Some of my previous postings have focused on the need to dramatically increase the scale of our discovery of the unknown. I'm finding more examples all of the time that show a trend towards more mass participation and mass contribution by connecting everything and everyone together. The project we recently covered called the "Encyclopedia of Life" (EOL) is one such example.
But let's take a step back and try synthesizing this into something that give us direct and broader benefits.
As I noted my previous postings "New Perspectives: Looking Down and Under" and Third Wave, about the Open Ocean Initiative (OOI), EOL is not just another amazingly large scientific study with the resultant report and data. Instead, EOL is yet another great example of the pattern towards mass customization and mass contribution.
EOL will be using a mashup model by assembling lots of technology and data from many different sources into a single experience. This effort is not as flexible as I would like in terms of providing multiple experiences, and is much less "open" from a contribution standpoint than I would ultimately like, but it is still a huge step towards mass contribution compared to the historically typical static and closed research.
For the project, agents will collect all the information about a particular species from the Web and assemble it into a draft species page.Scientists will then review, edit, and authenticate the information. A species expert will sign each page.
This is a proven model, but is also one that will be challenged to meet their objective of exponentially increasing the volume and speed of cataloguing the worlds known species of life and even more so in discovering the unknown 90%.
But let's keep in mind that the context here is scientific data, and thus it lends itself much more to such scrutiny, accuracy, and expertise. Yet I can see that by truly opening this up to mass contribution by the global scientific community and providing a way to converge, connect and vet it all, then it is quite possible (I'd estimate probable) that this will create a tipping point and set off the chain reaction or network effect that can achieve the audacious goal of EOL, and do so in a fraction of the time.
However, the most exciting characteristic to me is the degree to which EOL is shining example of the trend towards mass personalization and the Snowflake Effect. For example, when you're using EOL you can set up your level of expertise in a given context, you can post questions, photos and your own discoveries. After all, many of the currently known species have been discovered accidentally and by amateurs—a.k.a you and me! Imagine the impact of adding millions or billions more "amateur explorers" to this process?!
Fail Forward Faster!!
There is, of course, the big question of how to do all this with a strong degree of accuracy and authenticity. Similar to the challenge that something like Wikipedia faces, when anyone can post or edit anything, how do we know if we can trust the information? This is a very important and major issue for all of us to pay attention to and to participate in evolving some effective solutions. While Wikipedia continues to have its share of growing pains, why would we expect anything less of disruptive innovations? Some of Wikipedia's recent decisions are of concern to me regarding some of the restrictions they are placing on postings and editing;however I empathize with the difficult decisions they wrestle with and applaud the fact that they are making decisions, good and bad,and thus learning from their experiences, so the can put ever forward.
Let's be sure to keep in mind that this is all a grand experiment and a learning process, and we should expect "failures" and relish the learning that they provide. From my perspective there is no question that we are much better off with this trend towards a much more transparent process, mass contribution etc. as exemplified by the likes of Wikipedia, and I welcome the rapid growth of this pattern with such additional efforts as the Open Ocean Initiative and the Encyclopedia of Life. Check them out and see what you think.