Massively distributed collaboration

From ArticleWorld

Massively distributed collaboration (MDC) is a phrase used to describe the recent development of large-scale, decentralized Web content creation. This process is exemplified by blogs and wiki-based, open-publishing websites, as well as some cell phone text message alert systems. Software inventor Mitch Kapor invented the term in November 2005 to describe what he saw as a dramatic new paradigm shift in the way information is distributed--especially on the web.



Online communities are groups that are formed and maintained on the basis of electronic communication. E-mail announcement or discussion lists, online gaming servers, collaborative art and news sites, and social groups like MySpace are just a few examples of online communities. Most or all of these networks participate in collaboration to some extent. This can be carried out in a variety of ways:

  • The wiki, or publicly-edited informational website, allows almost anyone with an Internet connection to collaborate in the creation of informative web content. Wiki technology was developed almost exclusively for the purpose of collaborative knowledge sharing.
  • Blogs and blogging communities are a well-known source of self-published news and commentary. Unlike wikis, individual blogs are typically authored by a single individual or a small group. However, RSS technology and blog search engines and compilers allow articles to reach a wide audience, and to be presented in tandem with related content.
  • Bulletin Boards can create international communities by allowing people to discuss topics of shared interest, such as filmmaking or video games. These message boards are typically used for the purpose of entertainment, but useful content can be found on boards where members offer advice or technical assistance.
  • Online gaming and role-playing communities almost always have a strong collaborative element, especially the latter. However, the results of gaming efforts usually stay within gaming communities, and rarely serve a useful function to outsiders.
  • Cell phones are especially valuable as vehicles for the mass distribution of news, alerts, and [[Politics|political communiqués.

Some Applications

The collaborative mass distribution model has various applications, and it can be seen in use in many different fields.

Science, Scholarship, and the Arts

Scientific information catalogs such as the Human Genome Database allow researchers not only to publish their findings, but also to collaborate on research as it happens. Educational institutions have also adopted MDC to facilitate learning on a broad scale. While conventional universities still teach classes in person, they have begun to take advantage of wiki technology to create collaborative course work. Nontraditional and correspondence schools use bulletin boards and wikis to create classes that are conducted entirely on the Internet. Artists and writers also frequently collaborate and offer assistance to each other using similar resources.

Politics and Protest

In politics, including nontraditional protest politics, MDC is responsible for an ever-increasing level of coordination. The 2004 Howard Dean presidential campaign received record donations before the primary election, due in large part to grassroots efforts carried out primarily on the Internet. During the 1999 WTO Protests in Seattle, activists used cell phone networks and blogs to coordinate political actions and share information on police activity. The Independent Media Center, now a massive worldwide open publishing news resource, was initially created by and for WTO protesters, as a way for protestors on the streets to report the news as it happened.

Law Enforcement and Emergency Services

When dealing with political protest that turns violent or threatens property damage, police have learned to borrow the tactics of activists and coordinate their responses with cell phone networks, as was the case in the November 2005 riots in France. In times of emergency, television and radio stations, firefighters and paramedics have developed synchronized alert systems such as the Common Alerting Protocol to allow the easy publishing, editing and coordination of emergency public messages.

Communities and Corporations

Virtual communities are as old as the Internet, and today they play a large part in the creation of collaborative web content. Massive online communities such as deviantART serve as forums for artistic assistance and group critique, as well as for collaborative group projects. Corporations have begun to take advantage of this online culture by enlisting volunteer advertisers from the public. The Freepay Corporation has been especially successful in recruiting legions of Internet users to gather customer referrals in the hopes of earning in-demand electronic devices like the iPod. Internet users will advertise referral requests on virtual community sites that they frequent, or they will create "Conga lines", or organized referral chains to speed the process along. As a result, advertising becomes a decentralized, consumer-directed process. Corporations have also created cell phone text networks incorporating news headlines and stock quotes, sometimes mimicking noncommercial cell phone networks.