Monday, August 18, 2008

How to fix a broken Internet

H2O project It's been a DIY sort of week, as my house seems to be breaking. On my way to B&Q on Saturday, I caught a little bit of Baroness Susan Greenfield talking complete bollocks about the internet. Seemingly having relinquished all claim to be a scientist, Baroness Greenfield is no longer encumbered by the need for any evidence to support her wacky public statements. However, one thing she said did strike a chord with me:
The technology is such that is creating an environment which is answer-rich, but we are question-poor.
I said something similar in a comment on Tony Hirst's blog some months ago. This issue is a fundamental change in how the world works (but not our brains). Instantaneous gratification (information rather than knowledge) is a contributory cause to why the Internet doesn't work (as well as it should). Actually, the Internet works fine, doing exactly the job it was designed for. It's Internet users that are broken.

Which brings me to the second serendipitous find of the last two days. On Friday, Dave Winer wrote about the H2O project at Harvard, in particular, Rotisserie, which is:

an innovative approach to online discussion that encourages measured, thoughtful discourse in a way that traditional threaded messaging systems cannot. In contrast to the completely asynchronous, broadcast-to-broadcast mode of existing threaded messaging systems, the Rotisserie adds structure to both the timing and the flow of the discussion. The timing of the discussion is broken into semi-synchronous rounds. Users are allowed to post responses at any time, but their responses are not published to other users until the deadline for the current round passes. This structure allows users to put significant thought into their responses rather than competing with other participants to post first. More important, this structure allows the system to control the flow of the discussion by distributing responses to specific users for further discussion at the end of each round, ensuring that every post is distributed to at least one other user for comment and that each user has exactly one post to which to respond.

Rotisserie is about moving away from instaneous, broadcast-mode communication, back to a more asynchronous, structured method of discussion and decision making. When I first read Dave Winer's post, I dismissed his comments as hype, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if approaches to online communications such as Rotisserie are a way to get off the Twitter/email treadmill, and perhaps even a way back from the tyrrany of information towards knowledge.