Sunday, August 13, 2006

Monkey Time

We all suffer from cognitive bias, the human ability to disregard the facts completely and instead rely upon some other sense to make decisions. There are tons of biases, and a lot of them come into play when we deal with computing.

In particular, as illustrated by James Boyle, these biases crop up in decisions regarding open source software or collaboration learning environments such as Wikipedia. We simply have no genetic basis upon which to make decisions regarding these tools. Take open source, for example. It's essentially a bunch of projects put together by people who mostly expect nothing for their time, and in their off hours they are going to build something fantastically useful. Doesn't that sound nuts? Or how about Wikipedia? As Boyle describes it:

Set yourself the task of producing the greatest reference work the world has ever seen. It must cover everything from the best Thai food in Raleigh to the annual rice production of Thailand, the best places to see blue whales to the history of the Blue Dog Coalition. Would you create a massive organisation of paid experts with layers of editors producing tomes that are controlled by copyright and trademark? Or would you wait for hobbyists, scientists and volunteer encyclopedists to produce, and search engines to organise, a cornucopia of information? I know which way I would have bet in 1991. But I also know that the last time I consulted an encyclopedia was in 1998.

Most of the things I love about the Internet are the things that really are impossible without it. Here's a great example from my personal life. When I was wee, I collected these trading cards called Wacky Packages as a kid. I loved them, but my mom threw them out, and I thought about them for years. Then eBay came around and I found out I could actually collect these cards again - what a thrill! Open source and Wikis are the same thrill, but you have to get out of your genetic jungle to see what they can do for you.

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