In very much the same vein as NaNoWriMo, the UK Arts Councils’ The Next Big Author competition challenges authors to write the opening chapters of a novel during the month of May.
However, unlike NaNoWriMo, which promotes scribbling a first draft at break neck speed, The Next Big Author’s focus is on creating a polished draft of 5,000 – 7,000 words, which can subsequently be uploaded for peer review, with the 5 highest-rated entries receiving a professional critique from a publishing house.
Sounds like May will be the month to dust of the typewriter, and get in a heavy duty order of caffeine. Shucks, and just as the evenings went and got all vernal.
Since the age of Web 2.0 heralded in the rise of social networking, there’s been an illimitable stream of social networking sites, each growing broad—and sometimes deep—social graphs, and most of them failing to think of one single interesting thing to do with their complex networks of users.
One website that tries to buck the trend is Book Army, a site sponsored by the publishing industry and looking to build an extensive library of book reviews from its network of keen readers.
The idea is impeccable. Since the majority of users are keen, amateur readers, the site is growing an army of reviewers, such as myself, who are unlikely to be swayed by publisher trends or kickbacks, and are more likely to provide honest reviews than traditional media. As the mass of candid reviews grows, the site attracts a larger group of users, which, coupled with the ability to favour reviews using the site’s social networking, allows users to tailor their experience to fit with their own social graph and ideals.
But while the idea is simple and exciting, I can’t help wonder if perhaps something hasn’t been lost in the execution? While you can read and post reviews on the site, the social features are limited, and the inability to link outside the site makes it difficult for blogs, such as this one, to work co-operatively with the site. Although BookArmy undoubtedly works and has promise, it seems to lack the passionate zeal that separates those truly successful websites from the throng that litters the Internet’s long tail.
Is Book Army the future of book reviews? Almost definitely not, although it does serve as an excellent illustration of the power that user-generated content and social graphs hold, as they go hand-in-hand and bash at the door of traditional media, a sign that someday soon the madmen might well rule the asylum.