Mackenzie Wark – VALA2010 Day 3 Closing Plenary

McKenzie Wark – Eugene Lang College and the New School for Social Research New York – The Networked Book

Developed his book Gamer Theory with interaction with kids, teens, parents, librarians and professionals in the gaming industry. Many books are being developed this way, using the power of Web 2.0, but it is not appropriate for every title.

Have lots of tools around for different types of knowledge, but he couldn’t really find one that was appropriate for encouraging critical thinking. So they built their own. They made the paragraph the unit of thought on which people could think and comment. The comments are then placed alongside the paragraph. Its now available as a Word Press plugin (Comment Press). Navigation was resolved by displaying them like index cards, in a group of five.

He put up a pre-polished version of the book, so the majority of the work was done. However, it was an implied contract that he would read all the comments and would take them under consideration. It resulted in the whole start of the book being changed.  After consideration and feedback the book was put up again for comment. Not many comments were made this time, because it was pretty much the final product and all feedback already received had been considered.  Third copy was the final version.

He suggested that they offered it free online, to encourage sales. Publishers said yes – tried everything else which hadn’t worked, so lets try this! Pre-sales were over 1600 copies which was considered an overwhelming success. Third copy incorporates the comments, was better edited and looks good.

Built some stuff that didn’t work. Built a reputation index, which slid comments up a scale etc – spent tons of money on it but wasn’t used, so is no longer on the site.

(check it out at:

Wanted to explore visualisation to explore the three dimensional space of text – gives a three dimensional paper of words that have any value in the book – working around in an arc. The start of how we could visually organise the text, from the view of the creator.

People are losing the capability of reading long non-fiction texts. Visualisation and user interaction could be two tools which could help people to re-engage with this full length of this sort of content.

Showed a video using machinima (MMOPRG world), used to illustrate a talk-show voiceover where Ken was interviewed about the Networked book. Very cool!

Never did anything in Second Life – he hated it and is glad to see its time has past.  Suggested that Twitter may be the next Second Life. (ooo)

Had a real problem trying to get elements. Can deal with the text readily enough, but the use of images and music is much more complicated and expensive – overly strict copyright rules.

Media culture is broken when lawyers are trying to sue people from their own companies who are just doing things to market their products. eg. Giving products away to encourage purchases.

To get around all the restrictions imposed on images, he employed a graphic artist to create in mimic, similar images to those he was interested in using. These were licensed under Creative Commons and went along with the book.

Ironic – that people are writing books about the fact that books are disappearing and then those books disappear.

Are there boundaries between libraries and publishers and do they need to be there? The technological barriers have gone, why else are there barriers. Main barrier is the boundary between the gift economy and the commodity economy. Where the boundary lies is not really understood.
Where is the space where we can interact?  Authors and publishers are bemoaning the future, but librarians are a lot more optimistic, talking rewiring and keeping people reading.

The important thing is the continuing democracy of knowledge.