Posted by: holdenlee | June 15, 2014

TED on collaboration

Here are some notes I took on the TED radio hour on collaboration. [Comments in brackets are my own thoughts.]

  • Jimmy Wales: Why does Wikipedia work?
    • GUY RAZ: Human motivation is driven by incentive, usually financial, and it seems like your whole model just up-ends that principle, that theory.

      WALES: Well, I don’t think so… the Internet, as a tool, allows for really brilliant people to do things that they weren’t really able to do in the past.

      One my favorite examples is to think about the best bloggers and I think the best bloggers are easily the equal of the best, say, New York Times columnist. That person always existed. 60 years ago, that person existed and all they could do, at that time, was be a, you know, fabulous person to have over for a dinner party. But now they can gain an audience of, well, maybe only a few thousand people, maybe millions of people. And they enjoy it and, you know, it is a remarkable shift in the world.

  • Luis von Ahn: Crowdsource by giving something back.
    • Some projects, like translating the Web, require an extraordinarily amount of time but can be done by many people.  To get people to help, they must be getting something out of it, or doing something they’ll have to do anyway. Duolingo is successful because it matches up an existing activity that many people want to do – learning a new language – and a problem that they could be solving at the same time as they are learning  –  translating. I.e., in return for helping translate the Web, people are learning a new language (and being recognized for it.

      [I think this paradigm has so much more potential in educational settings, because learning is the one place where people are willing to spend a lot of time, and too often people spend that time working through the exact same problems. For example, (1) in a programming class, rather than have everyone program the same thing, have everyone program different aspects of a large software project to combine together, or work on different hackathon ideas that people had come up with but not have time to carry out. (2) In a class that revolves around problem sets, and have different groups of students write up nice solutions, so that we can compile a large list of solved problems, and students can learn from the problems that they haven’t done. (3) Many (math) Ph.D. programs require students to demonstrate competence in a different language by translating part of a paper. Thus we should assemble a (high-priority) list of papers/books to be translated (ex. EGA), split them up among math departments around the world, ask students to type their translations, and then put the translations together.]

      [Note: I’m actually curious as to how the CAPTCHA book-digitizing program works, because this seems to defeat the original purpose of CAPTCHAs.]

  • Clay Shirky: What motivates us to collaborate?
    • There is a large amount of cognitive surplus in the world. [Cognitive surplus is basically free time, but as I understand it, it also refers to people’s desires to fill their time with intellectually meaningful work.] When people say they have no “free time,” they actually mean that their free time is already allocated. To get them to contribute to a project, we have to convince them that the work they put in is meaningful and will be recognized (i.e., we appeal to intrinsic motivations, rather than money). So we have to create environments online that appeal to those motivations.
  • Jason Freid: is too much collaboration a bad thing?
    • People can’t get work done at work because their day is shredded into many little bits. In order to work, people need time without interruptions [you need to be able to try an idea out without it being shot down immediately at a meeting]. Wikipedia, etc. works great because people can contribute on their own schedule.
  • Jennifer Pahlka: Can you code a better government?
    • Pahlka started Code for America to send programmers into government to fix problems with technology. They create apps that can be reused widely in different settings: for example, a site that crowdsources fire-hydrant shoveling in Boston could just as well be used to crowdsource tsunami-siren inspection in Hawaii. This suggests that government can work more like the Internet: (1) that people can become the “hands” of the government in working for the common interest, and (2) that one solution that works in one locality can be propagated throughout the rest of government.


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