Mass creativity on the web

Last month I posted about an upcoming book "The New Influencers" , about social media and evolution of the Internet. Here’s a more interesting approach along similar lines: Charles Leadbeater’s  "We-think the book" , which attempts to encapsulate the power of mass creativity enabled and organised by the internet. To quote from the book’s website: "With the support of Profile, my publisher, I am releasing the book prior to formal publication next year so that people can comment upon the text, add to it, disagree with it. I hope this open approach to peer review is in itself an experiment in collaborative creativity and will help to create new ways for people to write books and share ideas." The first draft of the book is available online, and you can comment on any chapter or on the project as a whole.

"Web 1.0" as it is sometimes called, is the use of the internet as a broadcast medium in an essentially top-down way. When the web caught on generally, in the 1990s, many companies, traditional media organisations and others created websites with some degree of interactivity, but until very recently, these were mostly "broadcast" sites, aimed at selling a product to the user, and at attracting advertising to these sites based on number of visitors.

"Web 2.0" is the social internet — a bottom-up "wisdom of the crowds" approach, by which sharing information is technically simple, usually free of charge (thanks to open-source software like Linux). Sites or content that users like best are ranked and displayed so that they are made easily available to new users. Trends whip round the web like wildfire, as all can join in whenever they want.

Some of the ways in which the web enables collective creativity, its refinement and its organisation (I’ve given examples in most cases, there are others in each category):

Google — web search ranked by the number of links made to each site.

Wikipedia — free encyclopaedia compiled, updated and edited by the users.

Blogs–online diaries allowing user comments (link goes to Blogger, but there are lots of others)

Technorati — search engine for blogs. Also ranks them by number of links, and organises by subject.

rss — allows users to subscribe to and organise blogs and websites, and to read via web rather than via email. The unsung hero of Web 2.0 — makes it all possible.

eBay — auction site for buying and selling anything, including user rankings for reliability.

Craigslist — free classified ads.

Amazon — online retail site for books, films and other goods, including user rankings and reviews.

MySpace — social networking (also Bebo, Facebook etc).

Flickr— upload, share and organise your photos by subject.

Del.ic.ious — social bookmarking site — keep your bookmarks safe, organise by subject and find out about new websites via the user ranking system (also Connotea for scientists).

Digg — news-oriented site where the stories are chosen by users not editors or publishers.

Second Life — online digital world created, owned and run (played) by its residents. (children’s versions: Millsbury, Gaia, Neopets).

Interactive games — Sims and many others, often war-based. Online role-playing games.

Library thing — catalogue your books online, share and discover.

YouTube — share and rank your own video clips. Now bought by Google, who have simultaneously done a deal with most of the biggest media companies to allow content (movie clips, songs and so on) to be uploaded onto YouTube. Advertising revenues will follow, at the expense of the traditional TV channels.

Whether or not traditional media will die, and if so when, the ability of the individual to connect with others; to discover and share interests; to choose specific entertainment — all at times to suit him or herself, rather at times that someone else has decided are suitable to maximise advertising or for another reason, is heady stuff. Now all we have to do is to find out a way to stop the spammers from spoiling it all.