Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: vision: purposeful online community for all human beings

Author:Paul Snively
Posted:7/9/2000; 1:05:42 PM
Topic:vision: purposeful online community for all human beings...
Msg #:18415 (In response to 18400)
Prev/Next:18414 / 18416

Kishore Balakrishnan: My vision is to learn from and contribute to an online community that allows ALL human beings to participate ( something similar to but the key object is people )

This sounds to me like it has strong parallels to the efforts of many other people who have spent enormous amounts of time and energy contemplating the larger effects on society of a truly "wired world." Since some of these people have been among my strongest intellectual influences, naturally, I think you're on the right track. ;-)

As far as I know, the person who has best understood the need to have world-wide scale of writing online, with guaranteed attribution and royalty streams, with bidirectional linking, with easy annotation and subsumption into larger, new works (all while maintaining the attribution and royalty structure)--all of which seem to me to be preconditions to leveraging the collective written knowledge of the net--is Ted Nelson. It was my distinct honor and pleasure to have met Ted when he keynoted a MacHack conference lo these many years ago. Ted is a generalist of the first rank; it was actually he who wrote "Everything is deeply intertwingled," a phrase often attributed these days to Jamie Zawinski, rather like "A house divided against itself cannot stand" being attributed to Abraham Lincoln (in both cases, we're talking about geniuses who knew their culture's literature quite well). Ted is, of course, most famous for his efforts on <>, a serious and still-groundbreaking attempt to accomplish the above goals.

Along with attribution of authority (in the literal sense of "being the author of," not in the popular sense of "expert" or "possessing vested power") comes the notion of accountability for what has been authored. Very frequently we gauge the value, across many dimensions such as probable relevance, probable credibility, probable level of self-support, probable level of self-challenge, probable entertainment value, etc., of a piece of writing by a complex act of informational compression: who wrote it? I'll read anything Dave Winer or Doc Searls write; I approached the Courtney Love piece with some trepidation, only to have an experience similar to that of the gentleman I was named after, i.e. scales falling from my eyes (note to self: try to avoid buying into self-serving "bad girl" hype henceforth). The point is that we need good reasons to believe that something we're presented with came from who it claims to have come from in order to have adequate information upon which to base an assessment of the value of the information. This is a huge demand, encompassing the best of what we know about cryptography, authentication, and security in the narrow sense of a consistent application of the principle of least authority (in the popular sense of "possession of vested power"). Through what I refuse to believe is coincidence, several of the people who have worked with Ted Nelson on Xanadu are currently working on bringing state-of-the-art security to the entire software development process at the object level. See The E Programming Language.

Suppose we had all of this--freely available but consistently attributed writing which anyone can add to, guaranteed back-referrals, and consistent attribution and authority (in all three senses listed above)? What if, in other words, we had a proper marketplace of ideas, a global casbah of thought?

A Berkeley (at the time, anyway) economist named Robin Hanson, among others, has put a great deal of thought into precisely that question, and came up with a notion that he calls Idea Futures. is such a market with two important restrictions:

  1. It only deals with things that already exist.
  2. It doesn't use real money.

The point is that if a market is based on something that matters to its members--and the only reason I can think of that money suggests itself as the mechanism is that all money is in the first place is a token denoting the current consensus view as to the value of exchange of goods and services--and the market is a market of abstractions rather than things, then that market will do the most efficient job of valuing those abstractions, and the results should (if you believe in markets) be quite amazing.

The Cluetrain Manifesto teaches us that markets are conversations. Xanadu teaches us that electronic conversations need to persist, be bidirectional, and have consistent attribution and compensation for use. The E Programming Language demonstrates the need for object-level security in software. Finally, Robin Hanson's Idea Futures shows us how conversations with these attributes really can be markets in a literal sense!

I wonder if we'd have codified the human genome faster in an idea futures market? Would an idea futures market quickly generate a solution to the next big molecular biological problem, the tertiary-structure or protein-folding problem? What would an idea futures market have made of the idea of impeaching Bill Clinton? Of removing him from office? Of the Justice Dept. action in Miami? Of Pakistani nuclear-weapons testing?

It's possible to answer the above questions. We just need to decide that we want to badly enough.

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