun, social, enriching, transformational, evolutionary, or even just beautiful. Now that the investment community sees the net is seen as more of a lame duck than a cash cow, the only ones left out here (or the only ones that should be) are us amateurs.

How dare I raise myself to the same level as amateurs? I get paid for most of what I do online. Doesn't this make me a lowly professional? I say 'no.' The point is to do what we do online because we love it - whether or not someone agrees to pay us. Anything done in this very transparent medium for any other reason gets exposed. It's as if the more active mindset we use to navigate internet allows us to detect the intentions of its many posters and publishers. If there's no real passion for anything but revenue, we know it. We can smell it.

But maybe some of us have our BS detectors on too high. So much of the online space is basically a business plan of one kind or another, that we don't expect any 'professional' effort to have amateur roots. This is a shame. And I've gotten a taste of it, first-hand.

I'm in the process of releasing my book, 'Exit Strategy,' online as an open source novel. (It's already been published as printed novel, 'Bull,' in the UK.) It's going up on Yahoo Internet Life's web site ( in 14 weekly installments. The story I wrote is merely the starting place for what I hope will be a lively interaction between everyone.

The premise is that the entire text was written in present day, but then hidden online and only discovered 200 years from now. Because society has changed so much, an anthropologist has annotated the text for his 23rd Century contemporaries. They are no longer familiar with notions such as venture capital or advertising, much less Microsoft or NASDAQ.

The project is 'open source' in that all the online participants get to add their own footnotes to anything in the book - even footnotes to the footnotes. It's a way to pretend how people from the future will relate to our current obsessions. Instead of describing that future, though, we get to suggest what it will be like by highlighting the facts and ideas that future readers *won't* understand. We'll all be part of the annotation process, and comment on one another's work. Then next year, I'll release an open source edition of the text - an e-book and print-on-demand - with 100 of the most compelling footnotes added by readers. I'll buy the authors copies of the book, and throw them a party in New York.

But how do you feel right now reading about this? Are you thinking, 'Rushkoff's got a good idea, there,' or are you thinking 'how dare Rushkoff promote his online scam in his column!' And there's the problem. It's why I wrote the book, actually, and it's the challenge I'm facing in talking about it with the press.

The journalists who have interviewed me about the open source project, with very few exceptions, can't see it as anything but a covert business plan. They find it hard to believe that no one is paying me for the web project, or that people will really be able to read the entire book, online, for free. They think there must be a catch. Why would a successful author bother to distribute his work online for free when he could get real money for it in print? Even Stephen King charged money for his online works (and then quit before he was done).

It's precisely because I'm a successful author that I can release a book for free. I've got a roof over my head and another proposal under my arm. I can make a living even if I give away a book or two along the way. And, if we really want to play 'name my business plan,' my guess is that the final print-on-demand version of the open source book will do just fine, thank you (even though, so far, no traditional US publisher has dared to make an offer on a book that will be released, for free, online before it is released in print.)

So, if you need a market justification for what I'm doing - with my book or with this column - use that one. But you'll be missing the point of both.

The interactive mediaspace is offering us something so much more precious than profit, and more authentic than authorship. It's an opportunity to play and collaborate. That's the theme of my book, the reason it's going online, and the reason I'm telling you about it here: because people are so trained to associate the internet with business plans that they can't think of the internet any other way, even though the speculators have all set sail. Alas, it's a troubling legacy they've left in their wake.

We've forgotten what made this medium so truly sexy to begin with. But don't worry, we still have it in our power to be reborn as unqualified amateurs. Then we can fall in love all over again.


Please use this email to invite your friends (and enemies) to join in creating Exit Strategy.

best to all, Douglas

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