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Several years ago Clive Thompson asked if an online mob could draw a picture. That is, can a group of people unite with one specific creative goal, as opposed to something functional like a wiki entry? Not unsurprisingly the answer was yes and no, as what constitutes coherence is entirely subjective.



Vancouver-based collaborative fiction website Protagonize is the kind of thing that would burst an ulcer in an old media baron's gut. A hasty look at the site - which enables users to network and add sentences, paragraphs, and chapters to each other's work -would make critics, ironically, take to the blogs to defend the inviolability of the singular author. Of course, what Protagonize is doing is an update on the very old web game of "addventure," the goal of which is to start a story and have others add to it, coming up with digressions more in keeping with the Choose Your Own Adventure book series. That's what the site claims, though over 7000 hobbyists and enthusiasts are using it to post their wares for serious workshopping and bursts of gotta-be-me self-expression.



How is mob writing? That's a tough question as it also begs another: by what criteria can you judge? Life is too short to nitpick people having fun together and the stories too voluminous to decide whether "anonymouskitten" is a better contributor than "jdxx." Genre seems the preferred voice and the multiple author platform favours writers who want to gorge on ridiculous amounts of plot.



Though Dan Brown should be asking himself why a 17-year-old Protagonize user's writing is less clunky that his, most writers' jobs are secure. But they should start paying attention, as knowing what the public wants from a story is something any writer - literary, genre, or miscellaneous - can no longer choose to ignore.