Open Source Fiction?

    One of the more striking phenomena of the Internet is the growth and success of the open source movement. Nearly every computer now in use has on it something that is drawn from the world of open source, such as the Mozilla web browser, or sections of the code that enable computers to network. Even the largest of computer companies, both hardware and software, are, with various degrees of willingness, adopting this movement in some form or another. Linux, perhaps the most widely known of all open source applications, is now generally available as an operating system from virtually every major computer manufacturer out there. Not bad for a movement the powers-that-be were once trying to squish. Certainly this remarkable success is a credit to those who have worked on the code, willing to have their efforts shared and criticized by a large audience, and yet receiving little or no credit for their efforts.

    That spirit, the willingness to share efforts without credit, is something I want to play with a bit. The programmers who work on the various open source applications remind me of a different group of people, and one much more familiar to most of us here. To some extent, the talents of our own Fan Fiction Forum have a similar willingness to share ideas, make and receive comments, and otherwise cooperate in their efforts. They do not receive payment, and not much credit or praise outside their own forum.

    I think it is only a matter of time before some writing forum, like our own, somewhere on the internet takes it one step farther, and creates the fiction forum equivalent of Linux.

    I think it is only a matter of time before an adventurous forum decides to, as a forum, create a unique world, a new work of fiction, and write a new story, a new novel, for publication. There are obstacles, certainly, but none that cannot be overcome.

    Let me take the final step first: publication. No publishing house ever needs to see it. There are multiple places about the internet, as well as the real world, that do a thing called ?Print on Demand.? In short, the company accepts a manuscript and a fee, and holds the manuscript electronically until someone orders a copy. The company prints off the requested number of copies and sells them; any profits go back to the writer of the manuscript. Costs are cut down because no printing is done until the book is ordered. Books they are, too, just like you would expect to pick up in your neighborhood book store. Publishing would not be a problem.

    Money, however, could be. Here I will concede what may be the weakest facet of this scheme. An arrangement could be made so that profits are sent to a nonprofit organization of some sort. Initial investment of capital to start the publishing process (remember that fee I mentioned) could be problematic. That fee could easily run into several hundred dollars, and either a way would have to be found to for the writers who contribute in the forum to each pay a part of it, or one trustworthy person would have to volunteer to make the investment. This is indeed an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one.

    The infrastructure is already in place for the creation of the work. A forum accessible only by those who have agreed to a legally binding statement that would protect the ideas and efforts of the collaborators from being taken and used privately by someone on the side would be the first step. That is by no means a perfect system, and I have no misconceptions that such an agreement would force people to behave themselves. However, the internet is built on such agreements, as is much of the software industry. Clicking the “I Agree” button whenever a new piece of software is installed usually means that the user has agreed, among other things, to not try to republish that software privately. That agreement is among the few factors that stop anyone with a compiler and the proper knowledge from reissuing every last bit of software ever created. Ideally, the legal statement required to enter our mythical forum would serve the same effect on those with the talent and the determination to turn posted ideas into a published story on the side.

    The last piece of the puzzle might be the most difficult to find. A leader. In any such project, the writers are bound to have widely differing views on how characters should be developed, which plot twists are worthwhile, what color the hero?s favorite pair of socks should be, and just about every other aspect of the story. Most of these things could and would be worked out through discussion and argument. That is the best way to get the combination of ideas and styles that I think could make such a project a hit. Of course, there would be times when the contributors would flat out disagree. When multiple factions arise, there would have to be a person, a leader, to say “So Shall It Be,” and keep the project moving past these predictable difficulties. This leader would also have the unenviable jobs of forum moderation duties, keeping everyone up to date, keeping the project from bogging down when the work gets less entertaining, and most importantly, keeping all the various talents working together, even when someone?s pet idea gets flatly rejected. And that, I imagine, is a rather abbreviated list.

    Despite these various obstacles, I honestly think such an effort will one day, soon, be made. I would not be at all surprised to learn that such a project is already underway at one or many of the various forums that writers frequent. In our lifetime people were saying that open source would never take off. Today, open source is one of the biggest success stories of the internet era. I am pretty sure that the writers of the world can, and will, do just as well.

    Disclaimer: Salem’s Fire was written by Luke Blaize and hosted by diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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