Read as we write

Packt, a publishing company that specializes in books about computer programming, has begun selling electronic versions of its books that you can download before the writing is even finished. They call the program RAW -- for "Read As we Write." You get to download chapters as they are posted, even before the final publication edits.

The benefit is easy to see: It cuts out the painfully long cycle of manufacturing and distribution that can make computer books out of date before they're shipped. The cost, of course, is that the consumer has to deal with a potentially higher error rate. Packt is setting up Google Groups for each RAW book and encouraging readers to post corrections, which may make it into the final printed edition.

This isn't an isolated case; it's part of a broader pattern of "ship, then fix" that's touching everything from laptop computers to mainstream journalism. We blog, we make mistakes, we fix mistakes, and eventually we maybe print something that's more accurate and more thoroughly researched than it otherwise would have been. Such a process often is very uncomfortable for those raised in the closed-society model of journalism.

I'm reminded that everything old is new again. Long before the Web and open Internet access revolutionized the online world, there was a closed online system called GEnie. One of GEnie's features was a very active discussion group for writers and wannabee novelists. One writer attracted a lot of attention by posting chapters of his novels as he wrote them, asking for feedback and discussion. His name was Tom Clancy. You may have heard of him.


these guys started that...