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Can I Borrow You For A Moment? The New Cognitive Surplus

Istock_000003622473smallI've had a lot of conversations recently about crowdsourcing - using web tools to engage the public (or other large groups) to solve problems. Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research provides an example of how crowdsourcing helped improve a conference session by turning a boring panel into a more lively one:

"...Questions made the panel: Love hearing viewpoints from people with boots on the ground."

Now, Clay Shirky provides a completely different context for crowdsourcing: with all of the free time we are no longer spending on television, and instead spending with Facebook and other social applications, can we find a way to solve some of the really big problems? He asks:

"...Let's say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing.  The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year.  That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation."

When he says "Wikipedia projects", he means things like Vasco Furtado, a Wiki Map for crime in Brazil. If there's an assault, if there's a burglary, if there's a mugging, a robbery, a rape, a murder, you can go and put a push-pin on a Google Map, and you can characterize the assault, and you start to see a map of where these crimes are occurring. While that might not mean a lot to someone that may never visit Brazil, in some of my previous posts I've noted how similar local projects led to a fifty percent drop in crime.

Think of it: just a change of 1% in your TV watching habits can lead to a hundred projects, just like these. Clay notes the last time there was a similar change in how we spend our leisure time as significant as this, it gave rise to gin and sitcoms. Read the post for yourself, or Dave Morin over at Facebook posted a video of Clay's talk.

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