In “Will the Future of Writing Be More Like Software?” Pippin Lee explores the world of collaborative online writing, and the development of Forkpad—a service he helped create to “[allow] the remixing of stories” on the writing site Wattpad. Having never heard of Wattpad, let alone Forkpad, I was intrigued to read about this online community that has over 40 million users, and represents, according to Lee, what the future of writing could look like.
Being more traditional in my approach to reading, the notion that perhaps, in the future, the world’s reading material will consist of these group-generated productions and fan fiction spin-offs a la Fifty Shades of Grey kind of scares me. Having said that, I feel there will always be a strong divide between the traditional publishing/writing world and the online one (at least in my lifetime). The internet, including communities such as Wattpad, is a free-for-all, with basically anyone able to construct a sentence free to share their work and consider themselves “authors,” of a kind. Lee questions what it means to be “published” in this context, which is an interesting consideration. When the end product isn’t a physical book (be it in print or even ebook format), and can be edited and added to ad finitum, it begs the question of whether these productions even have an “ending?”
As such, I think we should all agree that in its strictest sense, a “novel” should be a publication that consists of a beginning, middle, and end (and is of a reasonable, not too lengthy, length). Even though, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey started off as Twilight fan fiction, it was eventually developed into a novel of the traditional type, and published by a legitimate publishing house. I think that eventually, what services such as Wattpad will help do is generate more Fifty Shades of Greys, so to speak—novels that had their origins as online fan fiction, and are not exactly great literature. We may be surprised—Wattpad may produce the next Margaret Atwood—but at this moment it is hard to visualize that happening.
There is also the question of author rights with such a fluid format of publishing—with so much collaboration and adaptation, who gets to claim authorship of a publication produced in this way? And, the burning question is, what will the incentive be for authors to keep writing; will there be royalties of some kind? At present, online writing communities seem to be simply places for aspiring authors to get their work out to the public. It may be true that in the future, writing will be more like software, as Lee puts it, but I think that future is pretty distant.