Collective Action and Decision-making

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February 22

Mass collaboration and the aggregation of information enable potentially profound changes in business and politics. In this class, we will compare and contrast the transformations in economic life and collective decision-making processes brought on the information revolution. The discussions will also explore the role of open information systems on business and the scope for greater transparency and participation in government, politics and public life.

Slides: Internet Economics & Business + Collective Decision Making


Assignment 2 due


Optional Readings

  • Federalist Papers published under the pseudonym Publius.
  • Divided They Blog - a paper showing trackbacks between political blogs, mentioned by Ethan Zuckerman in his review of Cass Sunstein's Infotopia

Class Discussion

This week’s readings prove that groupthink is a powerful but not infallible force. Surowiecki tells us that the average of group answers always outperforms individuals over time. (He uses the example of how the audience of Who Wants to be a Millionaire was right 91% of the time when polled.) Zuckerman, citing the Condorcet Jury Theorem, retorts that the case is true only if the individuals in the group tend to be right more often than not. (Otherwise the group answer would probably be wrong 91% of the time.) Collective decision making works only when each individual is more likely than not to make the correct decision on her own. We expect an informed individual is better equipped to make a correct decision than an ignorant one, so where do we get our information? The distinction between the Federalist Papers and the political blogosphere is telling. While today’s political pundits advocate for their positions with at least the same fervor (if not eloquence) as Hamilton, Madison and Jay, their audiences receive messages differently. In the 1700’s newspapers printed federalist and anti-federalist letters alongside each other while their readers evaluated both sides of the question. Today’s blog readers select their feeds which likely matches their predispositions. The “information cocoon” is real. -Chris Sura 22:27, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

I found the readings to highlight the differences that have become so polarizing in our society. Is this because the "crowdsourcing" attitude is working against strategic thought and boosting mob mentality instead? Maybe, to Yu Ri's point, people are being more closed in their beliefs because there is just too much information and we are on overload. Humans in their natural way will always regroup and go to where the comfort level hope is that a middle ground is found so that true intelligent discourse may again be as prevalent as it was when a man got on a soapbox in a town square one hundred years ago. Camcloughlin 21:40, 22 February 2011 (UTC) camcloughlin

I have praised the emergence of personalized media, so-called "The Daily Me," as the contribution to efficiency in information gathering and classifying. Thus, it was an perplexing confrontation of reading Sustein's assertion on information cocoon dwellers. It is true that people like to hear and see what they want to hear and see and that principle applies to the online activities to some degree. While I was pondering on this notion, a certain idea came up to me: now there is this platform for diversity to spread its wings, but aren't people being more obstinate about their beliefs and tenets? It is just that I could hardly find the interchanges between liberals and conservatives in the Internet forums, except those with acrid animosity. --Yu Ri 01:44, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

I think that the posted below concern about the purpose and structure is fair enough to draw our attention to the meaning of the curriculum; the meaning that makes a difference between well-informed person and well-educated person. No objections, of course, to the administrators of this course, they did marvelous research on relevant literature, but as some of us began noticing, the material does not follow logically to build up a skill. I know that in some countries people are spending many years to learn how to properly relate material to students, not simply make them memorize everything. In order to guess on our own what pedagogy might have been behind this giant sheer volume, we must align the material in order so that each concept will serve as a preamble for the next one, and all key terms then will be logically connected to the main scheme. It seems that after sorting out all major concepts from the minor key terms, we are aiming to arrive at the issue of ideological, society based, differences within one giant infrastructure called the internet. After examining most ideologically conflicting dimensions, we must derive a method that will keep catalytic reactions between those most extreme ideologies under control. This method, I assume, should include political, policy-based, and technological instruments. In order to build these instruments we must rely on our predecessors whose remarkable writings we have at our disposal. As some of you have already noticed that some of the writings are of a high caliber and some are of a low and average; nevertheless, they do contribute substance to the sphere of the course. It is therefore crucial to distinguish a high caliber conceptual pieces of writing from the low or mediocre type of writings. Then, we should align them in the right sequence so that we can apply our reasoning, not only memory. I guess this is as far as I should go because as we know, some of the writers are working at the Berkman Center - the host of the course. It will be unethical from my side to point out on the perplexity they may create.

Perhaps for those who has enough imagination, imagine that after all readings that we read so far, we are exposed only to several stones on a giant planet in the giant universe with many other planets connected to it. There are terabytes of books on the net. There is so much to read about and discover. Take the DARPA Internet Program archive alone [1] or the internet society resources [2] and they will extrapolate our horizons even farther. If we will search the archives of other countries, we would have not enough lifetime to read everything that is equally worth reading as our class material. It is important however, to have a wise conventional opinion not only about the modern concepts, but also about classic definitions, and Wisdom of Crowds by Surowiecki is an excellent emitter of the "old school" discoveries. His book Wisdom of Crowds so as Wealth of the Networks is built on the original concepts he interprets. In the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds the Scottish journalist Charles Mackay writes about the first conglomerates of people, not connected with internet, but infatuated by the same idea of rapid enrichment through the stock market. In the first hundred pages author describes the most devastating financial bubbles and schemes instigated by John Law, the son of the banker and a creative financier, who in his Proposals and Reasons for Constituting a Council of Trade, which he presented to the British Parliament, proposed to issue a loan-for-shares based instrument which has failed a number of times and at several countries due to the rapid and large demand for one type of shares issued for sale. If we think of a stock buyers as of the web sight users, we can understand better the concept of the collective action and decision making process. Surowiecki, of course, makes an excellent example of the bias in the herd instinct when he describes the authority bias in the decision by investigative group of the shuttle's catastrophe and in the coordination of other groups of people driven by the common goal. I am confident that the experts opinion and the seer-sucker theory is in value when the majority is trying to think. It is exactly what people are trying to do in this course: people are trying to find a cognizable way to comprehend the material by cooperating and coordinating within the group. Nevertheless, I personally believe that Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is by default the strongest platform to base our understanding both of the concepts of the internet and of the digital economics of the society. --VladimirK 01:30, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

Link to article in today's NY Times regarding Egypt's shut down during the revolution of internet within its borders: <<sjennings 15:53, 16 February 2011 (UTC)>>

In reading the Surowiecki excerpt and the summary on Zuckerman's Infotopia I think it is apparent that they are discussing apples and oranges. Surowiecki is concentrating on the crowd's ability to accurately determine a correct answer to a specific question governed by a certain criteria (e.g. how many beans in this jar or which one of these four possible answers is correct). Zuckerman, on the other hand, is looking at the human behavior and ideology aspect which has no defined criteria or "right" answer. When asking the crowd what their opinion is regarding a particular issue the answers will undoubtedly depend on the individual's personal beliefs and past experiences which vary greatly from person to person. If the ideological question is framed in such a way that there is a limited selection of answers, such as in polling, the individuals will gravitate towards the answer which most fits their personal belief. While this will allow for an analysis of what the "majority" of the crowd prefers it does not necessarily mean that majority is correct. Once the human condition is allowed to enter the equation the ability to determine what is correct vs. what is preferred is gone. --Rakundig 10:37, 17 February 2011 (UTC)

Dear Fellow Internet and Society Classmates:

I am writing with a proposal. February 22 will be our forth meeting as a class which marks the milestone that we are more than one quarter of the way through the material we will study during the semester. During the last several classes we have studied examples of commons based production including Wikipedia and we are using a wiki based tool for asynchronous class discussions. Not to take anything away from the quality of the content of those contributions, one thing that has been missing is a structure and purpose.

My proposal is that starting this week we begin to put into practice some of the things that we have learned to date. That is, below I have constructed a set of notes on what I have taken away from the class. I invite you in the spirit of Wikipedia to edit, comment upon, contribute to and in other ways improve what I have written in a collaborative search for a common understanding of the materials presented in this course. If you are so inclined, I ask you to follow a small set of basic tenets that are described on the Discussion page.

I hope that you will join me in this project. I believe a commons based approach to summarize what we have learned so far will benefit us all in translating the great information Rob and David have introduced to us. No two of us have walked away from any class discussion nor reading, nor listening, nor viewing with the exact same perception of what has been discussed. Below presents a opportunity for us all, those who gather in Cambridge and those who participate at a distance, to come to a closer mutual understanding.

Join me below to flesh out what I have begun. Add references that I have missed, correct statements that are in accurate, add your unique insight so that we can all come to a better common understanding. Thank you in advance for your willingness to participate.

Guy --Gclinch 04:06, 20 February 2011 (UTC)

You can certainly count on my support and participation! I think it's a great idea to summarize what we have learned 'in a mass collaboration approach'; nonetheless, I consider that it would be much better if we can create another page to aggregate all the information from lectures apart from opinions or questions of the discussion section. I might have interpreted your purpose in an unexpected way, so please do not hesitate to share your brilliant ideas! Thank you. --Yu Ri 08:04, 20 February 2011 (UTC)

"If each of us have less than a 50% chance of being right about a decision, a group of us will be worse at making a correct decision, with our probability of accuracy increasing towards zero as the size of the group increases." [3]

I thought this quote highlighted what could be a hurdle for Wikipedia, insofar as the potential for an unlimited pool of contributors. While it does not appear to be a problem at present (if anything, they seem eager to include more individuals in the project), I'd be curious if and when they will reach a tipping point. - Jsanfilippo 18:19, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

Dear Yu Ri , Thank you for your kind words. You have interpreted my purpose exactly. Are you suggesting that the topic of Internet and Society would make a good Wikipedia article? If so, I agree. I checked and someone looks to have begun one on this exact topic, but contributed only a small amount and has not been modified the informing since 2009. Would you suggest we pick up where that author left off? --Gclinch 00:24, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

Dear Guy,That sounds awesome! Probably we can reconstruct the contents of the article and start filling out relevant information in no time. I would be happy to contribute my effort in improving or re-editing this article on Wikipedia. Feel free to contact me with any suggestion regarding this project. --Yu Ri 02:18, 22 February 2011 (UTC) ++++

To use the term from economics, this course is built “on the shoulder of giants.” The three main giants are Jonathan Zittrain, Lawrence Lessig, and Yochai Benkler. The course is also supplemented by a number of other influential thinkers who will be mentioned below.

Each of these individuals has contributed a block in the foundation of a set of tools that we students can use to understand the effects that digital technologies are having on our society, culture, government and personal lives today and into the future.

Rob told us that the best way to absorb this material is to begin with Zittrain, progress to Lessig and build to Benkler. Along the way we will interject relevant references to other influential thinkers.

In his book, The Future of the Internet: and how to stop it Jonathan Zittrain begins by describing how the Internet emerged at a time when inexpensive fully customizable multiuse computers became available to large numbers of technology tinkerers. The proliferation of these plastic (in the sense of the word that means malleable) platforms combined with unexpected success of the Internet Protocol for connecting these powerhouses of innovation together to link people across time and distance allowed the property of Generativity to emerge.

Defined as, “an independent ability to create, generate, or produce new content unique to that system without additional help or input from the system's original creators” the generative properties of the Internet allowed it to attain “mainstream dominance over proprietary barons such as AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy.

Zittrain describe the following five properties of generativity as important to our discussion: Leverage, Adaptability, Ease of mastery, Accessibility and Transferability. Important to beginning to build our model, Zittrain describes how the “hourglass architecture” of the internet facilitated generativity through a layering property that broke the network into three logical layers. The hourglass is an intellectual concept and not a tangible thing. It helps people who wish to create innovations to focus on their specialty without needing to be concerned how other pieces of the puzzle that are necessary to make things happen work. Layers communicate with each other based on a set of properties that are native to each layer and understood by the others. In essence a digital Esperanto or commonly understood language between layers.

The model features “an ‘application layer,’ representing the tasks people might want to perform on the network.” The foundation of the hourglass is “the ‘physical layer,’ the actual wires or airwaves over which data will flow.” The middle layer is where the true ingenuity of the model lives. It is “the ‘protocol layer,’ which establishes consistent ways for data to flow so that the sender, the receiver, and anyone necessary in the middle can know the basics of who the data is from and where the data is going.”

Combined the power of the plastic processing platforms on the edge and unrestrained flow of information across the digital network unleashed a wave of innovation and creativity never before seen in the history of humanity. There is more important information in Zittrain’s about how the combination of economic, cultural security concerns and other forces are today combining to extinguish the generative nature that the Internet created. I am sure we will return to these topics later in the course.

The next element of our foundational model comes from Lawrence Lessig. In his book Code: version 2.0 professor Lessig describes that the Internet is what it is because of decisions that have been made by the designers of the system about how the system will work. This means that the Internet is not of some natural evolution or from some divine design, it is a creation of human invention.

In the early days of the Internet there was an overriding ethos that the Internet was ungovernable and beyond regulation. Notable thinkers including John Perry Barlow spoke “behalf of the future” to say, “no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement .

Lessig defeats the claim of no methods of control by describing a combination of factors including commercial motivations, user acquiescence to improve convenience, security, regulatory and other concerns that have resulted in innovation in the application layer that in turn has resulted in the implementation of features that are creating the opportunity for significant control.

We also discussed how Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith and Columbia Law School Tim Wu showed not only do laws of local jurisdictions impose regulation on the internet and its users so do local geographical cultural and other factors [4].

Lessig describes how the cumulative effect of Markets, Laws, Social norms result in the equation that Code = law. In other words, the decisions made by those who create the underlying code that makes the Internet possible result in a cumulative effect of establishing governance. The format of that governance is a direct result of the conscious choices made by those who design and implement the system. The decisions on what goes into the code are a result of Markets, Laws and Social norms.

The third element of the foundation of the way we are describing the effects of digital technologies on our society comes from the seminal work by Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks. Benkler informs us that digital technologies are creating an environment in which a, "radical decentralization of capitalization and computing resources is allowing every connected person, some 600 million to a billion people, to have the means to engage in info knowledge and cultural production.” Benkler argues that the “industrial information economy” is giving way to a new model of human contribution based upon a “commons” approach to innovation.

He painstakingly documents how the system for protecting what is commonly known as intellectual property that was originally meant to foster economic growth is actually considerable less efficient on a macroeconomic level than a model in which innovation is freely contributed.

Benkler argues that the prevailing theory of protecting an individual and organization’s right to control how their innovations are used (and influence how they are compensated for such use) creates such considerable transaction costs for those who might otherwise build upon previous innovations to create new products, services, works of art and other contributions to the betterment of society as a whole that they choose not to do so because of the imposed cost burden. Benkler provides numerous examples that show how a commons based approach has resulted in significantly better, richer and more beneficial layers of innovation.

Kevin Kelly demonstrates that in a “Benkleresque” world where information might be freer and ideas less subject to the artificial scarcity created by “Intellectual Property and Copyright” laws overall wealth in the economy would be greater due to the generative effects discussed by Zittrain. Kelly states that producers would still be enriched because people are still be willing to pay monies associated to various factor involved in the conveyance of information. In additional new forms of distribution would further increase overall good.

Along the way we have also talked about several recurring themes. These include:

- Internet infrastructure which is foundational, multipurpose; - Innovation and public spaces - Networks, openness, distributed, decentralized - Digital disruption: challenges to existing institutions

Under the topic of Digital disruption, we talked about how the "dot-com bubble" a surge in financial speculation in digital technologies from roughly 1995 to 2000 resulted in a financial market crash that disrupted economies across the globe.

We discussed how Chris Anderson, author and editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine has shown how digital technologies have unleashed a “long tail of innovation” that is resulting in fundamental shifts in markets.

Eric von Hippel shows, in relative parallel to the Benkler proposition, that digital technologies are empowering society and increasing social welfare by shifting innovation up into the user layer. That is digital technologies are shifting the source of innovations from the traditional manufacturer to user generated creation. He shows how end users, who know intimately more about the ways something is important and how it can be improved are becoming a dynamic source for new creation and improvement.

(New post) Ethan Zuckerman's review of Infotopia made me want to read Sunstein's book. The breadth of topics that Sunstein explores is impressive. From my organizational behavior perch, I especially liked the coverage of group think and cocooning. As an added bonus, Zuckerman contributes another layer of insight in his treatment of Sunstein's themes.--SCL 03:29, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

Hey all! I found this really interesting little study I found on a woman's personal blog, which she called "Troll! Data! Analysis!," that I thought might be interesting to share. Courtney Stanton wrote a post on her WordPress blog about women, haters, and rape culture in online gaming, and was so astounded by the responses to the post that she decided to do a wee study on the trolls of those comments. I thought it was neat to see her methodology, how she broke things down and the conclusions she came to - basically, that trolls contribute nothing (which we all already knew, but now we know the characteristics of their nothingness), and that allowing thoughtful responses to a contentious topic, whether or not you agree with them, can actually foster respectful conversation and be good for you and your blog. I thought this was particularly relevant giving the theme of "cocooning" in this week's readings. Would it be appropriate for me to add this under the "Links" section of this page, with a little description and a disclaimer that it is student-submitted and not from the profs/TAs? --mcforelle 19:03, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

In earlier discussions today, there was a mention of manufacturers such as Apple trying to ensure that customers do not modify/hack their products. They faced the potential of having their phones (IPhone) shut off by their carrier. This atmosphere of fear seems to be pervasive across manufacturers to keep their customer “in line” at times. The “fear” of potential safety issues is one that has worked on me more than once. Naturally if customers can modify existing products on their own, they may not need to buy the next version of a manufacturer's product. Earboleda 00:24, 23 February 2011 (UTC)

Hai folx -----=:) In light of a seemingly negative perception of what hackers do, and also as a demonstration of positive collective action I thought that I would share a bit about a primarily European hacker group named Telecomix that recently rallied to provide low tech communications such as fax numbers, dial-up modems, and even HAM radio coms for the Egyptian people during the internet blackout days of the anti-Mubarak protests. This was a video they made at the beginning of the uprising: "Telecomix Message to North Africa and the Middle East". Later they were mentioned by the Electronic Frontier Foundation along with the French Data Network as organizations that provided technical workarounds and support during the black out. The EFF article can be found here: "| Egypt's Internet Blackout Highlights Danger of Weak Links Usefulness of Quick Links". Telecomix is currently providing a variety of similar technologies for the people of Libya. They are about the datalove and keeping it free and flowing. (:=----- kthxbai deinous

Hai again! In class last night I had mentioned the two different approaches that Microsoft and Sony are taking toward hackers hacking their gaming consoles. In a recent Mashable article, "|Xbox Kinect vs. Sony PS3: How 2 Companies Handle Hacking", they described these approaches. Microsoft is encouraging hackers to innovate and push the limitations of their new motion sensoring peripheral, Kinect, by hosting hacking contests and the upcoming commercial release of a developing platform, SDK, for hacker to use. About a week after the public release of the Kinect last fall there was a huge buzz in the gaming community that the Kinect had been hacked to play World of Warcraft. Being an avid member of the WoW community I was very excited about this and searched to find out what the hack did. As it turned out the Institute for Creative Technology of USC had created a customizable user interface and had applied it to the game controls for WoW. The result and explanation of this inspiring hack can be seen in their YouTube video here: "| World of Warcraft with Microsoft Kinect using FAAST and OpenNI'. There is also already a commercially release development platform for creating homebrewed Xbox360 games, and again, there are many hosted contests for talented hackers. Conversely, companies like Sony do not encourage hacking their systems, and are currently suing George Holt for jailbreaking the PS3 for homebrew game design. This closed attitude raises the important question: if you purchased the product, why are you not allowed to do with it as you please? Recently, at least in the common practice of jailbreaking Apple's iPhones and iPads for open development, and unapproved software from Apple, it is not illegal to do so and will not result in lawsuits or terminations of your phone and data services. It does however void Apple warranties. I personally am in support of the "you buy it, you can do what you want with it" argument, and look forward to more companies adopting attitudes and policies much like Microsoft has with their releasing of commercial developing tools that promote the generative process of creating new hardware uses and homebrew game design. If these consoles and gadgets remain so closed I agree with Zittrain that there will become a stagnation with in creative technology. ---=:) kthxbai Deinous 20:43, 23 February 2011 (UTC)