Nostalgia via YouTube and Some Problems of Distributed Problem Solving

Yesterday I wrote about Stephen Hawking’s recent call for space colonization. Today I want to link what I said to some things I’ve written recently about the problems of crowdsourcing.

Hawking posted a question at Yahoo answers two days ago. He asked ‘how will humans survive the next 100 years?’ In less than 24 hours there were over 14,000 responses. As of today there are 15,620 answers.

A naive crowdsourcing proponent would say that this is great; it’s democracy in action, let the best idea win in the market of ideas. The problem is who will actually read all of those 15,000 answers. Here are some of the many barriers to making use of this information.

  • Dealing with spam might not be immediately obvious. How can you tell if someone promoting a new fuel additive or energy saving appliance has no commercial interest? In order to make a judgment you’d need to research the affiliation of all the respondents. That’s a lot of time. The task has just grown tremendously.
  • Flame wars. How do you manage people who just end up arguing for the sake of arguing?
  • Linking to individual responses. There is currently no way to link to individual responses. So even if you were trying to read and evaluate all the responses you couldn’t link to any one of them directly.
  • Intellectual property. Who benefits from the expression of these ideas on the web? If someone implements a particular idea do they owe anything to the person who first presented it?
  • First mover advantage. Those who do read the responses are likely to read the first few pages and then quit. Similar to the studies that have shown people only look at the first few pages of search results. This means whoever responds quickest will have an advantage.
  • Lack of community. See this critique of community and technology at Ideant

Technology isn’t the problem. The problem is the social and economic structures it’s embedded in.

Earlier today I encountered this wonderful post on analog synthesizers at O’Reilly Digital Media hub. The post is a collection of half a dozen videos uploaded to YouTube. The videos are all from the 1970-80s and show various people using analog synths. I was particularly interested in the Jean Michel Jarre videos because I’ve enjoyed his music for a long time.

What I find hopeful about these videos is there impact on preservation and sharing of information. When it comes to preserving artifacts it seems clear that the work of a lot of individuals can have a large impact. The crowdsourcing argument is that such large groups can also be harnessed to solve problems. Meeting that challenge is further away than just sharing and preserving.

A bonus link to a bunch of 1980s music videos.