I am using this blog to share the process of writing my book about microfinance (the mass production of small-scale financial services for the poor). The book asks and attempts to answer bottom-line questions about what we know about the impacts of microfinance and what that implies for how governments, foundations, and investors should support it.
For, oh, the last millennium, the standard way to write a book has been to hide the text from all but a few people until it is frozen, then unleash it and await a reaction. As I drafted chapter 5 last December, I realized that from the point of view of interacting with the audience, you can't get much more stilted than that. Why work that way in the Internet age? Why not share drafts online, and start conversations between writer and readers while the text is still in play? One of CGD's technology gurus, Dave Witzel, pointed me to the blog as a natural vehicle. (Down the road, CGD may use more Talmudic mechanisms that let you annotate paragraph-by-paragraph. See twobits.net.) Through this blog, I will share and seek feedback on chapters I have drafted, documents I have found, and burning questions on my mind.
This blog will not keep you up-to-the-minute on microfinance with a fire hose of news—see the blogroll down on the right side of the blog home page for channels more like that. But by the same token, it will give you an opportunity to talk back to the content and influence the final product: a book that should help us all see deeper. I hope you will take that opportunity. Some books are written by experts wanting to share their expertise. In contrast, I am writing this book in order to become an expert. Writing it is a voyage of discovery.
We at CGD are inventing our "open book" blog process as we go. I will upload chapter drafts in Microsoft Word (.doc) and Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) formats. I will create a main blog post for each chapter, with the idea that commenting on these posts will be the best way for you comment on the drafts they announce. You can also send me marked up files by e-mail, which we might post publicly. (I don't want to commit since this is all so new.) The "Contents" list on the right margin of the blog home page will help you navigate the book's content.
This "open book" blog marries an old writing form with a new one. Although books predate the printing press, that technology of mass production endowed books with a new and transformative power. An author could ponder the world---filter information, weigh competing views, test ideas against data---then broadcast his or her conclusions more quickly, to more people, and across greater distances than ever before. Much the same can be said of the Internet and bloggers today, even if this time around the technology predated the medium. Blogs will never drive books into extinction, but the two might interbreed. I suspect this blog is part of that historical development, whose full consequences will take time to unfold.