Bite-Size Edits is a game where players get points for editing. Discover new writers and engage with great authors, while improving the world’s sentences. –Bite-size Edits
Bite-size Edits, Hugh McGuire‘s recent start-up, provides snippets of texts–some uploaded by their authors or publishers, others from the public domain–to users for them to suggest changes to, i.e. edit. That’s Bite-size Edits in a nutshell. I get that much. What I’ve had trouble understanding is the purpose of Bite-size Edits. In following the site’s development, I’ve noticed Bite-size Edits has two emergent identities: a game (impractical) and a source of editing (practical). These two indistinct identities are symptoms of Bite-size Edits’ ambiguous purpose.
I’m an editor (This is one of those times when self-disclosure seems appropriate), and being an editor, I have strong opinions about things like language, grammar, usage, good writing. I also have an opinion about the place of the editor’s craft in publishing, both book and periodical. Before I pass any further judgment about Bite-size Edits, I should make clear that I’ve spent some time on the site and am familiar with the Bite-size Edits process, so that I don’t feel my opinion is unfounded. And it’s not my intent to unduly criticize Bite-size Edits, but to provide feedback. (Hugh, you understand, right?) In fact, my interest is in helping clarify Bite-size Edits’ purpose; to sweep away some of that ambiguity.
Is it a game or a utility?
One of Bite-size Edits’ early goals was to provide a source of proofreading for Project Gutenburg texts. I think this is a great application for the site. Soon, the crowd sourcing of proofreading expanded to include editing in general–and not just for public domain texts such as those hosted at Project Gutenburg. After Bite-size Edits was launched as its own site, separate from Book Oven (another of Hugh’s projects), there was talk of the site being “addictive, soothing, and fun.” Somehow Bite-size Edits had become a game–complete with points and prizes. Games aren’t usually practical; but that initial purpose of providing a source for proofreading continues to influence how Bite-size Edits is seen.
Earlier I mentioned how Bite-size Edits suffers from an ambiguous purpose, caused by a split-identity. You can see the ambiguity in people’s conversations about the site. Erin Balser, over at Book Madame & Associates, says,
Bite-Size Edits democratizes and crowd-sources editing like never before. The possibilities for this new program are endless. Readers can become active participants in the creation of a book, editors can hone their skills, writers can draw on a super-talented and devoted community of editors. Can you imagine this in a classroom? A writing group? A communications department? Hell, Hugh and co. turned Bite-Size Edits into a game. And games are awesome.
I don’t want to read into Erin’s post too much, but it seems the comment Bite-size Edits was turned into a game was more an afterthought. The main point conveyed is the site “democratizes and crowd-sources editing.”
In their review, *openmargin dialogue said,
Bite-Size Edits was first built to allow authors to crowdsource the editing process by utilizing their social network…Of course editing contextless pieces of texts becomes a less enjoyable experience once the ‘newness’ wears off, so that’s why recently a gaming element was added.
Hoping for some clarification “from the horse’s mouth,” I went to the Bite-size edits FAQ, and found Hugh and his team had anticipated some vitriol. Choice FAQ (are these really frequently asked?) included:
You are barbarians! How can you [do] something so egregious to the precious written word?
Actually, we are doing this because we love words, we love writing, and we want to find new ways to connect people with text, to connect readers and writers. Bite-Size Edits is really a celebration of the craft of writing, and the pleasure of reading. It’s an acknowledgement of the hard work writers and editors must do to make those basic building blocks of writing — sentences — as sharp and polished as they can be. Of course, there is room for raggedness in writing too; and not every text will be improved in Bite-Size Edits. But this is a new way to connect people who love words, and that, surely, is worth a little bit of barbarism.
An editor and a writer have a sacred relationship. Have you no shame?
There is no way that Bite-Size Edits could ever replace a writer-editor relationship. It is our hope, actually, that it might create those relationships, by helping writers and editors find each other. But Bite-Size Edits is not something that should be used instead of a “real” editor, if a “real” editor is available. It can be used in addition to a real editor, in parallel with a real editor, or even in series. Still, if you don’t have access to an editor, Bite-Size Edits might be the next best thing.
Some problems with Bite-size Edits…
I might as well explain my own problems with the site as a source of editing. The first is the seeming confusion of the writer’s and editor’s craft. Writers express in the written word; editors help writers’ expression to be understood. And to do that, editors develop a list of editorial skills: proofreading, copy editing, substantive editing, developmental editing, production editing. Bite-size Edits works well for proofreading, or mechanical editing–correcting typos, spelling, grammar, and usage errors. It doesn’t work so well for stylistic editing–the recasting of sentences to ensure clarity and consistency. The contextless snippets of Bite-size Edits makes it difficult for editors to create (or maintain) clarity and consistency. A recurring problem I found with the site was finding ambiguous (or at least they appeared so) pronouns and not having enough text to find their antecedent. As an editor, this drove me up the wall. Another problem I foresee is the cliche “too many cooks spoil the broth.” Without an editorial style guide, multiple editors can make contradictory suggestions for changes, leaving the author to sort out the contradictions, trying to create or maintain consistency throughout their text.
…and some benefits
One of Bite-size Edits benefits is its accessibility; what Erin called the democratization of editing. But the source of the editing is specific: good readers. A key point in writing is having your writing read. A good reader can make valuable suggestions for changes. Good readers also make good proofers, able to correct typos, spelling, grammar, and usage–mechanical editing. But readers can’t replace the work of editors; the Bite-size Edits FAQs says as much.
My take on Bite-size Edits? It’s a fun game, but not a source of quality stylistic editing. The newspaper industry continues to confuse the writer’s and editor’s craft, cutting their copy desk staff and having reporters edit their own stories. Consequently, we see more printed errors in newspapers. Not because reporters make lousy editors, but because they aren’t trained in the editor’s craft (and they have their own deadlines to manage). I’d hate to see book publishers make a similar mistake. I don’t think Bite-size Edits is necessarily the first slide down a slippery slope, to the eventual end of copy editing as we know it. I do, however, feel writers and readers should better understand what an editor can do. As for Bite-size Edits: I’ll still play the game, but I’d be surprised if the conversation about the sites practical applications doesn’t continue. People ingeniously bend new technologies to their will, so I wont deny seeing some potential in Bite-size Edits for improving our writing. The least it does now is connect writers with readers; such an important step in the writing process.
What I’m trying to say, in a characteristically circumvent way, is that Bite-size Edits needs to clarify its purpose: is it an impractical game, or a practical utility. If it’s meant to be a utility, the type and character of the editing it provides needs to be clearer and more transparent. The site, in my opinion, is a good source of readers, but not editors (even though there are great editors on the site).