Skip to content →

The Unbook

The book as open source software: never finished, revised and mutated in v* versions, supported by social dev teams. See also this, and Adam Greenfield’s take, which he prefaces with:

I’m not sure precisely what’s driving it – maybe it’s the bracing, clarifying, liberatory aspect of a severe economic downtown – but I sense an absolutely titanic percolation of creativity out there in the world just now.

Note also that Dave Gray, codeveloper of the neologism, has his first unbook released in print edition via POD.

Unbook uncatalogue.

(Notes on his unbook, and Papernet and the utility of POD, by Russell Davies here.)


Published in researchmaterial


  1. Thom Thom

    Davies made another comment recently that made me think of this (and your ideas about printing):

    “The amateur and the small society seem like exactly the organisational models that the web supports so well. Perhaps they’re due for a revival and we can find financial and legal frameworks to support them.”

  2. allana allana

    this is a scary concept. i’d like to think books are the one thing that CAN’T become obsolete. i’d hate to have to copy over all my underlining and dog-earing everytime an updated copy was sent to me. i don’t even like alternate translations.

  3. the unbook: in the old days we called that ‘the first draft’, ‘the second draft’, ‘the third draft’ and so on…

    ‘the first draft’, etc., are the working drafts…raw, undisciplined, and not for public consumption


    seems nowadays: everything is fodder for committee and, to that end, a writer’s initial compositions (the beginning of an idiosyncrasy) are — by way of this ‘unbook’ concept — supposed to be accessible to (and readily accessed by) anyone with a mind to participate

    how depressing…not everyone with a mind to participate actually has something ‘to’ contribute

    as a model: i guess the ‘unbook’ might work well for nonfictions (manuals, teaching materials, etc.)…but: i predict the model would be disastrous for anything else

    one more prediction: most of the ‘unbooks’ that pop up will never see a version 2.0…the ‘authors’ of such things — having attention spans less impressive than a mayfly’s life — will move on to the next awkward, flash-in-the-pan, internet/real life, hybrid as soon as such a thing rears its ugly head

    unbooks — as concept — will end up as a cultural cul de sac: a curious artifact of a misguided desire to see ‘the people’ empowered beyond ‘their’ competence… -henry quirk

  4. Warren Ellis Warren Ellis

    I don’t disagree, but it was interesting enough for me to log for later as research material.

  5. i get that…just making conversation/commentary… -hq

  6. people get together to collaborate on fiction and fictional worlds all time…

    as long as a “un-book” had a strong editorial/commuters group that could guide direction of occasional contributors I don’t see why it couldn’t work…

    kind of like an open-source approach to building comic book worlds.

  7. henry quirk henry quirk

    you may be right, jeff

    i’m the first to admit my lens is colored a peculiar way: it doesn’t admit much collaborative light

    and still: in my experience, committee work tends to lack innovation…there’s a dulling homogenization with multiple hands in the pot

    seems to me: the ‘unbook’ reeks with the b.o. of ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’

    but: that’s just judgmental lil me… -hq

  8. henry quirk henry quirk

    r. davies wrote: “The best way to write a book is bundle all your notes and rough thoughts together and stick them in a book. Then carry that around, make amendments, even invite other people to do the same…”

    again: if you’re writing manuals, teaching materials, etc., i can see the value of such an approach, but, if you’re writing fiction or a certain kind of essay, such an approach is sure — in my mind — to lead to unflavored oatmeal


    now jeff wrote: “people get together to collaborate on fiction and fictional worlds all time…”

    this is true, but wholly different from the ‘unbook’

    take martin’s ‘wildcard’ universe as example

    other than a shared world, the writers are/were free to do as they like/liked so long as they don’t/didn’t piss too liberally on the world as a whole

    the best stories in that shared world were/are those wherein the writers were free to do just as they liked…the worst of the lot are/were the plotted arcs turning characters into chess pieces in a larger game

    the singular stuff could be great…the collaborative stuff, not so much

    this is, of course, anecdotal opinion…others may disagree… -hq

  9. MF MF

    Sounds kin to the Septuagint project of seventeen hundred years ago.

    Diverse translators, amalgamating rough manuscripts. Omitting the marks that fall too far from the center.

  10. […] Warren Ellis » The Unbook “The book as open source software: never finished, revised and mutated in v* versions, supported by social dev teams.” With links to more info about unbooks. (tags: books) […]

  11. Henry,

    Wildcards is a great example of what you “could do” before the Internet.

    There are some great articles on Wikipedia, and often it’s hard to tell who the real “author” is.

    Of course this is not fiction, but I would imagine much of the same governing principles apply.

    People write over each other stuff, argue over direction, and occasionally some form of management and governance has to be asked to be set.

    Of course I don’t actually write very much fiction, but I take my bias that online collaborative models and open-source structures can work in many places…

  12. henry quirk henry quirk

    as i say: you may be right, jeff…

    over the past couple or three, as i avoided the fat tuesday crowds, i thought a bit about the unbook (and other things)…

    i must admit: i simply don’t like the concept…and reasons i give are really rationalizations for that distaste…

    at the heart of my distaste is something you wrote, jeff, “People write over each other stuff, argue over direction, and occasionally some form of management and governance has to be asked to be set.”

    this is why i consume wikipedia (in tiny, specialized, ways) but don’t take the idea of contributing to it myself very seriously

    i’m egoistical: i don’t want folks mucking around with the glory of my writing (so says the published, yet happlily unknown, mr quirk!)

    anyway: even if god himself endorsed the unbook, i’d still reject it…and since i’m gonna burn anyway, what the hey… –hq

  13. henry quirk henry quirk

    happlily = happily

  14. […] There’s been a flurry of conversation around the unbook, ranging everywhere from approbation (I love it!) to apathy (There’s nothing new here!) to despair (It’s the end of the book as we know it!). There’s an interesting discussion thread that covers most of this territory here. […]

  15. Hi all, Dave Gray here, one of the “instigators” of the unbook. I don’t consider myself an innovator, but rather, someone who is attempting to describe and name a phenomena that’s already clearly happening out there.

    Thanks Warren for taking notice of this little movement, and inciting your readers into this dialogue, which I find very helpful.

    Mr. Quirk, believe it or not, as an author and artist, I share your distaste for “design by committee” and hope I can correct what I believe is a misconception: that an unbook’s author must necessarily share control. I see a fundamental distinction between opening a process and sharing the control of the process. They are two different things.

    I thank you all for this illuminating thread. It has clarified some things and raised some questions which I have attempted to answer here. I hope you will take a look and share any additional thoughts you may have.

  16. henry quirk henry quirk

    dave, i reviewed your response over at

    indeed: i do have some comments…however: allow me tme to organize them before committing them to your fine site

    thanks… –hquirk

  17. henry quirk henry quirk

    tme = time

Comments are closed.