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[P]
Changing the World Through the Web (Again)

By iGrrrl in Technology
Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 07:29:33 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

At the recent Extreme Markup Languages conference in Montreal, Jack Park spoke about NexistWiki. His presentation is available online.

Park is in the process of building a piece of software that can be used to assist consensus development over written texts on the web, mostly on his own nickel. In the middle of an intense geek bleeding-edge-of-technology conference he said, essentially, "OK, so we do really cool stuff, and here's how I think we can use it change the world."


The title of Park's talk was Thinking About Markup Languages in the Context of Complex, Urgent Problems. The problems he means are those addressed by the field of sustainability. He has a unique view from most people in that field. Although the ideals of sustainability are built on a whole systems approach to environmental, economic and social interactions, there are a lot of "top down" approaches in the work designed to bring about change toward a sustainable culture. Park does not start from the high level view of the system. Instead he starts with a lateral view of the relationship of each person to the system. He quotes himself in his presentation: "The only sustainable advantage an organism can have is the ability to learn faster than its competitors." He then asks the question, "How do you deal with the realization that our competitor is us?"

Park's thinking is heavily informed by Douglas Englebart's views on collective IQ and on the idea of capabilities infrastructure to foster collective intelligence. He seems in part to want to bridge the current disconnect between what people know as individuals, what they know as a culture, and what they actually do. To my mind, if meaning is grounded in experience, then most Americans attach little meaning the knowledge that their cheap beef comes through deforestation of the Amazon, or that their SUVs contribute to climate change and indirectly to economic disparities between the first and third worlds. We have no direct experience, and hence a very low collective IQ.

The Web was supposed to change all that. Fast, worldwide communication was supposed to give us more sense of belonging to some mythical "global village." The big picture fantasy has failed, and I think Park realizes that. He focuses more on what happens between a few people, on what is said between just a few people. He quotes an article from the July 2002 issue of the Utne Reader, with the title All social change begins with a conversation. Park has become interested in the quality of conversation, and in enhancing the conversations on line.

At its basis, conversation is a medium for information exchange. The quality of this exchange depends on a lot of factors, one being the uniqueness of the information. Most cell phone conversations distill down to endless repetitions of, "I'm here. Where are you? I'll be there in a few minutes. See you then." There is information there, but only of low relevance to anyone but the two people on the telephone. They have connected two dots, and emerged with the new knowledge of where each person is in space in relation to the other. Simple. The conversations Park wants to start involve connecting a far broader set of dots using technology based on WikiWiki editable web documents.

Let me expand on the trivial example of the cell phone conversation. Say I overhear this conversation, and know that there are major obstructions between here and where they plan to meet. In a polite world, I don't interfere. If this were a wiki-like conversation, I could chime in and give that information so that they could change their plans, or at least revise the estimated time of arrival. My information would increase the collective IQ, and the meeting between these two people would go more smoothly. A good thing, no?

Park wants to take that connecting of dots to the next several levels. Collaborative web documents could be, he believes, a tool for social change. Park made the point that we had to learn faster than our competitors to survive, and paraphrases Pogo's famous line, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." (Earth Day, 1971). The NexistWiki may be the capability infrastructure for individuals to learn and to increase our collective IQ, but I'm not sure that it will work for my generation. My children, maybe, if I help. As a friend of mine wrote about Park's presentation:

One of the points he made which really resonated with me, was that he's given up on trying to get it to change through the adults, and is now working on the children. This insight is something I learned from my father years ago, discovering how well he had hid his own intense prejudices from his children because although he could not somehow change himself, he could refuse to perpetuate what he knew was wrong in the next generation.
This implies, however, that removing "truths" is as important as adding knowledge. Prejudice exists not only about race, but also about many other social/behavioral issues. For example, it is an unconscious prejudice by (and about) Americans that they have a "manifest destiny" to use most of the world's resources and tell everyone else how to live. This prejudice in thinking and subsequent behavior contributes to what Park calls complex, urgent problems.

If the goal is to create a collaborative system so that people with information can contribute to a general increase in knowledge, can wisdom really emerge? Is "consensus" a true marker for wisdom?

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Changing the World Through the Web (Again) | 81 comments (66 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
Interesting and well-written. (3.00 / 4) (#2)
by graal on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 10:40:11 AM EST

And no doubt sure to spark some interesting comments. I do wonder a bit about the open-ended question at the end. MHO is that wisdom is more than just increased knowledge - it's the skill of applying the most obscure bit of knowledge at exactly the right time, a skill that seems to be best honed by experience.

I've known plenty of Really Smart Folks who commanded vast amounts of information but don't have the common sense God gave the common piss-ant. Knowledge per se is not necessarily wisdom, though wisdom without knowledge is probably impossible.

--
For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
-- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)

poor example (4.57 / 7) (#5)
by speek on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 10:58:18 AM EST

I think your example starting with the cell phone is bad. First of all, the cell phone example really represents a different type of knowledge than what we'd normally be talking about in an internet/web context. Second, your description of interrupting the cell conversation really made me think of the Borg rather than of a better Wiki. I'm not sure that's what you or Park are after.

Also, the bit about experience making knowledge more real, and the failure of the web to close the gap - I think certain sites have already shown the ability to close that gap - such as K5. Talking with other people over the web does transmit their experience to others. It's not as fast as direct experience, or talking ftf, but it does happen. On the other hand, reading news on CNN doesn't seem to transmit that experiential side of knowledge.

A decent write-up. Unfortunately, Park's presentation is all but unreadable.

--
what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck -

examples and failures (5.00 / 2) (#19)
by iGrrrl on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:14:38 PM EST

First of all, the cell phone example really represents a different type of knowledge than what we'd normally be talking about in an internet/web context.
I confess to using an example trivial in content, but the ideas about information and information sharing can be illustrated thereby. In the lab I have interrupted other people's conversations because I knew something they clearly didn't. Often it was some technical point they might otherwise have spent weeks chasing down. On the other hand, I've had my perceptions changed about decisions that I once thought stupid. In the context of the larger picture (new information), the rationale behind the decision became clearer. I still disagreed, but no longer thought that the choice had been idiotic.

One case I was affecting someone's actions by giving new information. The other case my own perceptions were changed. Trivial examples again? Maybe, but conversations and complex systems are built of small trivial parts.

Second, your description of interrupting the cell conversation really made me think of the Borg rather than of a better Wiki. I'm not sure that's what you or Park are after.
I'm not after anything but... conversation. Lord knows I have no interest in assimilation. Funny thought, though.

--
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

public conversations (4.66 / 3) (#20)
by speek on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:29:06 PM EST

More than just conversation, we're talking public conversation. That's why your example made me think of the Borg - as the only way that sort of thing would happen is if all our conversations were public.

--
what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck - [ Parent ]

My inner skeptic takes over... (4.75 / 8) (#8)
by asreal on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 11:56:25 AM EST

I want to like the idea. But I see some problems that need to be sorted out.

The success of any collaberative project depends on all of the people working on it. This is true for everything from a childhood game to a university assignment to solving ecological problems. You can either choose to restrict participation, in which case you limit yourself to the ideas and experience of those admitted to the group, or you can open participation, and wind up with the problems of flaming, trolling, spamming and whatnot always complained about on weblogs.

So the problem comes down to how to rate users and their contribution. An open rating system like kuroshin or slashdot allows for the broadest range of thought, but allows for abuses as well. A top-down system invariably shuts out some valuable ideas, but provides better control over "problem" users. Both systems have the risk of groupthink, where "truths" become defined and users and contributers either bend their views to fit the dominant ideology of the group, or the group represses the dissenting viewpoint. Can people learn to participate in such a community without falling into these traps?

NexistWiki sounds like an incredible tool for working on small scale projects or projects within semi-closed groups, but I do not think it will provide a system where everyone is able to contribute to "a general increase in knowledge". It might, however, contribute to a general increase in insight. My favorite part of the presentation was the discussion of "connecting the dots." If I know about Idea X that works well in one area, and I am reading about something that seems like it would be improved by Idea X, I can dot the two and draw a tenative line between them. Someone who is an expert on Idea X and someone who is an expert in the potentially related field could look at my line and decide if it has potential, or if I was off base. If it worked, it could be flagged as a "good line," and if not, flagged as a "bad line" to prevent duplication. To me, this kind of innovation is what could come out of NexistWiki, not an increase in knowledge or in general wisdom.

i trust i can rely on your vote
-asreal

quality matters (4.66 / 3) (#11)
by iGrrrl on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 12:20:34 PM EST

I have varying feelings about "consensus," and you make an important point about the quality of contributors. I can think of more than one occasion where the "best" idea was not the one reached by consensus and compromise. The least common denominator is not necessarily a good thing, be it reached through groupthink or through some (even sincere) variant of crapflooding.

I'm not convinced the Park's idea is right, just that it's very, very interesting.

--
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

I've only read your summary (4.50 / 2) (#15)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 12:47:05 PM EST

but I don't get the feeling he is talking about consensus in the usual sense. He doesn't want to discover what the majority thinks, he wants to gather the best information.

Consider the difference between K5 polls and comments. The first just totals how many people think each of several different ways. The second (theoretically) allows high-quality information to be ranked higher and thus have more weight than low-quality information. It is true that to some extent this is achieved by consensus but with the right kind of mechanisms there might be a chance that high-rated comments actually reflect the Best Known Information on a topic.

In actual reality this often happens on technical articles only. And I fear that it may not be possible on any topic requirig large amount of subjectivity which would kind of put the kibosh on "wisdom" acquisition, though it'd be a great encyclopedia for "mere" knowledge.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]

Good point (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by iGrrrl on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:00:24 PM EST

The thing is, he does mean what you say, that the best knowledge comes from finding the dots and connecting the appropriately. My point (obliquely stated, but present) is whether a collaborative web document will actually do that. The issues of signal to noise become crucial. Ratings don't always reflect quality of information, just ability to sound convincing. Witness your games with Physics Genius.

--
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

Personal, not collective, weblogs, help (4.00 / 1) (#49)
by sebpaquet on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 11:47:33 PM EST

In personal weblogs, whose content is entirely the responsibility of one person, there is less danger of groupthink. Someone can always spam or troll but he's not going to be linked to. The key thing that personal weblogs bring is accountability.

Of course you'll have circles of groupthinkers who are linking to one another, but you can also have open minds who link to one another and not to groupthinkers. This keeps the air fresh.

Someone with views that go against the general grain (be them wiser or stupider), or that are difficult to understand, has to work harder to get visibility by finding like minds who'll link to him, and that's only natural. But the key is that they don't have to please a group to get visibility. They can go one person at a time.

A related insightful discussion from collaboration professional Ray Ozzie is Architecture Matters: The Rebirth of Public Discussion. Here's a quote: "But blogs accomplish public discussion through a far different architectural design pattern. In the Well's terminology, taken to its extreme, you own your own words. If someone on a blog "posts a topic", others can respond, but generally do so in their own blogs, hyperlinked back to the topic's permalink. This goes on and on, back and forth. In essence, it's the same hyperlinking mechanism as the traditional discussion design pattern, except that the topics and responses are spread out all over the Web. And the reason that it "solves" the signal:noise problem is that nobody bothers to link to the "flamers" or "spammers", and thus they remain out of the loop, or form their own loops away from the mainstream discussion. A pure architectural solution to a nagging social issue that crops up online." (I recomment you read the whole thing, it's worth it.)

For me one of the most interesting thing about personal weblogs vs. collective is that they are more dynamic. Communities are never as clear-cut, they are shifting in real-time as link patterns coevolve.
----
Seb's Open Research - Pointers and thoughts on the evolution of knowledge sharing and scholarly communication.
[ Parent ]

Collective consciousness (4.80 / 10) (#9)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 11:59:57 AM EST

First, a somewhat minor point: Fast, worldwide communication was supposed to give us more sense of belonging to some mythical "global village." The big picture fantasy has failed...

I don't think this has failed. I remember back before the web I thought of me and my nearby surroundings as being pretty all there was. Sure, far off places like Tibet and New York actually exist, but they have no effect on me or I on them. They weren't real in any kind of practical sense.

Nowadays when I go outside, I am constantly aware that I am but a tiny portion of a whole. The web has made me very aware (even painfully aware in some cases) of the vastness of humanity, our knowledge and our effects.

Maybe I'm the only one that feels like this. Or maybe this is just because I've gotten older (being mostly just a teenager or younger before the web). Or maybe we just need to give it more time.

OK, I guess that wasn't such a minor point after all.

The real point I want to make is about collaborative media. I've never participated in a wiki so I can't speak to that. However, K5 is somewhat similar in that we add comments (information) to stories (conversations). Slashdot is also similar. One of these systems works fairly well, the other barely works at all. I don't think just saying "we need everybody to put their heads together" is enough, fundamental mechanisms need to be identified for separating signal from noise. And I'm not talking about what to call the moderation options or whether karma should be obfuscated. I'm talking about deeper concepts like trust, community and probably a bunch of game theory.

On K5 most of the big name users know each other and are known by the not-so-big names. There is a web of trust. There is a community. It is the recognition of each other (and, I might note, our distrust of outsiders) that enables us to reject spam (false or misleading information added to a conversation or a faux conversation in the first place, in the language of your article). Our troll detection is pretty poor. The openness of moderations (both queue and comment) ensures that we all have full(ish) knowledge of players actions. I don't think the differences between K5 and /. are accidental or due to the fact that "they are all pimply teens over there".

To sum up: I think pooling knowledge is good, but a great deal of thought (and probably education) needs to happen to keep that pool from being overtaken by scum.

Play 囲碁

+1 FP: yai (4.40 / 5) (#10)
by fhotg on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 12:03:00 PM EST

That is the most interesting topic since a long time here.

A pitty that you referred in two places to "Americans" as negative examples. From the context, one of many groups or even humanity at large would do.

Please, people who are sick of and oversensitive to America - bashing, note that this article is not. I bet iGrrl just felt better qualified to give examples about her own society than about others. Anybody starting an US attack / defense based on this story is a dumbass.
~~~
Gitarren für die Mädchen -- Champagner für die Jungs

lots of bad thinking here .. (4.60 / 5) (#18)
by gbroiles on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:12:09 PM EST

To my mind, if meaning is grounded in experience, then most Americans attach little meaning the knowledge that their cheap beef comes through deforestation of the Amazon, or that their SUVs contribute to climate change and indirectly to economic disparities between the first and third worlds. We have no direct experience, and hence a very low collective IQ.
Ok, who decides what's knowledge? I'll cheerfully agree that, in your view of the world, that stuff about the Amazon and SUV's are facts. To other people, that's bad science or propaganda. Who gets to decide? Palestinians and Israelis believe lots of contradictory "facts" about each other and about the history and ownership of a patch of land in the Middle East. How are you going to put their incompatible "knowledge" up on some global consciousness wiki-wiki? Maybe Saddam Hussein and George Bush (either Sr. or Jr.) can get together and make a wiki full of facts about who's a terrorist and who's not.

Fast, worldwide communication was supposed to give us more sense of belonging to some mythical "global village."
You believed that? That was marketing crap. We're supposed to have rocket cars and robot housekeepers after the year 2000, and Star Trek replicators to make all of the yummy food that you can eat for free, too. No sensible argument begins with a recitation of failed marketing garbage or pie-in-the-sky dreaming about what a cool future could have been. Instead of hoping that yet another whiz-bang technology will deeply aler human cultures which have existed for centuries, perhaps the lesson to learn from your disappointment is that it's unrealistic to expect electronic doodads to create controllable, predictable change in a short time.

bad? mine or Park? (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by iGrrrl on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:29:24 PM EST

Please don't confuse my personal opinions with elements of reportage. I posted this because I found Park's ideas intriguing and probably flawed. I used the examples because these are the things that Park would like to change. I don't know that Park is right about change methods, just that the ideas are interesting.
To other people, that's bad science or propaganda. Who gets to decide?
In the specific example, Time will tell. Physics is what happens when you're not looking at it and regardless of your opinion about what it should do. In matters of social construction ("terrorist" vs. "freedom fighter") there is only opinion. I believe you're quite correct that no wiki will help in such disagreements.
Fast, worldwide communication was supposed to give us more sense of belonging to some mythical "global village."
You believed that? That was marketing crap.
Please adjust your irony meter. The term "mythical" is meant to signify that I didn't buy it either.

--
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

I can't tell (none / 0) (#35)
by gbroiles on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 04:19:32 PM EST

from the article which ideas are yours and which are Park's. I looked at the links you provided and found very little content, lots of space for things someone's going to work on real soon now.

If you don't know what you think of him yet, I think it would've been sensible to wait awhile before posting until you achieved greater clarity.

I understand that the global village itself wasn't intended to be literally/physically created - but it was less clear whether your skepticism extended to the "supposed to" in that sentence, since you talked about feelings of belonging, which might have been real even if the hypothetical global village was not.

I'd have much preferred to read about what you actually think about all this, and to have read about Park's ideas in his own words - mashing it all together so that you appear to be part advocate and part journalist reduces the effectiveness of either approach.

[ Parent ]

Your Beef Needs Facts (none / 0) (#73)
by SEWilco on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 11:47:17 PM EST

"...attach little meaning the knowledge that their cheap beef comes through deforestation of the Amazon, or that their SUVs contribute to climate change..."

Restaurants in the U.S. do not buy beef in countries where rainforests are being cleared.

SUVs do contribute to climate change: They put carbon in the atmosphere where it is needed, and they prevent petroleum from covering huge areas of land when it leaks out. Coal formation may be natural, but it's messy. And the global carbon budget has a deficit... 11.6*10^12 g are lost each year(Wollast 1994).

[ Parent ]

Beef (none / 0) (#80)
by unDees on Tue Aug 20, 2002 at 07:33:06 PM EST

Right--they just buy from countries that abuse their livestock, feed them remains and sewage from other animals, and shoot them full of chemicals. Yay.

Besides, the page to which you link only overtly mentions one type of restaurant--a lot of people eat at places besides McDonald's.

Your account balance is $0.02; to continue receiving our quality opinions, please remit payment as soon as possible.
[ Parent ]

Two things (4.87 / 8) (#23)
by trhurler on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:35:09 PM EST

First of all, "consensus" is neither wisdom nor even statistically truth indicative. Delusions are not made truthful by their widespread adoption.

Second, wikis are great for kids playing around. However, once you start putting valuable data on them(as in, data that has value to at least some people who have access to it,) you face real problems, because if the web is a dangerous place to seek the truth, a wiki is so much more dangerous. On a wiki, what you see is whatever the last visitor chose to let you see, and if he's even moderately clever, he can make it appear that what he wants you to see goes back a ways in the "revision history," so that when you use the diff function, you will not see evidence of his work.

Third, the examples of deforestation and so on are actually of a problem no wiki or other such mechanism will solve: namely, while everyone wants to pretend he's a caring individual who wants to do the right thing, the world is so fucked up that if he actually let himself care about all of its problems, he'd soon have a shotgun in his mouth and his own hand on the trigger. People ignore the problems of other parts of the world and so on because they've got so many other problems to deal with, and when you educate them about these problems, they say "yes, yes, I know, I feel horrible," but they know that doing anything about it will be a bigger problem for them than just ignoring it, so they ignore it.

There is no magic bullet, and problems must largely be solved at a local level, if they are to be solved at all. Do you think rain forest farmers have time to think about my problems? No? Then why do you think I have time to think about theirs? I'm hardly "the idle rich," after all, and they aren't the only problem-havers in the world. If I worried about all the problems of the world, I would spend all my time doing nothing but worrying, and I still wouldn't have started to do anything about any of them.

The only solution that scales is local action.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Of course, (3.00 / 2) (#44)
by spcmanspiff on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 09:01:57 PM EST

If rain forest farmers could effectively market and sell (for example) nifty little handmade goods to Westerners like yourself, they'd no longer be forced to destroy their surroundings to make a living...

But that's another definition of collaboration than what you're working with.

I agree that specific problems (e.g. deforestation, ethnic violence, etc) are addressed at the local level, but the tools (education, infrastructure, entrepreneurship) to solve them are developed at the societal level; this sort of thing, if it lives up to hype, counts as "infrastructure" and maybe "education" and could be very useful.

 

[ Parent ]

I doubt it (3.50 / 2) (#46)
by trhurler on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 09:51:50 PM EST

I seriously doubt that nifty little handmade goods could ever provide an income equal to large scale farming.

As for tools, they are developed by individuals, just like everything else - at a local level. Sure, they may get spread around, but so does rain forest beef, and so do local solutions. Someone has a good idea, does it, and others copy it - but the solution was still local. Top down solutions to social problems essentially never work. Society is too complex for accurate and detailed analysis of the necessary sort.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Absolutely they could (3.50 / 2) (#50)
by spcmanspiff on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:27:42 AM EST

Large scale farming isn't really practiced by these local individuals -- there is almost always a large, foreign corporation playing middleman. Guess who keeps most of the cash?

Besides, you don't give enough credit to the "top down" approach. Off the top of my head, things that the US economy depends on:

  • Transportation infrastructure. Federal goverment funded and planned, for the most part.
  • Telecommunications infrastructure. Came from monstrously huge (AT&T) corporate bureaucracies.
  • Education. Centralized on a state-by-state level, with strong federal influcence. Hardly local.
  • Healthcare. Centralized standards for certifying doctors, hospitals, etc. Most hospitals owned by conglomerates.
  • Security. The military is about as centralized as you can be. Ditto law enforcement.
etc.

Individual innovation and local solutions are awful hard to come by in a vacuum; they're a lot more frequent in a country with a stable government and economy, equitable and adequte education, and a standard of living that doesn't entail 100 hours a week scratching at a patch of dirt.

Now, you can say that those are all "local problems" too and that the best solutions come from the grass-roots up, but it'll be tough to be convincing. Every country worth living in has solved these social problems in a centralized manner, via corporate centralization or plain old socialism or various in-betweens...

 

[ Parent ]

Ah (none / 0) (#69)
by trhurler on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 02:21:55 PM EST

But "most of the cash" is a big piece of a very big pie, whereas the market for handmade goods?

The things you list as examples of top down solutions are amusing. Our transportation, telecom, and education are nightmares. Our security is a mixed bag; the armed forces are generally effective, but horribly inefficient, and our police are pinheads with guns and batons sent out to terrorize anyone caught not being suburban enough to allow others to feel safe around them. Healthcare used to be both the best in the world and among the cheapest, with even the elderly having no problem paying, until the government decided to "help." These days, it is of similar quality, but like the military, it is so inefficient as to be painful.

Fundamentally, the problem is that you see bad solutions to hard problems and say "at least it is a solution!" whereas I see such solutions and say "wow, that really sucks, and there's no reason it has to be that way." Sure, the military has to be run from the top, and will always be inefficient or else incompetent; that's the way it goes. However, not everything has to be done that way, and even our military could be improved quite a lot. The bureaucratic mindset is not amenable to progress.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
similarly (4.00 / 3) (#24)
by pb on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:38:38 PM EST

Many countries arbitrarily blame their woes on America because it's an easy thing to do; if the world is a closed system, financially speaking, it's easy to just blame the people with the money, instead of asking "How did they get all that money?", and "Why don't we have more of that?"  But remember, a few hundred years ago, America had nothing.

Similarly, many people arbitrarily blame things on what they don't know, can't know, or don't understand.  Beavis and Butthead, Satan, Canada, Dungeons and Dragons, the French, MP3's, the CIA, whatever.  It's never my problem, it's always someone else's problem.  Obviously by doing this, you're both placing the blame and avoiding the requisite conversation.

Who do I blame?  Well, I often blame The Media (American and sometimes otherwise) for presenting a sensationalistic and unbalanced view of the world.  What do we get but local human interest stories and news about the atrocities that go on in other parts of the world.

Therefore, I don't necessarily hear as much about the local human interest stories in Israel or Afghanistan, or indeed anything about their day-to-day lives, and hence I have no real idea who those people are and what they are like.  That means that any opinions I have about them based on what The Media has told me are fundamentally biased; I don't know those people at all.

Similarly, some of the local atrocities here are likely covered up or not widely publicized, but there's only so much that people can hide from you in your own backyard.  Hopefully the Internet's low barrier of entry will give us a wider perspective than our so-called "news reporters" do.  However, 90% of the time all I see even here are people mindlessly parroting what the media is saying this week; if I wanted that, I could just turn on the TV or read the newspaper.
---
"See what the drooling, ravening, flesh-eating hordes^W^W^W^WKuro5hin.org readers have to say."
-- pwhysall

Even further (none / 0) (#27)
by Miniluv on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 02:50:41 PM EST

With the newspapers, at least local papers, you can begin to "spot the fnords" so to speak. When I read my local paper I am aware of the more objective realities of the local world as I've seen it and experienced it, and can therefor begin to cull the truth from the reporting. I can draw upon personal experience, my local community word of mouth, and so forth to sift the news for a better picture of reality.

The web allows us to present context devoid news to people without experience or breadth of community to draw upon. This means that we must take the news more at face value, we can do less sifting, and ultimately we get a more distorted picture than if we'd just listened to some hobo on the street talk about current events.

The two goals of the web, global information flow and total anonymity, that many people hold dear are fundamentally incompatible. On a micro scale kuro5hin is a great example of this. You can derive context about me from my comments, diary, stories and so forth. People who know me offline have the advantage over people who know me online, but the more open I am the more that advantage dwindles. Because of the anonymity kuro5hin offers however I can shape that context, destroy it, or occasionally step outside of it through the use of lies, information hiding, and false accounts. Witness some of the "social experiments" that've gone on all over this site to see just how effective all of this can be.

There was a recent column on The Register which talked about building a EuroNet of sorts, which was further explained as the need to politicize the next generation technologies before they hit so that we can begin to tear down these fundamental failings of the Internet as we know it today. One of the best ideas to have come out of that was that we need to be able to provide a disconnection between real world ("meatspace") identification and cyberspace identification to protect some aspects of privacy and anonymity without having the absolute cypherpunk chaos that we currently "enjoy". Web communities would be a lot more interesting if I had a more solid idea that every streetlawyer post, for example, was really from the same person. Obviously there's still the aspect of lying, by action and omission, however its a step forward towards really trustable collaborative media.

"Too much wasabi and you'll be crying like you did at the last ten minutes of The Terminator" - Alton Brown
[ Parent ]

I'm not quite as hopeful (4.40 / 5) (#26)
by millman on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 01:48:28 PM EST

This is a subject I'm always interested in, and I did vote this to the front page, but I'm skeptical as to what Mr. Park can really add to what already exists on the web beyond some decent philosophy.

He seems in part to want to bridge the current disconnect between what people know as individuals, what they know as a culture, and what they actually do. To my mind, if meaning is grounded in experience, then most Americans attach little meaning the knowledge that their cheap beef comes through deforestation of the Amazon, or that their SUVs contribute to climate change and indirectly to economic disparities between the first and third worlds. We have no direct experience, and hence a very low collective IQ.

I think the claim that of raising our collective IQ will help cause "social change" breaks down at a cultural level, as I'll attempt to explain below.

I agree with the statement that we lack direct experience (I usually bring it up a level and say we lack perspective), but I disagree that we have a low collective IQ. Most people do know what SUV's do to the environment, and that in general our lifestyle comes at the expense of the environment and creates a lot of misery overseas. The mainstream media really does say as much. The mainstream media presents other opinions as well, however. People who like their lifestyle and can't imagine anything else will latch onto any view that supports their opinion.

And when you think about it, most people really do have direct experience. When you suddenly get laid off after years of dedicated work from your company, or cancer rates skyrocket in your town after a chemical plant is built right down the road, people know who is doing what. People can connect the dots. They aren't that stupid.

The problem in our culture is that people assume our way of life is inevitable. Overwhelming Factual Evidence, which seems to be what Mr. Park is trying to get to everyone, could help, but it isn't going to kill off apathy and the belief that This Way Of Life Is Inevitable. That requires something else.

I was having a discussion with a coworker of mine a few months ago. He's a fairly typical right winger. He's very pro-American and pro-American lifestyle. We had the globe out and were discussing oil in the middle east through central asia. In the course of the discussion he says to me, "you know, I used to think all the countries of the world were holding the US back. Now I realize it's the other way around." When I hear that from someone who believes our way of life is correct, it tells me that knowledge isn't the problem, it's cultural inertia, selfishness, and just a general disconnect that knowledge alone can't fix.

In addition, the sensory limits of the internet have a very limited ability to impart a kind of "direct experience". If you really want to understand what's happening in a remote location, you need to be there. You need to be able to see it with your own eyes, hear the sounds, taste and smell what's in the air. There is no technology out there that can recreate reality in a way that is convincing to our senses.

That all being said, I am hopeful that ideas like this can help. There is always the chance that talking and reading about things we never thought of or knew about can start to shift our cultural inertia. I'm just not quite as hopeful as Mr. Park.
---------------------------------------------------------------------

In a world full of thieves, the only crime is getting caught.

Very interesting... (none / 0) (#65)
by jackpark on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 03:16:07 PM EST

The problem in our culture is that people assume our way of life is inevitable. Overwhelming Factual Evidence, which seems to be what Mr. Park is trying to get to everyone, could help, but it isn't going to kill off apathy and the belief that This Way Of Life Is Inevitable. That requires something else.

I confess, I didn't do the proper due diligence to verify this, but I read (probably at slashdot?) that the latest report from the U.S. goverment on global warming (finally) acknowledges the phenomena but says, I gather, "get used to it."

Like you, I may not be that hopeful as well. If the problem really did reduce to eliminating SUVs (which would probably never happen anyway), then life would be easy. Just nuke the SUVs. But, as another person mentioned elsewhere in this thread, problems are masked by the signal to noise ratio and it's really hard to tell just what is signal and what is noise, particularly when we don't even look like ants running around on an ant hill when viewed from the space station; we exist on a tiny ball in space, emersed in a vast geo and astrophysical past, present, and future. Just how much signal do humans contribute anyway? It seems that with each passing day, we learn of the farts from cows, termites, and who knows what else as signals.

[ Parent ]
gah (2.40 / 10) (#28)
by Estanislao Martínez on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 03:05:17 PM EST

Why do g**ks think that you can solve *any* social problems at all just by throwing some technology and pseudoscience at them, all of this sitting conveniently in front of their computers?

--em

gah gah (4.75 / 4) (#33)
by speek on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 04:00:00 PM EST

Would do pe***ts think they should throw out pointless insults to anyone who would try to solve problems with the means available to them, all of this sitting conveniently in front of the mirror, jacking off?

--
what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck - [ Parent ]

In front of a mirror?! (3.33 / 3) (#52)
by ubu on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:32:59 AM EST

Jacking off in front of a mirror would be disgusting. I lie in bed, close my eyes, and imagine the baby-soft skin of a 9-year-old virgin pressed against me.

Hm. I just re-read your post, and I think you actually meant "pedants", not "pederasts". My apologies.

Ubu


--
As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
I am sure Park means well, ... (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by Uncle Noam Chomsky on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 03:21:04 PM EST

... seeking technological solutions to social problems (ho-ho), but, like most technocrats, I do not think he has a critical understanding of technology's effect on society (it makes the world smaller, yes, but whose world?) or the "hive" function of language. As Solzhenitsyn said in his commencement address delivered at Harvard University,
But the persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of our planet should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented (by wicked leaders or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from pursuing Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in that direction. But in fact such a conception is a fruit of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, a result of mistakenly measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet's development bears little resemblance to all this.
Now ask yourself this: who will be writing these "collaborative web documents?" Members of the Western hive, of course. And not just any members, but those members who, in the superiority and correctness of their cause, are impelled to make the Internet an even greater force for convergence than it already is, whether they realize this will be the effect of their "collaboration" or not. Not that Park isn't redundant or anything...

---
Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the American media.

Damn. I'm sorry... (none / 0) (#32)
by Uncle Noam Chomsky on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 03:36:40 PM EST

I mean to preview and posted instead. Imagine a scathing verbal attack on liberalists and etc. Thanks.

---
Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the American media.
[ Parent ]

Extremely valuable points (4.00 / 1) (#61)
by jackpark on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:06:59 PM EST

I think it's true that, for the most part, at least in the beginning, members of the western hive will do the talking. I'd like to think, however, that (comments that education is not going to work notwithstanding), members of other tribes will eventually join the conversation.

[ Parent ]
Jack Park Means Well (4.00 / 1) (#66)
by Bill Leikam on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 04:26:40 PM EST

Dr. Chomsky states, "Now ask yourself this: who will be writing these "collaborative web documents?" Members of the Western hive, of course." Not necessarily of the Western Hive. I should hope that people in the Arabic countries, in Russia, in China, in other Asian cultures, all cultures gloablly would respond and include their ideas into a pool of thought and consideration for all involved. If we, I mean collectively, whomever is involved, all begin to gain a much broader persepctive of the incredibly diverse global thoughts that are happening at this very moment, we will be required to be open to new ideas, even those that go contrary to our own personal cultural biases. If, what I call, "Deep Dialogue" can be achieved and that will take time, then there is the possibility that a global synthesis of thought can be developed leading the global community toward sustainability. If not, what hope is there for humankind?

[ Parent ]
"Collective IQ" cannot exist (3.66 / 3) (#34)
by kphrak on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 04:12:11 PM EST

The problem with all of Park's theories is that humans are creatures of chemicals. What one "knows" on an intellectual level means nothing on an emotional or physical level, and these sets of facts we keep are colliding all the time. Every human has a set of rules he believes in, but he also has a set of excuses he uses for breaking the rules (hypocrisy, which everyone has a little of).

Knowledge has a limit; first, I can only keep so many facts in my head, and second, 90% of everything is utter crap. This includes knowledge. Third, idiocy and malice corrupt the knowledge base, because some people don't care about knowledge.

At the heart of it all, knowledge is not wisdom. I remember Gary Gygax saying, when he was trying to explain the difference between intelligence and wisdom in his game, that his intelligence is decently high, and so he knows that smoking cigarettes will kill him eventually, but that his wisdom is rather low, in that he continues to do it without regard for the consequences.

Consensus is not wisdom, or even intelligence, either. Things designed by committee are considered poor as a general rule. Consensus also does not truly exist except on the most basic ideas; majorities exist. We can't be sure that the majority isn't wrong (Galileo's opponents are proof of that), and as long as the Flat Earth Society exists, it is clear we're going to have a problem with consensus...so we're kind of screwed here.

I would go so far as to say it's the opposite; after a "critical mass" of minds are working on a problem, the "collective IQ" actually becomes smaller! There are other problems with Park's theories, but this is all I'm going to go into. +1 FP anyway, though; it'll make for good discussion fodder.


Describe yourself in your sig!
American computer programmer, living in Portland, OR.


collective IQ, collective strength, why not? (5.00 / 2) (#41)
by speek on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 06:43:39 PM EST

You're complaints are only relevant if one takes the view that knowledge/intelligence/wisdom can be distilled into solid "nuggets" that, once "known" can safely be stored away for later use. But, if you step back from that view, and imagine that one or all three of these things might be better described as never ending processes, then things look different. Consensus looks more like death, whereas wisdom/intelligence becomes inseperable from the act of debating/talking itself.

It's good that there is flat earth society. Once 100% consensus is reached, our "knowledge" turns into habit and instinct, which we do not normally take as signs of intelligence. The "collective IQ" might then look like the overall quality of our discussions. Our collective knowledge isn't the last comment in a thread - it's spread throughout the thread, even the comments that seem completely wrong.

Things designed by committee are considered poor as a general rule.

It's not always true. For one thing, most "committee's" don't know enough about good committee process to be successful, and secondly, the criteria by which we most often do our "considering" is most often the wrong criteria.

--
what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck - [ Parent ]

Some things I've learned. (4.30 / 10) (#36)
by mingofmongo on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 04:24:07 PM EST

If your plan to change the world involves any kind of cooperation, it is doomed to failure. People can only be expected cooperate in dire emergencies, or when there is a VERY clear and concrete personal benefit, and sometimes not even then.

The general public cannot tell the difference between 'prejudice' and 'stuff they don't like'.

Education as a solution to any public problem is a myth.

People who care about truth and accuracy of information are not really having any trouble now, and the people who don't, have never been able to distinguish truth well at any time in the past, and that never shut them up before.

The web is the televisionization of the internet, and any changes to the web that stick will continue along those lines. Improvements that encourage critical thinking will have as much of a following as public television.

One spends a year in purgatory for each utterance of the phrease 'Global Village.'

It is cool that everyone can contribute to wikis, but it is not cool that anyone can embed midget porn in their contributions. You all know what I'm talking about

All social change does indeed start with a conversation. All liquor-store robberies also start with a conversation. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Taking an up-beat attitude toward human nature always leads to cool stuff that doesn't work.

Never feed marshmellows to a bear with your mouth.

"Start with the children" is a battle cry that started with Plato and never lead anywhere but down. The only historical figure who made this work well is one whose name must not be spoken lest the thread be ended.

Everyone remembers, "All this too, shall pass." But nobody ever considers what crap will take its place.

Don't get me wrong, the I like the artical, and it obviously inspired some thinking on my part, but I seriously doubt that any world change more profound than home shopping and poor research skills will come from the web.

"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion

The logic of collective action (4.00 / 1) (#53)
by Alan Crowe on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 05:42:04 AM EST

If your plan to change the world involves any kind of cooperation, it is doomed to failure. People can only be expected cooperate in dire emergencies, or when there is a VERY clear and concrete personal benefit, and sometimes not even then.

You would love the book, The Logic Of Collective Action, by Mancur Olson, ISBN 0-674-53751-3, Harvard University Press. Although his writing is dry and academic, he sets out his basic point with style and clarity in the first chapter, so you can just browse it in a book store and not have to buy the book.

[ Parent ]

kick ass!! I love this kind of thing. (none / 0) (#76)
by mingofmongo on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:41:29 PM EST

I'll look for it tonight.

"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion
[ Parent ]

Bravo ! (none / 0) (#54)
by bugmaster on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 08:08:00 AM EST

You've expressed my opinion of starry-eyed techno-idealist visionaries much better than I could ever express it. This one is going in my quotations file -- hope you don't mind :-)
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]
Have at it. (none / 0) (#75)
by mingofmongo on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:39:07 PM EST


"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion
[ Parent ]

If humans didn't cooperate, we wouldn't be talking (none / 0) (#67)
by Howard Rheingold on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 05:48:16 PM EST

With regard to mingofmongo's assertion that people can be expected to cooperate only in extreme emergencies, evidence does not support this. We'd still be hunting small game and gathering roots for our family group if some ancestors hadn't organized cooperative big-game hunting and the cooperative enterprise of settled agriculture. Language and communication tools -- speech, alphabets, print, kuro5hin, increase the power of people to cooperate on larger scales, in more ambitious enterprises. But people will not cooperate automatically -- individual actions that enhance the commonwealth are most often actions that serve the self interest of the individual. Perhaps the best question is not whether people will cooperate, but how to arrange a situation where the self-interested actions of individuals add up, in the aggregate, to a public good that enriches all. I think the US Constitution is an example of such an arrangement. Jack's focus on improving conversations is, IMO, a good one -- a small improvement is a huge payoff, the way Berners-Lee's small improvement of links and html paid off for the Net. Increased cooperation is not necessarily warm and fuzzy. The intent of the people who wield tools, not the tools themselves, is the critical uncertainty when you ask whether improved communication is beneficial or destructive. Don't you think?

[ Parent ]
I didn't say they don't cooperate. (5.00 / 1) (#74)
by mingofmongo on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:37:36 PM EST

I said you can't count on it. People will sometimes cooperate for no reason what-so-ever if it doesn't take a whole lot of effort, but don't count on it. They will sometimes cooperate in ways that take great effort and have no real personal gain. But don't count on it.

What I said, was that if your idea to change the world relies on people cooperating, it isn't going to happen. I stand by that. This is why Ayn Rand failed. There can be no Gault's Gultch.

All your examples back my point. They show people cooperating in self interest or in emergencies. The US Constitution is an example of a very few people cooperating in an emergency and everyone else falling in line later.

The capability of communication does not imply optimal use of the ability. Expanding that capability in some way certainly doesn't mean that cooperation and all good things will follow.

Most likely, it will just have marketing effects no one has though up yet.

"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion
[ Parent ]

Park is reasoning backwards (4.66 / 6) (#37)
by gbroiles on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 04:41:56 PM EST

from the conclusion he wants to reach. He's actually pretty open about it in the abstract to his presentation
We look at markup languages in the context of complex, urgent problems facing humanity. The talk intends to develop a context in which the evolution of markup languages is seen as crucial to the evolution of tools capable of supporting and augmenting what Douglas Engelbart calls the Capabilities Infrastructure of Networked Improvement Communities.
.. basically, he's trying to find an argument for why his software project is going to save the world. That argument fails. Software is not going to save the world. We might as well talk about how Mozilla 1.1 is going to save the world, or how Linux or *BSD or Python or Perl or Ruby or MySQL or whatever is going to save the world, by providing some sort of infrastructure for some sort of communication which is a necessary (but not final) step in some sort of global conversation which makes some critical breakthrough which changes everything.

For that to make any sense, we've got to assume two really big hairy things will occur - first, this sort of "global conversation", and, second, the critical breakthrough which changes everything. As far as I'm concerned, that's about the same as saying "when pigs fly out of my ass, I'm gonna [...]", because the likelihood of those two events is very, very small.

Yeah, this is a great spot for all of those inspirational quotes from Einstein and Margaret Mead and whomever about how tiny groups of people can change everything, blah blah blah blah. Again, yeah, it's possible, and if it's important to your emotional well-being to assume that the fate of the world rests on your software project, well, then good for you. Frankly, I'm glad it's hard to change things, because for every little clump of hippies trying to outlaw cars and impoliteness, there's another clump of religious fundamentalists somewhere else trying to mandate clitoridectomies and ban blasphemy and abortion and otherwise fuck everything up worse. If the "small group of committed activists" magic works for the Green Party, it works for the Taliban and Jesse Helms, too.

There's nothing inherently awful about trying to do things to make the world better, but it's pretty annoying trying to talk to someone who's full of self-importance about how their project is the one true project that's going to solve not just one, but all problems that have been difficult for tens of thousands of years. I'd never say that someone shouldn't work on a project like that, if they've got the time and inclination, but doing so without a rational understanding of the likelihood of success seems unfortunate. The process also smells of the sort of desperation people get when they're trying to get self-worth or self-respect out of their sometimes peripheral relationship to a process which is widely considered important. People are frequently a lot happier and more productive if they can find a way to refocus their goals and scope of responsibility to a more personal and local level, where they can be confident about making concrete and measurable, if modest, progress.

Huh?! (none / 0) (#51)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 01:38:47 AM EST

... which is a necessary (but not final) step in some sort of global conversation which makes some critical breakthrough which changes everything....because the likelihood of those two events is very, very small.
Yet you are saying that these events have a small likelihood on a global conversation medium (among other things it is).

Still, I like the idea that, most of the time, one should focus on small, measurable, baby-steps to a better future. I agree. Just don't try and stop the rest of us from dreaming our dreams in the meantime.



[ Parent ]

Not so, I think (none / 0) (#60)
by jackpark on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 01:56:23 PM EST

You impute this to my intention: basically, he's trying to find an argument for why his software project is going to save the world I don't think that is my intent at all. I'm so sorry I come across interpretable in that way.

[ Parent ]
Utne Reader.... (4.66 / 3) (#38)
by ShadowNode on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 05:18:26 PM EST

There's little point in a link if it just leads to the front page. You might also want to note that that was the premise of The Cluetrain Manifesto (Published in December, 2000).

Collective consciousness (4.00 / 5) (#39)
by br284 on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 05:27:46 PM EST

You know, this is only the first step towards a mind shared by all of humanity. I can only hope that the trolls and crapflooders don't fail me now and kill out any of these collective thingies before they evolve beyond the web.

Imagine a collective knowledge where every other tidbit of knowledge was goatse.cx and poorly written Natlie Portman pornos.

Hug a crapflooder today -- he might just be saving your children's individuality.

-Chris

Don't need to imagine (5.00 / 3) (#43)
by speek on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 06:53:47 PM EST

Imagine a collective knowledge where every other tidbit of knowledge was about sex, social status, does this make my butt look fat? is my penis smaller than average? nice tits, nice pants.....

Oh, wait, that's pretty much how the human mind works :-)

--
what would be cool, is if there was like a bat signal for tombuck - [ Parent ]

Does technology really help? (3.50 / 2) (#45)
by sphealey on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 09:28:14 PM EST

The first topic for the online concensus-building system should be a discussion of whether such technology really works, or even helps.

Over the last 15 years I have participated in quite a few document management, groupware, collaboration, and automated document generation tool implementations. In between I have also worked on some fairly big (200 million USD) engineering projects. Care to guess the best "collaboration tool" I have ever used? A red marking pen (I like Uniball Fine Point), a large table, the marked-up hardcopies from the 4-5 people actually participating in the work (out of the 200 "involved"), and a fresh copy to write the final version. Sometimes I even used a scissors and tape to "cut and paste".

The system beat all the groupware and collaboration software I have used by 3 or 4 orders of magnitude.

sPh

You rock. (none / 0) (#77)
by mingofmongo on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 03:51:00 PM EST

I feel much the same, except that I think added do-hicky tech actually screws up the process. And another thing, isn't powerpoint the absolute worst thing that ever happened to publick speaking? I think a powerpoint presentation is a license to stutter.

"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion
[ Parent ]

This is so not seeing the problem (4.00 / 3) (#47)
by DranoK 420 on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 10:12:36 PM EST

Technology is not the answer. Let's take the example you used:

If this were a wiki-like conversation, I could chime in and give that information so that they could change their plans, or at least revise the estimated time of arrival.

Uh-huh. And what would be your incentive? Why would you be looking over their plans? Why would you be wasting your time?

You know what? I'd be happy if Jr. sysadmins would, every once in a while, use our *internal wiki system* to document their changes. Damn, I'd be happy if our Sr. Coders would do the same thing. I'm sorry, I just don't see anyone being so helpful as you suggest.

Never underestimate the strength of lethargy.

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence.


Why did you tell us that? (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by DesiredUsername on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 08:36:23 AM EST

en tea

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Come again? (none / 0) (#56)
by DranoK 420 on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 10:53:02 AM EST

Tell you what? I'm confused now...

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence.


[ Parent ]
What was your incentive? (none / 0) (#57)
by DesiredUsername on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 11:03:41 AM EST

Why weren't you lethargic?

Most people are too lazy to write a comment. But out of hundreds of thousands there are enough motivated (for whatever reason) people to sustain the process. As you demonstrated by posting a comment to correct what you thought was an error. Just like in the phone conversation example.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]

My incentive (none / 0) (#58)
by DranoK 420 on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 12:34:45 PM EST

Was to harrass anoy and poke fun. Some mistakes are enjoyable to correct, such as my percieved idiocy of an idea. Other mistakes -- like the departure time of a plane -- wouldn't give me the same satisfaction.

In other words, you can trust that people will post opinions all day long -- but posting facts is rather boring.

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence.


[ Parent ]
Yes, but some people do it for the sheer enjoyment (none / 0) (#70)
by FyReStOrM on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 02:35:59 PM EST

I do it all the time; overhear somebody discussing going from one place to another, realise they don't have information/experience that I do that would make the process simpler, interrupt them and tell them.

I enjoy doing it, because I find while people may be briefly surprised at being interrupted by a complete stranger, by the time we part company it's usually with a smile and a call of 'good journey'. That's my motivation - knowing I've made somebody's day a little easier and knowing that they have made the effort to a kind word in return.

Conversations are simply another form of asynchronous human-to-human communication; the same things that cause me to happily jump onto the end of a thread that is, effectively, a two-person conversation make me happily do it in real life; I've never really worried about it provided I feel I have something of sufficient value to say to offset the interruption (being as arrogant as I am helps towards believing this :-)

I feel sorry for anybody who doesn't realise that enlightened self-interest is best served by being nice to most people most of the time ...

[ Parent ]
primate status behavior (none / 0) (#71)
by iGrrrl on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 03:00:02 PM EST

And your purpose in this ("to harrass and annoy") is what? To increase your status by diminshing the person who's idiocy you percieve?

I don't mean this as a snarky question. The motivation to help and the motivation to crush are quite different. Both lead to a status jolt of some form ("Yay, I helped somebody!" vs. "Let me beat my chest in superiority!") Both can, perhaps, lead to error correction in the information in the system.

My own values cause me to prefer the former and find humor in the latter.

--
You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
remove apostrophe for email.
[ Parent ]

I distrust people who want to change the world (3.66 / 3) (#48)
by mami on Fri Aug 16, 2002 at 10:49:27 PM EST

... may be I read through your article when I am less tired. That's just a first reaction. Beware of people who want to change the world. They do, mostly to the worse, them having cool or hot ideas, doesn't change a thing.

If I may disagree with this interpretation (none / 0) (#59)
by jackpark on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 01:51:31 PM EST

I would sincerely hope that the NexistWiki experiment is not interpreted as my attempt to "save the world." Rather, the preferred interpretation would be that it is an effort to find tools suitable for the facilitation of those collections of individuals who want to participate in "saving the world", whatever that may mean.

[ Parent ]
Can you distinguish (none / 0) (#68)
by mami on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 08:05:56 AM EST

between a lax jokingly comment and something sincere? Lately I can only handle the former.

[ Parent ]
different people, different goals (4.33 / 3) (#62)
by Phantros on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:28:10 PM EST

You seem to assume that everyone has the same goals, which is of course not true. Joe Farmer in the Amazon practicing slash-and-burn farming has the goal of putting food on his family's table, while Jane Zoologist would like to study the creatures being killed. Collaboration doesn't work well when people have good reason to work towards opposing goals.

There are more devious examples too. Let us say that I overhear the phone conversation in your example between the people meeting. I may own a gas station between the two locations, and would benefit from lying to them and claiming they should change their route. Again, a case of opposing goals, but this time it will probably never be discovered that I've used their trust to inconvenience them for my own personal gain.

Lastly, your comments regarding America hurt your credibility. Americans don't wish to control the world any more than most other citizens of the world...American flaws are just more obvious because the US has more power. If the presidents of the US and Senegal make the same stupid/evil decision the same day, the whole world rises up in arms against the US, while 99% of the world scratches their heads wondering what a Senegal is.

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with

I wonder if... (5.00 / 1) (#63)
by jackpark on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 02:37:03 PM EST

Many thanks to jGrll for a thoughtful discussion about my talk, and for provoking equally thoughtful comments. Many thanks also to those who voted her article up so that it could be visible enough to warrant such thoughtful comments

I wonder if my talk really was about concensus building or even wisdom enhancement at all. I don't think I intended it to be so, nor did I ever intend it to represent NexistWiki as the be all, end all solution to humankind's problems.

My own slant has been that finding and connecting dots is an enormously useful thing to do, giving a profoundly (to me) beneficial outcome for doing that with my own visitation with a cancer as just one example. My hypothesis, layered over that point of view is that storytelling is but one important way in which dots are found, and that individuals will, all by themselves, make the connections (or they will not, but that's beside the point, I think).

Given that hypothesis, my reaction to Douglas Engelbart's call to arms has been to pick up on his notion of augmenting human capabilities by building an experimental software product that intends to facilitate what I call augmented story telling.

To do that, I couple a variety of what I think are useful ideas (let no one ever think I have had an original idea), including Engelbart's call for fine-grained addressability, the Web's HTTP and HTML, Java servlets, the WikiWiki pattern, Jeff Conklin's IBIS ontology and some plain old hacks, now including WebLogs, and presto! NexistWiki. It's ugly, not particularly intuitive, and even crashes once in a while. But, hey, I'm learning a lot from it, and so, I think, are others.

But, what is NexistWiki? It's just a bunch of gene/meme fragments out there in the vast pool of ideas orbiting around the attractor basin that is Douglas Engelbarts OHS vision found here.

Do I personally want to save the world? Nope. I'm not smart enough for that. Do I want the world to be hospitable for my own kids? Yup. For me, it's all about the journey. The destination will take care of itself.

Great idea... (none / 0) (#64)
by k31 on Sat Aug 17, 2002 at 03:08:27 PM EST

Conversation as a means of increasing collective intellect is a great idea; it is also something that I've seen happen to an extent. After all, one person can't know everything.

The human-to-human implementation (e.g. giving advice based on what was overheard) sounds very useful, although it would imply that efficiency now becomes more important than ediquitte. But, politeness never got anyone rich, did it?


Your dollar is you only Word, the wrath of it your only fear. He who has an EAR to hear....

parallelism as a means to avoid limitations (4.00 / 1) (#72)
by logiterr on Sun Aug 18, 2002 at 04:42:48 PM EST

online you can have 100 people working on the same document at the same time. you might want to have a handful of people with write permissions to commit the changes suggested by the other 100 people but ultimately the system can be designed to track everyone's individual work on the document. people would then plug into the document directly or through someone else's work and thus start building chains of dependencies. if a dependency drops it would often mean a better solution has been found and so you can either rebuild your dependencies or start working on a new problem.

offline you have body problems. only a certain number of people can work at a table at a given time. you might be able to organize a system of rotations which might work like an online system but it would be much slower making it prone to errors that might never get fixed. if you have only a handful of people working at the table you then need to ensure that the ideas of those not working at the table reach those working at the table.

personally i find working at a table much more efficient than a computer but only because i create my work metaphor, decide on the tools i will use as well as the interface and medium. with a computer you have to use a pre-fab system which wasnt designed for you project. it would be nice to have a system designed for your particular project, but this still means you are limited to the features built in by developers who might not be present. so you have to rely on compile-time and run-time features. if those are flexible some of your problems can be fixed else you get headaches.

but i can not ignore the fact that a properly organized online collaboration is by orders of magnitude more efficient and faster at working on a project. it is sort of how a distributed computer would go about running/executing a program. breaking it up into pieces and assigning the pieces to available nodes etc. sort of like SETI@home.

people are not robots. this i know. people can be unreliable at unfortunate times. people like to do things their way. people might not enjoy being assigned a part of a project of which they have no interest. so then it would make sense to have a set of core developers who work on the fundamentals. you might even want to try rotating developers, say after they have logged in a certain amount of time on certain fundamental parts to the project they get switched and can not work on parts they might actually be interested in. this should ensure a project get the basic attention it needs to be accomplished but satisfies the human need to do what they want (but not always when they want it). this i believe would work in an online context and be beneficial regardless of the type of project.

finally i should end off this comment saying that i have no actual organizational skills, nor do i have any training. i am not a computer programmer so i am not a developer. i can not even read code well enough to debug it. i read sci-fi, and sometimes they talk about distributed computers. somehow distributed computers accomplish things. the programs they run are (simplified) versions of our own real world problems. they either run thr program properly or not, and sometimes the results are not what was intended. i wondered why not apply a similar strategy to collaborative work on the web?

I think it is extreamly cool that, (none / 0) (#78)
by mingofmongo on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 04:45:42 PM EST

the people whose ideas are discussed here, sometimes show up. Now if only that Senator Hollings guy would show up, so we could beat him severely with lead pipes...

"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion

I even read the posts! (none / 0) (#79)
by jackpark on Mon Aug 19, 2002 at 08:25:09 PM EST

Based on one comment that my slides were nearly unreadable, and based on some ideas of others, I reinstalled the talk at http://www.nexist.org/em2002/ and don't use white on black text.

[ Parent ]
Is there a man behind the curtain? (none / 0) (#81)
by bryan b thompson on Mon Aug 26, 2002 at 01:27:02 PM EST

I just wanted to chime in with my two cents here. Jack and I are both interested in nearly exactly the same class of systems, but we have arrived at that shared interest and understanding through completely different paths. While the future is, of course, uncertain, I see "augmented story telling" (to use Jack's phrase) as an essential extension of our current capabilities for sharing information and solving problems. I'm not sure if anyone else has pointed this out, but kuro5hin, slash-dot, and ALL threaded discussion systems are essentially issue-oriented story telling frameworks -- but they lack the formal structure of an IBIS (issue-oriented information system) architecture. Jack is proposing, at the first level, to bring this IBIS architecture as an enhancement of these existing systems. IBIS itself is directly based on a formal model of argument structure that was develop by Toulmin for the UN in the 50's.

If kuro5hin was enhanced with an IBIS system, then every time some issue occured in the text, that issue would be hyperlink. The same for all positions taken identified for each issue. And the same for all arguments that provide support for, or against, each of those positions. Without an IBIS architecture, kuro5hin is unable to augument its storytelling support with a hyperlinking model that insures that people can always track every comment that has been made on some issue. The branching threaded discussion system provides a proxy for this, but it is, at least formally, less powerful.

The class of augmented storytelling systems that includes kuro5hin relies on a voting mechanism to bubble hot stories to the top. This is a proxy for a time-sensitive utility function -- it expresses an aspect of the value of the information contained in the threaded discussion. A suitably enhanced IBIS architecture must, in my view, include mechanisms for expressing conditional assumptions, beliefs, and values.

One of the central functional roles of an argumented story telling system is conflict resolution. IBIS supports conflict resolution by identifying the issues, the positions on those issues, and the arguments that link those positions. Extensions of the IBIS model can provide computational support by drawing inferences along the argument network to identify:

  • belief in the truth or falsity of positions based on the available evidence and assumptions as interpreted by the given arguments;
  • expected value of possible actions;
  • sources of indecidibility in conclusions
There is a lot of formal study of such systems. My own perspective emerged from the study of cognitive models of expertise, decision-making under uncertainty, neuro-biologically plausible, computational models of inference, planning, and memory, and an exploration of how these things can be fused as an infrastructure for "collaborative cognition" (vs "augmented story telling"). I think about these issues in terms of a "cognitive web", in which an IBIS architecture is combined with computational support to provide a collaborative extension of memory, just like paper is an extension of memory, just like the web is an extension of memory.

Bryan Thompson

Changing the World Through the Web (Again) | 81 comments (66 topical, 15 editorial, 0 hidden)
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