This post was written for the TRG blog, at www.transliteracy.com.
Well, without dipping into too many cliches about the passage of time, it is nearly five years since the DMU/Penguin wiki-novel experiment, ‘A Million Penguins’, took place. The project ran from 1 Feb 2007 for five weeks, and all of us who were involved with it remember it as a time of chaos and great entertainment. Yesterday I was down at Goldsmith’s College, in London, where I was the external examiner for a PhD candidate, Amy Spencer; her PhD was on the Networked Book. She built her thesis around three case studies of networked books that are also works of fiction, ‘Paddlesworth Press’ , ‘The Golden Notebook Project’, and ‘A Million Penguins’. It’s a solid and interesting piece of research.
Reading Amy’s thesis promoted me to look at the current status of ‘A Million Penguins’ online. We heard early last year that Penguin was going to give up hosting the project, and we didn’t have the time, or the resources, to figure out how to archive the massive wiki, with its many many pages, ourselves. I regret this, though it is hard to see how we could have saved it in time. So the original site no longer exists.
However, a good portion of ‘A Million Penguins’ was archived by the amazing people at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, and you can find these pages by searching for it via the Wayback Machine.
During Amy’s viva we talked a bit about the phenomenon of the networked book itself. Amy pointed out that during the noughties there were a significant number of projects that called themselves ‘networked books’, both fiction and non-fiction, my own on-going project, ‘Flight Paths: a Networked Novel’ among them of course. Amy wondered if the networked book concept has had its day. I think that we are now seeing trade publishing approaching publishing fiction in a manner that owes much to the networked book concept, although of course, all in the service of marketing. Social media marketing campaigns are now being built around books; these campaigns include bespoke web content, games, extra content, author interviews, etc. These campaigns aim to foster reader engagement around a newly published book, whereas the networked books of the noughties all sought to foster creative engagement with text and other forms of media. The networked book emphasis was on collaboration and contributing, whereas, of necessity, a trade publishing networked social media campaign is about sales.