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Crowdsourced novel guided by reader input

Publishing & Media

Useless Press created a live novel-writing platform, where users could comment and favorite lines to influence the outcome of Joshua Cohen's novel PCKWCK.

We previously wrote about a novel written online in real-time using Google Docs, where fans can offer feedback for the writer. Through Useless Press, author Joshua Cohen has been involved in a similar project that enabled readers the ability to favorite certain lines, and offer suggestions for his new novel PCKWCK.

Cohen logged on to write his novel, based on the Victorian novel The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, for five hours every day between October 12-16. Users watched Cohen work via a webcam, seeing words appear as he typed, and were able to leave comments in a pop-up window on Cohen’s screen. Users could also favorite lines they especially liked, causing hearts to bloom on the script (although Cohen admitted to ignoring comments while writing and finding the hearts “distracting”). User feedback was then collated every evening and used to inform the next day’s work. The novel will be physically published, with some users comments presented alongside the text to form a crowdsourced result.

“I don’t really believe this is a novel. It’s certainly not a good novel,” Cohen comments during the process. Perhaps crowdsourced (or crowd-influenced) art creation might not catch on due to its interference with the maker’s integrity, but can this democratic model in live documentation be used in other contexts, such as political manifestos?



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