Monday, September 24, 2012


I think the next big social innovation will be leveraging individual judgment.

Last time I mentioned this, somebody spent two paragraphs calling me nasty names. But I'm talking about a fundamental shift in how we participate in the world. Our citizenship within the world.

There's only so much we can do on our own. Right now, we're in a phase where we're learning to communicate things to each other on a grand scale. There's no way I could personally discover all the things in my social media streams - even if I spent all my time sifting through the internet, I'd never find a tenth of the brilliant things that the 1000+ people I listen to have collectively found. I don't spend all my time sifting through the internet, but I still see all these things, because I have 1000+ sets of carefully chosen eyes happy to share what they have seen.

And, of course, I share what comes to me when I think it is vaguely interesting. It makes me a decent citizen of the network.

But this - sharing input rapidly and easily - can only stretch so far. Already, the vast majority of the content that gets shared with me flits by before I even see it. The highly concentrated stream of brilliant observations is too much. Just this tiny corner of the internet has too many people seeing and saying too many interesting things. It is physically impossible for me to keep up.

And it shouldn't be necessary. There's no reason for one human to try and contain the whole internet. The point isn't to be superman, the point is to be a good citizen.

Right now, being a good citizen involves adding new finds and, equally important, sharing good finds someone else found to amplify them so that people like me are more likely to see them. I admit I find reshares to be as irritating as they are useful, but they are a critical part of the network "thinking". Reshares are like neurons firing, amplifying and processing an important bit of input.

It's only a very minor step to automate this. The only real barrier is that humans like to think they are in charge of every bit of data they see see. We aren't, we never were, and if we accept that, we can think about using other people's judgments much more fluidly.

There are two easy examples of what I mean.

The first is this: I'm walking to work. I get in line at a coffee shop. I get a ping from a stranger. They ask me to buy them a coffee and a scone, and they'll meet me a bit further along my path and pay me for them.

This is basically impossible right now. It'd be really tough to coordinate that even with friends. And, thinking about it as a person living in today's world, you wouldn't just buy a stranger coffee and scones, not unless you were aggressively hitting on them. But... in a world where human judgment is shared fluidly, I would have no trouble with it. I would know the stranger could be trusted to pay me, and I would be fine with it.

The second example is this: I want to get lots of cool music and science in my mailbox. But I admit I just don't get excited viewing music and science projects on hubs like Indiegogo. There's a flood of them, and very few of them catch my eye, and after sifting through them for half an hour I feel burned out and tired.

It would be nice if I could set up a "bid match" system, where I could attach myself to someone who actually loves looking at those kinds of projects. If they donate, I get an email with a big green button that says "MATCH DONATION!"

This really isn't about being lazy. It's about participating fluidly in a network of humans and machines. The two easy examples are easy examples, but if you dig even an inch deeper you can see how this could radically change the way human society works. It allows humans to leverage themselves and each other so much more fluidly and easily.

Was there a disaster? Imagine how quickly and fluidly everyone could respond if everyone could see what everyone else was saying. "This way clear", "Need sand bags!", "Stuck on roof! Help!"

Or just a personal disaster? We're already seeing the rise of the "the friend of a friend I follow on Tumblr has cancer and..." fund. This makes it faster and easier. Yeah, I imagine there are more people with cancer than there are friendly strangers willing to help pay. But when that becomes clear, it will become undeniably obvious that the health care system needs an overhaul.

How about not a disaster? Just a flash crowd? Getting together to play games in the park.

Skill support? Danielle has a new company that needs a web site, and is willing to pay X or stocks or whatever. Things like Monster don't hold a candle to hearing, from a friend, that somebody they trust could use twenty hours of your help. Someone researching zebrafish? You have a friend of a friend who knows everything about zebrafish.

This will be the next big social revolution. Fluid networked judgments.

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