Peer Production: Development from the Edges and from the Crowd

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April 2

Beyond merely providing a forum for political activism, scholars are increasingly aware of the benefits the Internet provides as a mode of production. How can the Internet help us make things together? How much hierarchy and control is needed to produce? How good is the material that peer production creates? And finally, what are the risks to producers (and society) inherent to peer production?

Our special guest this week will be Jérôme Hergueux, a fellow at the Berkman Center, who specializes in behavioral economics and online social spaces.


  • if you’re not familiar, you may want to spend a little time looking at Wikipedia’s entry on Seti@home.

Optional Readings

Videos Watched in Class


Links From Adobe Connect Session

The Wealth of Nations:

Schumpeter's "creative destruction":

The DARPA Red Balloon challenge:

The wiki page for the DARPA challenge:

Benkler's book Penguin and Leviathan, covering many issues from the class:

Counter-Strike is a user-made modification of the Valve Corp game Half Life:

Coase Theorem:

Tim Wu's Master Switch:

NYC Mayor Bloomberg's Sugary Soda Ban:

Class Discussion

Please remember to sign your postings by adding four tildes (~~~~) to the end of your contribution. This will automatically add your username and the date/time of your post, like so: Asellars 15:29, 21 January 2013 (EST)

I really enjoyed Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds" and how it spoke to the potential superiority of aggregated and averaged knowledge. Due to the rise in portable and mobile computing, the internet has provided a fantastic forum for big data to be collected and analyzed. I personally believe that as the world experiences greater globalization and an increased democratic forum for information sharing, we achieve greater solutions. I found the end of the article particularly interesting as the simulated maze/node experiment highlighted the "mob mentality" vs. the average of individual paths. It's quite astonishing that the "mob mentality" path, using the majority's decision at each node, achieved the original solution. I think that the growth in crowdsourcing and big data will become a huge focal point and resource for research over the next 10 to 15 years. In contrast, I thought Zuckerman's "My Heart's in Accra" brought up various thought provoking questions regarding ideological cocooning. However, I think the chief undermining piece to his study is that most individuals do not belong to only one blog. And if the study were to be done on aggregators of multiple blogs, than I believe different questions and concerns may have been raised or alleviated. I am a big fan of aggregated analysis like macroeconomic market bets. After all it was this philosophy and mentality that gave George Soros his fortune. AaronEttl 15:39, 1 April 2013 (EDT)

DARPAs Red Balloon Grand Network Challenge was an affirmation of the power of crowdsourcing. The challenge for domestic companies in the United States will be to harness the apex of this theoretical application before other countries do. The power of individual computers figure in greatly, as the 4G network allows for faster computing time and enables polling of significant numbers with using platform that allow for pushes to the home pages of popular social media. So the popularity of individual sites matters to be able to push to a maximum amount of people, then, the ability of the researcher to pay for that access. Groups like SETI use free space on individual computers to solve complex problems such as hearing signals from outer space and figuring out what they mean. Ultimately, game platforms in their simplest form such as the Facebook games will enable MMOG's to freely solve problems based on a games popularity, and imbed future technology literate generations with information to solve problems that will enable civilization to continue. One does not need a computer crowdsourcing platform to figure out that Earth's population will outgrown the planets ability to produce resources in a matter of decades. These crowdsourcing problem solving applications are not just novelty, they are the future of continuing civiliization.

Daniel Cameron Morris 15:58, 2 April 2013 (EDT)

The notion of crowdsourcing is an interesting phenomenon in the current digital era, shedding light on an important question: what does the future behold?

Zittrain’s lecture was great! I liked hearing about new virtual work methodologies, some of which I hadn't been exposed to in the past. Whether working online to take orders for a fast food restaurant thousands of miles away, adding comments to blogs, or turking via Amazon’s platform, each Internet employment activity is unique. As I watched Zittrain’s lecture and read the articles this week, I couldn't help but think about the future, 25 years from now. The ideas, approaches, and practices outlined in our readings/videos were considered science-fiction when my parents were children; and will most likely be seen as archaic when my children look back on today. That said, our lives not only revolve around technology, but it’s challenging to comprehend where technology will be decades from now. For example, working from home is common for people worldwide, but before the Internet it was a far-reaching reality.

The idea of crowdsourcing and its relationship to teamwork is also an interesting concept to consider. Teamwork usually means working together as a cohesive group, whether virtual or in-person, driving toward a specific goal. However, based on the readings, teamwork may be evolving in which people share thoughts and ideas separately, in-line with a common end, but not necessarily working together. The maze and jellybean examples from The Wisdom of Crowds show how puzzles can be solved when the average response is calculated. However, in neither example were the groups working together, yet the majority train-of-thought led to the most streamlined/correct answer. What do others think about this model? People’s minds may work alike to solve a given problem, but not necessarily when working cohesively. "[Social networks] have enabled crowdsourcing—aggregating bits of information across a large number of users to create productive value—as a popular mechanism for creating encyclopedias of information (such as Wikipedia) and solving other highly distributed problems" (Tang et al., 78). Has teamwork improved due to crowdsourcing, has it declined, or is this simply another form of teamwork?

Zittrain concluded his lecture on a perfect note—the future surrounding online communication is unknown, because creativity is always changing. Many of the concepts he set forth are ever-evolving in a similar manner: human intelligence, mechanical turking and associated incentives, obtaining online elite status (e.g., Yelp/Trip Advisor elites), and freely engaging in open-source communication leads to countless possibilities. His ending statement about opportunity costs is a final point to consider: now that we can accomplish things 24/7 (online), what other attributes in life are scarified? Furthermore, as production increases through online means, what future attributes will be scarified?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Zak Paster 11:09, 2 April 2013 (EDT)

I found this information this week much more informative than the week before, and judging by my participation grade, there is some things for me to learn. Here is what this lesson taught me: there is such thing as phishing and internet piracy, and that this has much to do with the idea of intellectual property. This may seem useless but I realized, context is important before history. Historical materialism, as I witnessed within this homework was contra-ed by a more verbal "oral history". These two platforms were at odds.

Now, most of the people seemed to have Apple computers in these lectures and the doubt that arises is due to the actual machine program they were running. I am in no position to directly quote or to recollect the idea that maybe Steve Jobs was the problem.

With regard to the overall lecture I found the timing on the final video, categorically, "top to bottom", to have a time lapse, as I had expected but now just realized then before.

So overall, these are some ideas I have to raise my score from a 1 on my proposal to maybe something average or less radical, because, maybe average is not always "regression to the mean".13:14, 2 April 2013 (EDT)

The readings for this week were some of the more interesting readings to date in my opinion.

When watching the Yochai Benkler video, the security implications inherent in crowd sourcing came to mind. While some of the efforts he discussed, such as SETI, for example, were non-controversial and would probably be able to function effectively as the general public is included without any security or authentication, I could not help but think about what might happen when the public was invited to support more controversial efforts. Benkler specifically discussed decentralized computation, storage and communications, but what happens when someone whose agenda conflicts with such an effort actively participates in it only to attempt to sabotage it. My guess is that, when it comes to controversial efforts, there will likely have to be some sort of tradeoff between full invited participation (i.e. what Benkler referred to as production without exclusion) and security. There will likely have to be some sort of pre-participation vetting process, a process for vetted and approved participants to authenticate themselves as they participate and additional security measures to ensure communication, computation and storage of information maintains the desired and acceptable level of integrity.

It's interesting to note how the opinions in today's readings/videos seemed to overlap to a degree with both ends of the (American) political spectrum. Much of Yochai Benkler's talk as well as James Surowiecki's article seemed to imply that the power of people collectively can potentially yield greater results than that of individuals. Another way of summarizing the argument is the old adage that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. This seems to overlap well with modern left-wing economic thinking. However, the Ethan Zuckerman article referenced Cass Sunstein's support of the 20th century economist, Friedrich Hayek, who was a proponent of free markets and individualism.

CyberRalph 13:35, 2 April 2013 (EDT)

I really enjoyed Jonathan Zittrain's talk, which highlighted some of the potential dark sides to peer production and mechanical turk. It seems to me the problems that peer networks excel at are those that require a lot of small, easy inputs from a lot of people. The advantage to this structure is that you can accomplish quite a lot if everyone contributes. The concern is that individuals can be manipulated through points and monetary rewards.(I'm excited to hear Jerome talk about behavioral economics in this regard.) People can perform trivial tasks without knowing the full picture or how the intermediary will use the information. But if they can get a nominal reward for minimal effort, who cares? In some sense, then, peer production enables the production of something that individuals may not even be privy to.

The implications to this mechanical turk process are important because it could potentially combine the talents of both humans and machines. We worry about automated machines taking our jobs in the economy. But machines can't do everything. They can't recognize an image of a person. They don't have emotional intelligence and they can't understand the nuance of colloquial language. But if you can combine their algorithmic knowledge with human computing, humans performing certain functions for machines, you could create a powerful and dangerous force indeed. Peer networks might be great for collective intelligence, but what happens when government and commercial actors try to leverage that collective intelligence for their own benefits and not the benefits of the crowd? Asmith 13:55, 2 April 2013 (EDT)

I was somewhat troubled by Jonathan Zitrain's opening "You can get strangers to do things that are helpful to your cause without having to pay them." As I watched the video an unspoken theme in much of the experiments that did not involve money was people using the tasks to escape what they should be doing. I'm wondering if that is important to getting someone to do something helpful to your cause - that it be some sort of interruption from their routine or to do list And that the complete statement is people love badges and points when they provide a distraction. Because aren't grades and class rank a version of points and badges? And yet they aren't sufficient to keep people in school. I'm wondering if it's the evaluative piece? Is it necessary that the badges and points have an element of play or provide a feeling of well-being, of "I've done something good" for them to work? Perhaps it is enough that they are impersonal?

In many of the examples, people seemed to be doing the tasks rather than taking actions to improve their own condition. Some of the tasks did have a bit of a "Let's make the world better" feel: Gov. Rick Perry's border webcams arguably improve the lives of the people living in TX border towns and the Internet Eyes seems to fight crime. But some of the others, Waiting for Godot for example, did not. And so many of the participants came from .edu addresses that a 20 hour limit had to be put on participants with those addresses participation. Points and badges seem to be useful tools, but not sufficient to increase civic engagement or have people take the steps that have long term positives but short term negatives: using more calories than one takes in; saving for retirement; preparing for a disaster; taking the time to shop and prepare real food rather than eating processed food or take-out; staying informed about civic matters such that your vote is informed by data rather than political advertising or party affiliation. As someone who has done much work with volunteers on a (fairly large) city-wide basis as well as within companies and universities, motivating people to take actions either as one-offs or repeatedly over time even on issues they say they care about is difficult. And it seems to me that these steps in the Zitrain video may work if the effort is minimal and short term, but I'd like to see how they could work on issues that involve repeated action overtime. Raven 14:57, 2 April 2013 (EDT)

The video of Yochai Benkler was very insightful and I really enjoy how he conveys his message. Throughout his discussion I continually related what he was saying to my professional industry in the investment markets. His discussion on how the economics had changed significantly in the 1800's to give a greater cost to participate in circulating ideas and how this has impacted the world and the relationships between the provider and the consumer. This implementation of change and change in technology specifically has alter how the economics of how companies are run on Wall Street and around the world.

In today's globalized connected world, he made an argument that could be interpreted as coming full circle. The access of the internet around the world has allowed for a shift for decentralization and therefore a lower cost to participate in the information movement. With this change society has come full circle in how it utilizes information, how its distributed, how its values this information and how it is used. This distribution through several platforms of communication, allows for behaviors to adapt and create a paradigm shift. This is what raises the red flag politically for those in power to try to attempt to limit the evenly dispersed power and access to information, to maintain a strong hold on power. I find these topics very interesting and the lecturer always a pleasure to listen to. Interestingcomments 15:19, 2 April 2013 (EDT)