Collaboration and Collective Intelligence

moderator: Thomas W. Malone, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Trebor Scholz, Department of Media Study, University at Buffalo
author: Cory Ondrejka, EMI Group Limited
author: Mizuko (Mimi) Ito, Department of Informatics, University of California, Irvine
published: March 20, 2014,   recorded: April 2007,   views: 1602

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Now that it’s possible to work, politick or party with partners round the world, round the clock, what have we got to show for it? These speakers offer some intriguing examples of the potential of internet-driven collectives, as well as some cautionary notes.

Moderator Thomas Malone describes a NASA “clickworker” project enabling amateurs to help identify craters on the surface of Mars; and Garry Kasparov’s 1999 chess match against ‘the world’ –a team that voted via the internet on its moves against the champion. Kasparov said it was the hardest game he’d ever played.

Current estimates show anywhere from 50-170 million people participating in MySpace, and 80 million in Facebook, notes Trebor Scholz. There is of course a cost to this online social life. Scholz notes it is an “incredibly expensive, arduous process to support,” with server farms and corporate sponsors. But as much as big business may be required to back social networking, users provide valuable content for which they are not remunerated. All the content individuals upload, from personal data, to videos, photos, blogs and links, gets put to work. Scholz perceives “a commercialization of social life itself” in this virtual world, as well as the danger that people get locked into communities, “giving away their music, books, pictures, jobs, education, birth dates, sexual orientation,” and then become a “captive audience” within an increasingly commercial web space. Why not nonprofit alternatives to media giants, he suggests, and public control over content.

When the Starwood group wanted to design a new hotel, they did it in Second Life, recounts Cory Ondrejka. Quite a few of this virtual world’s six million users jumped right in, creating a community of designers who let the chain’s CEO know, among other things, that they didn’t like the look and feel of the lobby. And when Second Life users rankled at a new company policy on taxation, they figured out an ingenious way to get their web host’s attention: a group of virtual protesters met potential new users, “lighting themselves on fire while waving protest signs.” It was impressive to watch, says Ondrejka, and “was a pretty good way to get us to pay attention.”

With its focus on portable play with trading cards and handhelds, Pokemon was a breakthrough, boosting children’s media to unprecedented levels, says Mimi Ito. Pokemon not only demonstrated to the industry that children could master “a pantheon of hundreds of characters with unique characteristics” but that “social exchange was a central reason for why the content was widely popular.” Ito describes “the intense exchange of information when children are engaging in it,” extremely critical from a learning perspective. Perhaps more important, she says, is that “kids have the realization that they are participating in a collective imagination that is greater than what they could master on their own.”

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