Don’t know what multilateral learning is? You will soon


Books are better when their readers interact with them, writes Marcelino Elosua

You once knew how it worked. You picked up a business book, you read it, you put it back on the shelf. That book had just one use and essentially a single lifespan. But what if business learning became interactive? Imagine that each book was open to live discussion; that experts could comment on their content; debate each other’s comments, even reorganize the book so that others might learn more quickly? Then the book has not one use and lifespan, but many. It becomes a starting point for learning and debate, not an end point.

Yet this is not some futuristic flight of fancy. Multilateral collaborative learning is already here.

One of the most popular political books of recent times is My Journey, by Britain’s former centre-left Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. Maybe you liked the book, maybe you agreed with Blair, perhaps you didn’t. Now imagine reading the very same book but seeing the comments of David Cameron, the UK’s current Prime Minister from the centre-right Conservative Party. Cameron once dubbed himself the “Heir to Blair” – what lessons did he learn from his old rival? What parts of Blair’s worldview did he share? Did the two leaders have more in common than just their europhilia? Suddenly My Journey becomes an insight not just into Blair’s journey, but into Cameron’s too.

Bluebottlebiz is the first platform to have introduced multilateralism. A platform is bilateral when the essential relationship is between the platform and the individual users, each of whom can read a book and leave a review, publicly and for the whole website. It’s only multilateral if it allows interaction with other individual users or groups and enables content to be amended or rearranged, by comments or by reorganizing it.

At Bluebottlebiz, a reader can comment on an article, paragraph by paragraph, keeping comments private, sharing them with a closed or open group in their network, or making them completely public. The personalized version of every title is saved, which obviously impacts on storage. Choices for readers become more complex as each individual has the option of reading a book as the writer wrote it originally or, for example, in its fifth edition; or including the comments of a friend, teacher – or perhaps an author with a contrasting point of view. Steve Jobs’ autobiography might be livened up considerably if annotated by Bill Gates – not in a separate document but alongside Jobs’ original text, paragraph by paragraph.

As well as searching for books by author, it will be possible to search for those who have commented on titles, and the publications on which they have commented, which may well lead to the discovery of new experts. Once you get a taste for a book commentator, you can search her comments on other books – benefiting both from her expert analyses, and accessing the series of titles she has read and learned from.

For more information, read Elosua’s special report on collaborative learning here

Business books entrepreneur Marcelino Elosua is chief executive of Bluebottlebiz and founder and chief executive of LID Publishing, which publishes Dialogue.