Alexandria Online

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Authority Switch

If you go to you will see the site of the Ck-12 foundation, which publishes free "flexbooks:" online textbooks that are gradually modified in the same way that open-source software is developed. The state of California will be using some of CK-12's  free textbooks next year, saving millions of dollars. (See Lewin, Tamar "In a Digital Future, Textbooks are History", NYT, August 9, 2009) An important part of the process is review. At the top of each textbook they offer is a standard progress bar that reads, "This content is / for review >> under review >> has been reviewed" with a link to an explanation of the review process. But who does the reviews?

In You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier talks about the importance of "membranes" in the digital world. These membranes separate one entity from another. There is a membrane around CK12: it is an identifiable group of people with a specific mission and a transparent funding source. You know who they are and what their agenda is. You know their motives and their level of expertise. They are authorities. They review the work, approve it, and take responsibility for it. An Oxford Classical Text has a very thick membrane about it; Wikipedia has an impossibly thin one.

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