Sunday, September 14, 2008

Next time you are feeling cynical about humanity …

… inspired by McCain's recent polling numbers perhaps, check out the featured content in the Sporepedia. The amount of creativity is just stunning. Everything in there was created by amateurs in their spare time for fun. In case Wikipedia wasn't proof enough, when you give regular people great tools, they will make amazing stuff just for kicks. Most people have worlds of creativity that isn't used in their jobs, and they just need a convenient outlet to amaze you.

More generally, there's huge potential for harnessing our leisure time to produce useful work, and at the moment it's largely untapped. Google Image Labeler is a great (though horribly named) pioneer of this. You play a fun game, and in the process you give Google an awesome data set of images labeled with tags. is another. Playing that game is equivalent to computing the lowest energy state of a protein. If you are good at it, you could cure cancer. The sky is the limit for this sort of stuff though, and the internet is finally giving us the organizational tools to bring it about. Imagine if instead of working out in a gym, people had access to volunteer landscaping groups. You'd get a similar workout, but you'd beautify a landscape in the process instead of just pumping iron and wasting all that energy.

Here's a great talk on the subject, Gin, Television, and the Social Surplus. My favorite quote:

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into … an architecture of participation.

1 comment:

Marcia said...

Outstanding :) I like the landscape part - sounds a little like the Lytle Park Herb Garden