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Blog-Based Peer Review

Noah Wardrip-Fruin has posted a thoughtful reconsideration of the experience of putting the manuscript of his forthcoming book, Expressive Processing, through an open peer review process at Grand Text Auto, meditating on a few surprises that he encountered along the way.

Among these surprises, he notes one that I’m particularly glad to hear about, as it seems to me to refute the thing that several people have said to me about this experiment: “yeah, but even Noah said it didn’t really work.” Or at least not as well as traditional review. As Noah puts it,

One concern expressed repeatedly about the blog-based review form — by blog commenters, outside observers, and myself — is that its organization around individual sections might contribute to a “forest for the trees” phenomenon. While individual sections and their topics are important to a book, it is really by the wider argument and project that most books are judged. I worried the blog-based review form might be worse than useless if its impact was to turn authors (myself included) away from major, systemic issues with manuscripts and toward the section-specific comments of blog visitors with little sense of the book’s project.

This concern was heightened by comments made by some commenters, including Ian Bogost, who noted that he was having difficulty following the argument through from section to section. As it turns out, Noah notes, that difficulty was itself a key bit of review:

When the press-solicited anonymous reviews came in, however, they turned this concern on its head. This is because the blog-based and anonymous reviews both pointed to the same primary revision for the manuscript: distributing the main argument more broadly through the different chapters and sections, rather than concentrating it largely in a dense opening chapter. What had seemed like a confirmation of one of our early fears about this form of review — the possibility of losing the argument’s thread — was actually a successful identification, by the blog-based reviewers, of a problem with the manuscript also seen by the anonymous reviewers.

Noah notes that the success of his review process was contingent on the prior existence and functioning of the Grand Text Auto community, and of the commitment of time and expertise on the part of many dedicated readers. This reflection makes me increasingly hopeful that MediaCommons might develop a similarly successful set of review processes, precisely by focusing its development on the social network.


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