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Posted: 06.24.10, 08:02 PM
Aaaargh.... I was cringing all the way through this piece of insufferable intellectual hubris that seems to know next to nothing outside of its own little world.


"..Wikipedia is our largest and oldest example..."

Mr. Shirky, please look up

for a much older example of a collaborative intellectual effort that was designed as such early on. Wikipedia is by far not the oldest example for your claims. It is, historically, also by far not the most important example. Pretty much any encyclopedia and scientific review journal fall into the same category... they take surplus intellectual capacity, albeit from a limited number of experts, and convert it into more widely useful material than the original publications that drive the fields of said experts.

If you go to the British Museum, you will find a whole exhibit room filled with artifacts of English and other Naturalists, mostly people of the upper classes with spare time, money and intellectual capacity at their hands that have contributed greatly to the age of the enlightenment by refusing to spend all of their time with hunting, gambling and other gentlemanly things... I find it absolutely marvelous that the British Museum had the good sense to put this amazing exhibit in room 1!

By the same token, many serious art collectors are part of a collaborative class... they just happen to feed the museums of the world with their donations of works of art which, otherwise, would be impossible to obtain for the public.

And then there are the amateur astronomers, which, to this day, add significant contributions to astronomy, by observing and reporting rare phenomena which escape the deep but limited surveys of professional astronomers.

Shall we talk about the nameless contributors of the world's meteorological services, which maintained and continue to maintain many of the weather stations of the world for over a century?

How about the early naval officers, who upon return from their voyages would take the geographical information they had collected back to the map makers, so that the next ships visiting those parts of the world could learn from their experience and avoid the known perils?

That rather famous book, "Moby Dick", contains a fabulous description about the informal communication between whalers about their hunts and how one man, no other than Captain Ahab, uses it to hunt for his whale! I doubt Mr. Melville would have wasted Chapter XLIV of his masterpiece on this topic, if the power of collecting collaborative information had not struck him as remarkably powerful.

And at this point I have to apologize to all those people whose anonymous contributions to the world's knowledge I don't know about... but I wish that someone who does would give a really good talk about that... it would be way more interesting than one more idle speculation about one more internet fad.