Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Blog to Book, an Open Source Project

In a recent post I raised the possibility of producing a book based on the contents of a blog such as this. My initial feeling was that the project wasn't worth doing, since the material was already available to be searched and read in its present form. A number of comments offered persuasive arguments on the other side, suggesting that, for at least some blogs, the material could be made considerably more useful and accessible by the sort of selection and organization that would accompany the conversion into a book.

At which point it occurred to me that, while the project might indeed be useful, there was no particular reason why I—more generally, the blog author—had to be the one who did it, or even had to give permission for someone else to do it. 

Initially I was imagining that what was being produced would be a physical book, a hardcopy, but that is arguably an obsolescent technology anyway. Suppose instead what is produced is a web page, a hyptertext table of contents to a blog, whose purpose is to select out and organize those parts of the blog of interest to the author of the page. Each entry links to the corresponding blog post; notes clarify what is where. It is not a full substitute for the original proposal, since the author of the web page, unlike the author of the blog, is not in a position to combine three posts into two, eliminating duplication, or revise the post that started a discussion to take account of what came later. But it could provide quite a lot of the additional value that would be provided by the earlier version. In particular, it could let someone interested in my political ideas follow that subset of the blog without being distracted by my search for the perfect pocket computer/internet device, and it would make it easier to see the connections between my views of how to organize the world and my views of how to bring up children.

At which point it also occurred to me that the project itself need not have a single author. It could be in the form of a Wiki targeted at the blog. There could be multiple such web pages, written by authors interested in different subsets of the blog content. There could be dueling versions, one by a fan of my political philosophy, one by a critic, each using his organization of and comments on my posts to support his view.

In at least one important way, this would be an easier project than my original version. A significant amount of the material on my blog was written by other people. That's obviously true of the comments. But I also had extended exchanges with two other professors, Robert Frank (who I managed to confuse with Robert Ellickson in my original post on this subject), and Robert Altemeyer, who came on the blog to defend his work against my criticism. Their contributions are, morally and I suspect legally, their intellectual property, not mine, so I could not legitimately include them in a book I authored without their permission. Very possibly they would give it, possibly not—and if we imagine stretching such a project far enough into the future, some of the people whose permission was required might no longer be around to give it. I could, of course, give my summary of their arguments, but that would be less informative and, I think, less convincing, than their version. But given that their contributions are already available online, no permission is required to link to them.

At which point this is becoming not so much an idea for my blog as a speculation about the ways in which exchanges of ideas and arguments might evolve over the next few decades, given the technologies now available.


Mat Stroller said...

You can use a service provided by SharedBook to get a preview of your blog in book format:


I checked your blog and it had ~580 pages.

chriscal12 said...

This is reminding me of a similar idea I've had for some time now.

I've always enjoyed observing high quality debates. Unfortunately, one doesn't come across these too often in what normally passes for debate on news shows and the like. The time limits are just too small for any deep level of conversation (exceptions include Free to Choose, Buckley's Firing Line, etc). Print debates, on the other hand, offer more possibilities for meaningful discourse, but in that context, it's easy to lose the visceral appeal of a rapid back and forth exchange. Online debates tend to find a happy medium. In particular, I've gotten hours of entertainment reading old debates on HPO that David used to participate in. Just a lot of great moments and argumentative skill. There's got to be a book there somewhere.

David Friedman said...

Chriscal12 comments on debates.

Take a look at:


It's a page I put up long ago, outlining an extended debate I had had on Usenet.

Kid said...

Morally, if not legally, a comment you make publicly on a blog is just that - public. So long as no fraud is committed (plagiarism), reproducing the comment, to comment on the comment, should not only be allowed but proactively encouraged.

David Friedman said...


My intuition on the morality is not the same as yours. It seems to me that it would be discourteous to republish in a book material someone else put on my blog without permission.

What the legal status of doing such is I don't know.

David Friedman said...


Did those 580 pages include the comments, or only my posts? Definition of page?

Mat Stroller said...


The 560 (corrected value) pages only include your posts, without the comments (you can choose to include the comments, but I'm not sure if that's legal).

I cannot give you their precise definition of page, but you can check these screenshots to get an idea:

Full page screenshot

Page detail

They offer a PDF version for $7, though I cannot vouch for its quality.

Mat Stroller said...


My previous comment was eaten. OK, here goes a brief version.

The 560 pages (correction) only include your posts, without any comments. I don't know the precise specifications, but you can see examples at


They ask $7 for a PDF, though I cannot vouch for its quality.