(Running notes from the Picnic conference in Amsterdam. I will be moderating several sessions, so will be blogging the conference only partially.)
Charles Leadbeater (author of "We-Think" -- watch his TEDtalk) is the opening speaker and talks about the new dynamics of creativity and innovation. He shows a video from YouTube with a kid playing guitar (face of the kid covered with a cap), which got 49 million views. "Imagine this kid trying to get a meeting with the BBC's head of entertainment: he would never get past the entry door". "The traditional media landscape is like a beach with boulders, the BBC boulder, the News Corp boulder; some sometimes join to create even biggest boulders. Now the beach is a rising tide of pebbles, and many people are coming and dropping their pebble on the beach: basically we are all in the pebble business now. The models of the future are about how we link these pebbles together to create added value, to create something that it's more than a loose assembly. Can we match a growing capacity to participate, to contribute, with our ability to collaborate, to build, to make more complex and durable products?"
Charles tells the story of ILoveBees, the viral game/teaser used in 2004 to launch the videogame Halo 2 (see the detailed story on Wikipedia) and which gathered 600'000 participants. "If we take this newfound capacity for collaboration and we attach it to worthy goals, what could that yield? What we've got are new options, new ways of organizing ourselves. Most creativity is collaborative anyway, it comes from people mixing and blending ideas together. But not all collaboration yields creativity". What prompts collaborative creativity?
- New and easy ways to allow people to contribute.
- Ways to connect people together and to build on one-another.
- A shared sense of purpose and some individual sense of payoff, that they're getting something in return as they're contributing to something larger.
- Usually there is a core or kernel that's put there to begin with (the initial Linux software for ex)
- Structure: these communities won't work unless they can make decisions, so they need to have some elements of structure (think Wikipedia).
Charles describes how the scientific process is developing. "Science is increasingly a hugely collaborative activity, even very specific scientific activities. If you look at the kind of tools young scientists and engineers are using to collaborate, you get a glimpse into the future. What these lead users are telling us is that the future is all gonna be about our activity to collaborate, to pull together the diversity of knowledge and insight that we need to make that possible". What does that mean? "For most of my life, we have worked and being served by organizations that should do things for you but often actually do things to you. The logic of the Web is "with", how to work with people, how to learn together. If you want a very simple way to think of the current shift, it's that difference: from the world of "to" and "for" to the world of "with" and "by"." "Is this just a passing moment, a fleeting fad? Or is it a possible permanent change in how we organize ourselves? And if it is, can we use that possibility or are we going to screw it up?" "Somebody recently asked to Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the Web: are we asking too much of the Internet, are we loading too much onto it, bearing the weight of this social transformation? Tim answered: the danger is that we will ask too little from it, that we will reduce it to just another tool".
Clay Shirky ("Here comes everybody" - watch his TEDtalk) comes on stage for a conversation with Leadbeater. They agree that this movement won't be instantaneous: "We've lived the first 10 years of a transformation that will take maybe another 50 years to deploy", says Leadbeater.
Aaron Koblin is the next speaker. He is an artist focusing on the creation and visualization of human systems. "Data systems tell stories about our lives", he says. He talks about several of his projects: the Flight Patterns, the New York Talk Exchange (check it out: shows which cities are communicating with New York over 24 hours, very insightful); the "Sheep Market" project, 10'000 sheep (one of which on the image) drawn by random strangers using Amazon's task-distribution mechanims Mechanical Turk. He "collected" 11 drawings per hour over 40 days; the quickest "artist" took 4 seconds, the slowest 46 minutes (average: 105 seconds). Another project: Ten Thousand Cents, which asked people to participate in making a drawing without knowledge of the overall project (it was a reproduction of a 100 dollars bill, but everybody only got to reproduce a tiny bit, a "cent"). He talks about House of Cards, where lasers and sensors are used to scan the band Radiohead into a three-dimensional particle-driven data experience -- a very different kind of videoclip... (see videos here on YouTube, or get the code here and play with it). And finally he shows a recent project mapping out SMS usage in Amsterdam based on KPN data. (BG: great projects, but a little frustration: Aaron doesn't draw any conclusion, any insight from this work and its impacts/meanings).