The theme of the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco (April 22-24, 2008) is
“let’s harness our global brainpower to change the world.” I find this
even more exhilarating than last year’s focus on the Programmable Web.
During the opening keynotes, Clay Shirky and
laid down the challenge: it’s time to step up to the plate, harness our
collective intelligence, and use it to change the world. Scott Berkun
put the punctuation mark on this discourse by reminding us, amid a
backdrop of social networking gadgets and icons, to “think about what
PROBLEMS you’re trying to solve.”
Clay Shirky’s keynote was the most profound. Clay said: It all started with gin. At the outset of the industrial revolution, when everyone came off the farm and started working together in factories and living in cities, humankind dealt with the enormity of this change by drinking gin. That’s right. The only way to cope with the enormity of the change in culture was to numb ourselves through alcohol for almost a generation. Then, humans figured out how to create new ways of coordinating and interacting that made us more productive and prosperous. The changes in media and global communication had the same effect on humankind. We couldn’t deal with the enormity of the societal changes, so we numbed ourselves down with television. Gilligan’s Island and other Sitcoms became the anesthesia that Baby Boomers grew up with. Now, we’re waking out of that stupor, and we’re ready and able to participate with the interactive media environment that we’ve created. We also have a huge collective cognitive surplus to devote to working on really important things. Where does this cognitive surplus come from? We are reclaiming a few of the hours we used to spend numbed out watching TV.
Here are some compelling statistics Clay cited to make this point:
The amount of human intelligence required to create Wikipedia to-date is about 100 million hours. In the U.S. alone, we spend 200 BILLION hours watching television. In fact, we spend 100 million hours each weekend just watching ADS on TV. 200 billion hours is enough time to create 1,000 projects that are equivalent to Wikipedia. Clay’s new book, Here Comes Everyone no doubt expands on this thesis.
Web 2.0 has given us the architecture for participation. Let’s get on with it!
Building the Noosphere
My personal epiphany occurred in 1968, as a college student at Brown University, in the midst of the Vietnam War, and before the dawn of the Internet. I was reading Teilhard de Chardin’s seminal book, The Phenomenon of Man in a religious studies class. Chardin described the next stage in human evolution as a layer of consciousness that would encircle the world and move humankind to the next plane of creativity and inspiration. My epiphany at the time was that I knew that I would be personally involved in creating the Noosphere. I didn’t know yet what it was or how it would happen, but my father was already transforming the publishing industry by bringing computers and typesetting together, so I suspected that we would do this by harnessing computer technology in the RIGHT way. It’s interesting, in retrospect, that I didn’t beat a path to Brown’s then-nascent computer science department. Instead, I stayed the course in linguistics and comparative literature, secure in the knowledge that my contributions wouldn’t require me to program the Noosphere, just to ensure that it evolved in a constructive, rather than destructive, way. Hence my focus on helping people/customers achieve their visions/outcomes.
The Architecture of Participation
What is the underlying architecture, and why are we now on the brink?
- Small, Loosely-Coupled Intelligent Objects. We
can create, test, and deploy a new gadget or widget in 15 to 20
minutes—offering up a bit of information and functionality that will
continue to update itself dynamically based on changing context.
- End-User-Appropriate Application Development Tools. We
now have more business-user accessible application design and
development tools and platforms. You can quickly create new fields with
attributes (that are instantiated in XML), enter information you want
to keep track of and share, inherit behaviors, create lots of different
interactive views, and syndicate the results.
- Open Collaboration Tools. We
can twitter, tag, post, comment, rate, review, link, connect, and
invite and screen-share with anyone on any topic on an ad hoc or
planned basis. We don’t have to agree to use a single collaboration
platform or set of tools.
- Reach. Through
mobile phones, sensors, human beings, and communications connectivity,
we can reach into almost every part of the world to monitor rain
forests, ocean buoys, crop production, and human despair and need.
- Findability. Through
search and increasingly intelligent semantics and social networking, we
can find resources, information, and expertise on just about any issue.
- Pattern Detection. We
can scan the digital footprints we’re leaving everywhere to detect
patterns in human activity, emergent behavior, and new knowledge. For
better or worse, we’re now able to find new patterns and to connect the
dots in amazing ways.
- Create Value in 20 Minutes. We live in interrupt-driven worlds with lots of demands on our time and attention. Yet all of these tools empower us to create and contribute value in short bursts of attention. In the 15 to 20 minutes it would take to watch an episode of Law and Order (Tivo’ing thru the ads), we can write a blog post, create a gadget, or find a resource and a framing to help tackle a big problem.
What are the additional building blocks of this architecture of participation for creating and harnessing the Noosphere?? Please add your components to my list.