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Author Uses Blog Comments to Peer Review Book

Anyone who has scanned the comments at Perez Hilton would understandably be puzzled by the idea of relying on blog readers to peer review a book. The idea seems especially ludicrous if the book is being published by the MIT Press. But as we’re well aware here at ReadWriteWeb, some blogs do have very intelligent readers (*wink, wink, nudge, nudge*). Author Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an assistant professor of communication at the University of California at San Diego, thinks so too, which is why he is calling on his blog’s readers to peer review his new book.

The book in question is the forthcoming Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies, which examines the study of video games, and the blog in question is Grand Text Auto, an academic blog founded in 2003 that deals with “digital narrative, poetry, games and art.”

“Blogging has already changed how I work as a scholar and creator of digital media. Reading blogs started out as a way to keep up with the field between conferences — and I soon realized that blogs also contain raw research, early results, and other useful information that never gets presented at conferences,” said Wardrip-Fruin. A community of respected peers has sprung up around Grand Text Auto, according to Wardrip-Fruin, one that he hopes to tap into for comments on his latest book. “This is the community whose response I want, not just the small circle of academics,” he told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wardrip-Fruin is using an adapted version of CommentPress, which is a plugin that lets users comment individually on each paragraph of a blog post, and will be posting his book one chapter at a time on his blog. The first chapter, “Media Machines,” is already up.

While Wardrip-Fruin has high hopes had the blog review will yield more fruitful feedback than a traditional peer review, not everyone is so certain. His editor Doug Sery, while curious to see what sort of comments blog review yields, isn’t willing to bet the bank on it. “I don’t know how this general peer review is going to help,” he told the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Expressive Processing will simultaneously receive a traditional peer review — a process which involves soliciting anonymous feedback from other professors and authors — while it gets the open blog review treatment. When both processes are complete, Wardrip-Fruin and Sery will be able to compare the results and see which yielded more helpful comments.

While Sery is probably right that a serious peer review can’t be conducted openly on a blog, and for the integrity of the publisher, editor, and author to remain intact, a traditional peer review must be done, blog review does have a place. Comments from blog readers could certainly be helpful in crafting the final product, even if they are too informal to be considered a real peer review. “I am dead certain [blog review] will make the book better,” said Wardrip-Fruin.

Wardrip-Fruin isn’t the only recent author to seek help in the editorial process from readers. Earlier this month we wrote about Daniel Oran, who is using the Amazon Kindle to beta test his book. While Oran’s book has sold well — reaching as high as #7 on the Kindle sales charts — and he has so far received 11 reviews on the book’s sales page, it is questionable how useful they will be. Most of the reviews are typical to Amazon: short, personal, and not much in the way of analysis of the book itself.

It seems that most reviewers are treating Oran’s book as if it were already published — that is, they want to help other readers decide whether to buy, rather than help Oran decide what to fix. That is likely a result of the method Oran chose to solicit feedback (via Amazon review). Had he encouraged readers to give feedback in a less public way (i.e., via a message board or via email), he may have received more substantive comments — the type that Wardrip-Fruin is hoping for on his blog.

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