Thursday, February 28, 2008

Collaborative Documentation for Dummies

Given the fact that our world largely remains dependent on the details written on pieces of paper, it is easy to see how this model was initially applied to the world of computing. When we received a piece of paper on our desk we immediately typed the information into a computer form and sent it to someone else for approval -- at first, by transferring them to a portable disk, ultimately relying upon the Internet to pass along the relevant data.

The problem is that this method of transferring documents not only runs contrary to the principles of the Internet, but creates countless points of inefficiency along the way. The originator could mistype the details written on the paper, the recipient could fail to see the message. With so many copies of the same information floating around the network it becomes difficult to track the end result, or to ensure that outside parties receive these results as accurately as possible.

Looking at the data in a stream of information is a more accurate depiction of the Internet as its creators intended it to be: a distributed network where every bit of knowledge flowed freely, so that if one node in the network collapsed, the others would pick up the slack. Some call it Socialism, while others call it the Electrical Grid. When you're talking about pieces of paper with bits of information that gets passed around the network: I call it Collaborative Documentation.

Unfortunately, Collaborative Documentation sounds very clinical, and hardly begins to capture the effect of sites such as YouTube, where "Collaborative Documentation" has produced an information and entertainment collective unlike no other. The same goes for Wikipedia, which has begun to transform both knowledge and education as we once perceived it in the hands of accomplished scholars. Collaborative Documentation is a major shift -- strangely enough -- in the most minor of ways.

I say 'minor' due to the size of the changes required to shift from the 'document transfer' perspective to collaborative documentation. The process is identical, as the same people are required to sign and pass the details as before, but instead of storing the document locally, you distribute it across the network so that anyone can access the information at any time, given the proper permissions.

The biggest changes would occur to the user, who is transformed from a single login name and password to a fully functioning entity on the network -- complete with a list of personalized responsibilities and an array of results, along with connections to others in the network. At once, it seems as if the simple act of acknowledging the actions of the user gives life to a network of 1's and 0's.

Which leads me to believe that if something so integral to all living matter exists in the activity of Collaborative Documentation, then a concept less clinical is necessary to capture its meaning. Just as blog and email have risen to the level of recognition as to be easily understood by the masses, so too must these documents and forms transform to become part of a shared experience.

(If you've got any ideas for a word or two better than Collaborative Documentation, please let me know!)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Draft Lessig for Congress!

I phased out during one of the presidential updates on NPR while driving home from work, and dreamt about running for office under the banner of the Open Party. In my head I formulated the perfect website with American colors describing all the changes to the way our government works. I watched little videos showing voters how easy it was to see where there money was going and how to elect a change in the amounts. Everywhere the taglines read: "A vote for the Open Party is a vote for YOU!"

The plan was to run for a local post like a school board member or possibly the mayor of a small town who puts the open technology in place which allows the residents to directly control their laws and finances. Once that complicated little line becomes razor clear the media and Internet stardom would act as a catalyst to carry the Open Party into Congress, and then maybe -- just maybe, The President: The Man who would offer states complete control over their economies, and give the United States back to the American People. It's a mighty big plan.

But not for the likes of Lawrence Lessig: The Man who created Creative Commons, and sits on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Software Freedom Organization. A God of the Open Movement! Lately he's hit the news by exploring a bid for Congress -- thereby skipping the whole small town mayor route and diving directly into the major leagues. And while the Open Party may not have a shot at the Presidency in 2008, we might end up with a President who is very enthusiastic about modern technology.

The catch is the illustrious Dr. Lessig isn't sure if he wishes to run in the special election. In the true spirit of the Open Movement he is asking all of us to show our support for his campaign. This means that each of us have to blog about it, join the Facebook group, Digg the articles, and email the links to our friends. This is such an important moment for the Open Party -- even if the party is simply a figment of my imagination. The changes to our software is real, as are the changes to the spread of information and file sharing.

Isn't it time we change the Government?

Tell Lawrence Lessig you support the Open Party.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Am I Jaa or Nix?

A short time ago I overheard that someone was looking to purchase the domain for Am I Hot or Not? Up until then I hadn't considered the site to be anything more than legendary. To be sure, the value of knowing whether one is hot or not was of little concern to the vast majority of us -- with the exception of AOL, who immediately began adding the feature all across their network. But the simple concept of 'yea or nay' became apparent on the Internet, thanks to a bunch of guys who liked looking at hot chicks.

This small step in the evolution of The Information Highway is an important one, as the ability to define a simple value of 'yes' or 'no' underlies the construction of all knowledge -- in our minds, in our debates, in our governance of societies. Connecting this process to simple thumbs up/down controls on the web extends the model beyond ourselves into the social wealth of the masses. But with all the examples of Am I Digg or Reddit? on the intertubes, none have clearly stated exactly how much that 'social wealth' is worth to the masses.

To put it more clearly: Google makes a certain amount of money every time you look at one of their ads. When you click on something, they make even more money. Your views hold a certain value to not only Google, but everyone in the advertising industry, including Rupert Murdoch who purchased MySpace for an obscene amount of billions. They came to that dollar amount by counting the number of times people looked at something on their website. Views have a value to everyone except the viewers themselves, who are typically subjected to more crap at their expense.

This is where a quote from the creator of Jaanix inspires me to believe that someone is on the right track: "Unlike predecessors [Jaanix] is not a democracy, but a marketplace where your attention is the new currency." For what is Democracy but a system of checks and balances controlled by a relative few who ultimately manipulate the system towards their own interests? But Jaanix, by contrast, tells you how much your views are worth, and compensates you accordingly. Or, at least, it could, should it follow the path of the "new currency."

One would do well to remember that we're living in the 21st Century, where knowledge is key and the value of the currency is fluctuating based on information: who values what, how many of us agree, et cetera. What you and I know is the monetary unit of 2008; it's how we earn wealth and who we trade it with. Converting our knowledge into cash is simply another step in turning our views into points. Scrap the dollar! There is no more gold backing our credit! All hail the mighty viewpoint!

Once the model makes sense it is easy to see how all of these points add up: I earn a certain amount every time I contribute, to varying degrees depending on my effort. Should I dig up something original I get a certain amount. Should I simply comment on it I get less, and for the easiest task of voting I get the smallest amount. All of this adds up to an account which offers even greater visibility of higher value to those submitting to the site.

All in all, I see this model providing the foundation for much of what the owners of Digg and Reddit (and even Pwnce) are attempting to accomplish: What are people talking about? What are they interested in learning more about? Websites? Products? You name it. You share it. You create communities of like-minded people to do it. That's the real magic of the Web 2.0. Now, let's hope that Jaanix can see the value, and present it clearly to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Cooperation Project

Howard Rheingold talks about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action -- and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group. As he points out, humans have been banding together to work collectively since our days of hunting mastodons.

Rheingold hopes to promote the Cooperation Project in an effort to transform the way we think about the problems we currently face in Health Care, etc. He released a paper titled the Technologies of Cooperation, along with the Institute for the Future, that discusses these ideas in further detail.

Monday, February 4, 2008

SIGNAL FIRE by Snow Patrol

The perfect words never crossed my mind,
'cause there was nothing in there but you,
I felt every ounce of me screaming out,
But the sound was trapped deep in me,
All I wanted just sped right past me,
While I was rooted fast to the earth,
I could be stuck here for a thousand years,
Without your arms to drag me out,

There you are standing right in front of me (x2)
All this fear falls away to leave me naked,
Hold me close cause I need you to guide me to safety

No I won't wait forever(2x)

In the confusion and the aftermath,
You are my signal fire,
The only resolution and the only joy,
Is the faint spark of forgiveness in your eyes,

There you are standing right in front of me (x2)
All this fear falls away to leave me naked,
Hold me close cause I need you to guide me to safety,

There you are standing right in front of me (x2)
All this fear falls away to leave me naked,
Hold me close cause I need you to guide me to safety,

No I won't wait forever(x3)