Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Re: Ignorance bliss when it comes to sharing

I was recently asked to comment for a newspaper article on the selling of's web infrastructure (an online media support community) by the owner of the site's domain to internet video provider, !RealTime. My response and the article can be seen here on The Age (Melbourne), and also on the Sydney Morning Herald.

While I am happy with the general gist of the article, I just wanted to make one correction and add a few additional thoughts. The fact that I have already submitted my PhD for examination and have just submitted my final approved version for publication (as seen in my previous post) some how got lost in the mix - no big deal I suppose.

I principle I agree with the final statements of the piece: Melbourne last week at a Churchill Club meeting, an industry discussion on the economics of Web 2.0, the consensus was "who does it hurt?" If a site provides a good service and has enough users, few care who owns it or why.

"The best that can happen to (an) application is to be bought by Google or Yahoo!," says Deloitte Digital chief executive Peter Williams. "You get zealots who complain."

Quick-links managing director Sean Kelly agrees: "Passionate users are one in 50 people - the other 49 don't give a rat's arse."

It's no great surprise this would be the outlook of an 'innovation and entrepreneurship forum' (but of course not all online communities share these values or objectives). Also, I'd like to add that according to the notion of the 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto principle, it is likely that the one in the 49 will be just the person providing some of the most valuable, high quality material or contributions to the community. I would also argue that the success of the largest mass collaboration to date,, is due precisely to its 'zealots' (only a few in comparison to the overall contributors) who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help generate one of the world's more influential information sources - I know just how many undergraduate university students are turning to it as an entry point for their research assignments.

So perhaps such concerns - whether or not your community will be sold out from under you and what implications this might have - may be different for different kinds of communities. Communities such as !MySpace, Facebook and xpmediacentre may be less concerned about such issues as perhaps their contributions are more ephemeral and based in discussion, while a project such as Wikipedia may need more [[][explicit licensing]] in order to assure its users that they will always have access to their contributions (which may be similar to other knowledge generating projects who's output is oriented towards more lasting artifacts - such as scientific and academic research endeavours etc).

Regardless, it is an interesting issue which will no doubt feature in years to come - how will you feel when your favourite social networking platform goes belly up or trades hands and all your communication (the intelligence and interactions you and your peers have rendered upon the platform) disappears with it too? What if this information and development is used by someone else to make a few bucks, and you're left out in the cold? Can you even export your Facebook encodings (I don't know)?

To me, this makes a good case for a kick-ass open source, open access social networking platform (think Facebook meets Firefox meets Wikipedia). Hmm, I bet there's already one out there just waiting...

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This content is also mirrored at my site, [[][]]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

PhD Completed!!!

Examined, bound and submitted - and what a good feeling it is!

I thought I might provide a general overview of my dissertation for those interested.

I was supervised by Elizabeth Presa, Sean Cubitt and Warren Burt and was examined by Howard Rheingold and Francis Heylighen. You can read the examination reports here.

Stigmergic Collaboration: A Theoretical Framework for Mass Collaboration

Abstract (first paragraph)

'This thesis presents an application-oriented theoretical framework for generalised and specific collaborative contexts with a special focus on Internet-based mass collaboration. The proposed framework is informed by the author's many years of collaborative arts practice and the design, building and moderation of a number of online collaborative environments across a wide range of contexts and applications. The thesis provides transdisciplinary architecture for describing the underlying mechanisms that have enabled the emergence of mass collaboration and other activities associated with 'Web 2.0' by incorporating a collaboratively developed definition and general framework for collaboration and collective activity, as well as theories of swarm intelligence, stigmergy, and distributed cognition.' >> full abstract

The core insight of the thesis is that mass collaboration (Wikipedia, open source software, Second Life etc) enables a shift from social to cultural negotiation, shattering the traditional glass ceiling of collaborative participation from approximately 25 members maximum, towards hundreds of thousands and beyond.

Social negotiation is the means by which all traditional collaboration takes place and is characterised by turn-taking communication. In the case of mass collaboration, a digital workspace mediates participant interaction, providing stigmergic cues to negotiate contributions via the various literacies associated with digital technologies and the particular workspace's norms, languages and 'netiquette'. While this does not preclude turn-taking communication, it places the interactive focus on cultural information which serves as the first point of engagement.

In other words, the workspace acts as a boundary object that removes social barriers to participation in online contexts (establishing, negotiating and maintaining social relations with thousands of people) and streamlines the creative process through providing a single site of work to a theoretically infinite number of participants.

Many other themes and sub-frameworks contribute to the overall work such as

The dissertation may be downloaded (a 30MB, 242 page PDF), or browsed online in its entirety.

I would love to hear your opinions, so please feel free to comment!

[note: this post is also mirrored at my site and my other blog, Stigmergic Collaboration.]

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