Thursday, April 5, 2012

High-Flowing Collaboration Online

In class recently, there was a good deal of discussion into the way that large-scale collaborative efforts produce different results depending on how much the different members are able to see and compare with each other's information. The results of psychologists experiments showed that having too many people able to quickly share ideas with each other could have negative results, which it called group-think, saying that these people will not be able to find innovative ideas if they are transfixed and being judged by the ideas of everyone.

Myself, as one of many college students who spend large amounts of time online, argue that this may not be accurate when one looks at the wonders that have come from collaboration that has occurred on a MASSIVE scale through the internet in recent years. While my argument may not hold for strictly scientific research such as that which the DNA structure included, by looking at the creations that collaboration through the internet has made, creativity seems to come more freely. Looking particularly at Wikipedia, at open-source, and sites like Digg, the unstructured input of many people has produced wonderful results.

I'm sure that all of you have been on wikipedia - which in a way proves my point - but the basic concept is that it is an encyclopedia where all of the information is created by anyone who wishes to submit it. As it has advanced, wikipedia became far more reliable of a source of information by hiring members to check for irregularities and by requiring sources for any factual information, but what it really is is a giant collaboration of information submitted anonymously by members. It still amazes me the sheer mass of information that has been submitted by those who make no profit from it and are doing so simply for their own enjoyment. The product - the information in each of these pages - may have been affected by "group think," but is this a negative thing? The actual amount of information gathered is far beyond the efforts that any physical encyclopedia could  try to contain, and it is quickly updating with new and modern information.

On a similar note, there are several famous open-source softwares that are made entirely by unpaid submission of information and programming and allow for a product that is not only cheap or free, but are able to far surpass the capabilities of similar softwares. Here again, by submitting information to a massive amount of collaboration by exposing it to the highest number of people possible, the result is something more innovative and advanced than what a few highly-focused individuals may be able to do.

Finally, considering sites such as Digg there is a huge amount of creativity found. The idea of that site - and others like it - is that anyone can submit information (articles, pictures, etc.) but that only the information which other people like gets further shared. The more that people like something the more attention it gets, anything which the group is not interested is discarded. This could not be a truer example of group-think, and yet there are some extremely creative results on that site. I think that much of the difference comes from the fact that when there is so much information being submitted, that the general public notices the value of unique information and it is valued, but that it is requirement that all of this information be able to be shared freely, and in high amounts.

As a further point to this, I have a video of a speaker who is the founder of another of these kinds of sites, but takes it to the extreme, allowing members to post completely anonymously with little or no rules on what topic, and having anything posted last only minutes if ignored, and hours at the longest. Here he is speaking about the creativity that has come from this kind of collaborative effort, which includes many of today's popular internet habits such as posting captions on pictures of cats, creating humorous pictures in the "demotivational picture" style, and many others; almost any kind of internet meme or humor probably has roots in his site.

<object width="526" height="374"> <param name="movie" value=""></param> <param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /> <param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always"/> <param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param> <param name="bgColor" value="#ffffff"></param> <param name="flashvars" value="vu=;year=2010;theme=art_unusual;theme=the_creative_spark;theme=tales_of_invention;theme=media_that_matters;theme=design_like_you_give_a_damn;theme=ted_under_30;event=TED2010;tag=Internet;tag=activism;tag=collaboration;tag=computers;tag=culture;tag=government;tag=law;tag=meme;tag=web;&preAdTag=tconf.ted/embed;tile=1;sz=512x288;" /> <embed src="" pluginspace="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" bgColor="#ffffff" width="526" height="374" allowFullScreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always" flashvars="vu=;year=2010;theme=art_unusual;theme=the_creative_spark;theme=tales_of_invention;theme=media_that_matters;theme=design_like_you_give_a_damn;theme=ted_under_30;event=TED2010;tag=Internet;tag=activism;tag=collaboration;tag=computers;tag=culture;tag=government;tag=law;tag=meme;tag=web;&preAdTag=tconf.ted/embed;tile=1;sz=512x288;"></embed> </object>

As a final idea to consider on the topic, if the research teams trying to discover the form of DNA had instead gone to every freshman year biology class in the country, handed out cut-outs of the four molecule shapes, and told them that there had to be equal amounts of the two matching pair, I would bet money that by the end of that semester at least one person would have figured out the combination which would create a model for DNA. Sometimes it isn't the focused quality of one person, but the combined quantity of groupthink that can create truly unique results.

1 comment:

  1. I agree and disagree with your post for a number of reasons.

    First, I believe, like you, that widespread collaboration via the internet is a beautiful thing. Reddit, Wikipedia, Digg, etc. All of these sites are only possible because of the desire to spread one's knowledge and the desire to collaborate.

    But is this collaboration in itself creative? I don't believe so. Sure, some contributors get their kicks from submitting creative works, even if they are anonymous, but sites like Wikipedia are purely historical. I don't think that the writing in these articles leaves anything to the imagination - and they shouldn't.

    With sites like Digg and Wikipedia, we are free from restriction... or are we? Contributors are unable to provide any sort of creative fictional works due to heavy moderation.

    Wikipedia is a creative idea in itself due to it's potential for worldwide information sharing, but contributors cannot contribute creative works to sites such as this. They can only contribute works, and therefore, I believe they are not creative.


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