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Is 'We' Really Smarter Than 'Me'? Wharton, MIT, And Pearson Will Find Out

The idea is to have a collaborative Web site that lets professionals and scholars edit or add to each other's work. Wharton expects to publish the collective work in the fall of next year.

Some of the best minds in business are being asked to share their knowledge on the potential of Web 2.0 in an online collaborative experiment that tests whether a crowd is capable of writing a better book than any individual.

The We Are Smarter Than Me initiative was launched Thursday by publishing company Pearson, under its Wharton School Publishing, along with the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

The idea is to have a collaborative Web site that lets professionals and scholars edit or add to each other's examinations on how Web 2.0 technologies, such as social networks, wikis, and blogs, can benefit business. Wharton expects to publish the collective work in the fall of next year, following an editing process that's aimed at making the manuscript as readable as possible, but without changing the content or meaning.

"There's no editing function with scissors in that someone says, 'No, this is not acceptable,'" said Jerry Wind, professor of marketing at Wharton School and one of the creators of the initiative. Contributors who disagree with the community's thinking can add their dissenting commentary, which also will be published.

Web 2.0, in general, refers to the evolution of the Internet into a place for communities of people to share ideas, experiences, music, video, pictures, and anything else that can be communicated digitally. While this has created social networks of millions of users, such as YouTube and MySpace, it also has shaken businesses, many of which haven't figured out how to take advantage of the phenomenon, or how to prevent word of mouth on the Web from destroying product lines.

"We're trying to pave the way for a better understanding of the impact of the community on business by opening up the initiative as wide as possible," Wind said. "It's a new model (in publishing)."

The Web site combines collaborative tools commonly found on wikis, the most well-known being online encyclopedia Wikipedia, with features developed by Shared Insights, a firm that builds online communities in which businesses can participate.

As of Thursday's launch, more than a thousand people have registered to participate in We Are Smarter Than Me, organizers said. In addition, more than 40 related blogs have been launched.

To jump-start the project, invitations were being sent to a million business professionals and scholars, including faculty, students, alumni, and newsletter recipients of the Sloan and Wharton schools.

None of the contributors will be paid directly for their work, but royalties that normally would go to authors in such a collective project will be donated to a charity chosen through a vote by the writers, Wind said. The initiative doesn't expect to have trouble getting people involved.

"Think of the open source movement," Wind said, referring to community-based development of free software. "People really like to contribute their knowledge, and share in the excitement of contributing to a community."

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