walter isaacsonWalter Isaacson is looking for your help.

The author has previewed the first two chapters of his new book The Birth of Online on In Isaacson’s own words, the book is about “innovations of the digital era.” He has put the chapters online to get feedback from a variety of places.

Isaacson, who authored biographies on Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, wrote, “Online collaboration is why the Internet was originally built, and I’m interested in any comments or corrections readers might want to make before I publish in a year”

Crowdsourcing is not a new concept, but in this case it seems Isaacson is interested in not only getting it right but also finding new ideas and concepts he may not have considered. It’s an interesting avenue to take, and one that some authors may not feel comfortable with. On top of that, Isaacson already has a good group of people he trusts to solicit feedback.

It’s refreshing to see an author of his caliber put a call out for help with a project.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Isaacson says that the experiment has already been successful.

I have made dozens of factual changes, plus I have sketched out a few more substantive additions I plan to make in the final version,” he said.

You can read the comments to certain sections on where contributors have added their feedback or corrected facts.

Can this type of collaboration work for every book?


More controversial topics will lead to trolls showing up and likely dismantling any good will that had been created.

But there have been questions floating around in my mind since I read the story:

– Once you use someone’s advice or feedback, do you owe them anything?
– Isaacson’s book is still a year away, what if someone tries to steal his idea and ride on the popularity of the topic?

What do you think of this form of crowdsourcing?


  1. Really interesting Susan, thanks​!​

    I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across explaining crowds and citizen science.​ ​In particular I feel you may find these two emerging pieces of research very relevant:

    – The Theory of Crowd Capital

    – The Contours of Crowd Capability

    Powerful stuff, no?

  2. There are benefits to all those who share. Not that Isaacson needs my help but I did offer an idea that he may or may not pursue. The benefit to me is that I got to read his excerpt, reflect on it and respond by drawing on my own experience. That response might propel my thinking in directions that I wouldn’t have or couldn’t have taken on my own. Who knows where that might lead. It’s all a crap shoot but you can’t win if you don’t play. Imagine a world where all scientists were hyper-retentive.

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