Thursday, September 21, 2006

Value of Wikis

While many people focus on Wikipedia as the ultimate wiki, niche wikis and enterprise will soon dominate the landscape. Why do I make this argument? Its simple.

Information communities have been evolving since the beginning of the industrialized revolution (at a minimum). People with a common interest seek to collaborate and share their information with others.

Enterprises are a perfect example of an information community. People working together and sharing communal information to make a tangible and in some cases an intangible products. Wikis lower the costs of communication and therefore ad value to an enterprise. Economics is on their side.

While enterprises seek profit, many other people are interested in developing and sharing niche information. For these communities, wikis when combined with other technologies offer an ideal way to share and catalog information useful to a given community.

Once (and if) a niche wiki reaches critical mass it will be difficult for massive media companies that cater to niche communities to keep up.

Think about it. What will better serve the interests of a niche community, let's say interested in botany, a magazine (or encyclopedia) that only releases 12 issues per year (updated at most once a year) and a limited amount of static information. Or, an information community which not only has encyclopedic information but also other articles on a given topic that can range from the common "How to?" to people expressing a passion for various aspects of botany.

Wikis can cover a greater range of information than a traditional media company. It might not be economical for a magazine or traditional encyclopedia to hire an expert to write about fringe topics on a given subject. Maybe the topic won't appeal to enough people. Maybe the magazine cannot find/hire a person to write on a given topic.

The best part: information will be available, on demand, to people with an interest in a given topic and it can be quickly a dynamically updated. Sure, some of the information might not be 100% perfect, but no information source is perfect.

Wikis dramatically lower the cost of producing information—even when considering error—and create searchable freely accessible databases of information. Considering that information has a tremendous value and wikis lower productions costs, owning one or multiple wikis will become extremely valuable.

The owner of a wiki will essentially own an information bank. As we increasingly move to an information economy, these banks will only increase in value.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Truth By Consensus

The recent "tipping point" in the power of wiki's highlight has only solidified one of my hypothesis--given a large enough sample size people will reach more rationale decisions because their individual predilections and cognitive biases cancel each other out, much like a simple math equation (-x + x = 0, where 0=truth)

As those following the development of economics, over the past twenty-five years, the traditional economic assumptions of man as homo economicus, a rational utility maximizing, has been eroded by insights from psychology and other social sciences. Economists (and legal scholars) such as Herbet Simon, Amos Tversky, Daniel Kanheman, Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein, and Christine Jolls have helped paint a more realistic picture of the human mind. People do not have the ability to order and optimize infinite streams of information; instead, people have bounded rationality.

Bounded rationality refers to the fact that people have limited cognitive abilities. People rely on shortcuts and rules of thumbs to help make sense of the world. Moreover, people are endowed with various different cognitive biases, such as over-optimism, the confirmatory bias, and the implicit hindsight bias (best evidenced by the Monday morning quarterback, which dominate sports talk radio).

The existence of these cognitive biases draws into questions whether humans are capable of rational decisions. However, I think there is a solution to this conundrum, in the idea of "truth by consensus"

This idea is not novel, as evidenced by James Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds, which makes the observations that crowds can reach fairly accurate decisions if proper mechanism's are in place. However, Surowiecki's insights lack a theoretical reason why such accuracy is reached by crowds.

My hypothesis, which will be eventually worked into a paper, is that crowds make rationale decisions because each individual's cognitive biases and heuristics, which cloud an individual's ability to make a rationale decisions, are cancelled out when the number of people making a decision are increased.

This idea is fairly implicit in today's society, especially in the construction of law. For example, this could provide a justification for decisions reached by a democratic (or even a representative republican) government. This could provide justification for the existence of juries (why do we have a system where judges do not simply rule on the facts? Could it be that 12 people might be able to reach a more accurate decision then one judge with his/her own biases and heuristics).

This observation may also explain simple colloquialisms, such as why do "opposites attract." Why do men and women (or a similar same-sex arrangement) of opposing decide to enter into the sacred bonds of marriage? Could it be that the other cancels out the heuristics and cognitive biases of the other? Or the wisdom of "Ying and Yang"

Friday, September 16, 2005

Analogy Between Roads and Wireless Internet

I wish the United States would decided to follow Canada's lead and build a nationwide wireless network. . . . . link.

Last night, I watched a program detailing the urban renewal efforts in NYC after WWII, which focused understandably on Robert Moses. The show features some clips of Moses, discussing the importance of building roads through NY, as a means of fostering the growing U.S. Auto industry.

Today, the same principals should apply. Instead of building a nationwide network of roads, we should be building a nationwide wireless-network. After the birth of the internet and the United States lead in developing internet-based commerce, I think its imperative to our national economy that the United States build such "roads."

If we lag on such an initiative, instead of shaping the internet development, we might find ourselves struggling to regain control. History may not repeat itself, but its important to notice such patterns . . .

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Web of Law

Thomas Smith's article on The Web Of Law is fascinating. One highlight below:

Our common law system, and indeed, any common law system, will very likely have an
organic organization that can be mapped, studied, and probably exploited, in a similar way. That common law systems, including ours, spontaneously organize themselves into subject matter or topical clusters, can hardly fail to be of interest to anyone interested in how legal systems grow, change, and function. More practically, exploiting the information embedded in citation networks has great promise for making it easier for lawyers, judges, and scholars to access the cases and other authorities in the growing Web of Law that are the most relevant to their particular projects, just as Google did for users of the World Wide Web.
Network analysis would also reveal which cases are important to scholars and which articles important to judges. The cases law professors cite may be quite different from those cited by judges, and the articles cited by judges may be different from those most cited by law professors.

The cartology of law. Just like during the Renaissance, where European scholars became fascinated with mapping the "new world," modern scholars in the Information Age have become to map our "cyber world."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Move Over Ipod

As the cost of data continually decreases, will there soon be hand-held searchable libraries in the form of an I-Pod (called an I-Lib)? Such a product would be extremely useful to consumers, businesses, educational institutions, and students. A world of research would literally be at the tip of the fingers.

If such a product is developed, I would image radical changes in the way education takes place in this country. With such information readily available and searchable (possibly with an advanced key-word search), a research based learning environment could supplement or even replace the lecture based or socratic models.

Such a product could also do one of two things: (1) excacerbate the informational advantages of specialists, if such a produce was narrowly tailored for each profession (doctor, lawyer, rabbi, priest, and engineeenr for example); or (2) it may blur some of the informational advantages that specialists possess.

Whether route (1) or (2) will occur will depend on the how adept indvididuals become at quick and high speed research. My inclination, however, is that (2) would trump (1).

How many years before such a product would be available? 10 years? Maybe less.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Copyright/Patent as Tax

I have been recently thinking about a hypothesis, which argues that copyrights/patents are just taxes. Below is a rough sketch of my hypothesis, which will eventually be worked into a paper (and continually edited as this paper develops).

Taxes allow governments to redistributes wealth, taking capital from one party and transferring it to another parties. With the growth the internet, the importance of capital is beginning to lessen, replaced in importance by information.

Information can be employed by different people (and/or entities) for different purposes. However, to maximize the usefulness of a given piece of information, it must be transmitted to the user who will derive the most benefit from it.

Once an individual or entity in need of a given piece of information receives the information, they will use that information to do one of two things: (1) produce more information; or (2) use such information (in conjunction with other information) to produce a product, either tangible or intangible.

To maximize, from a macro-level, the amount of new information produced, information should ideally be allowed to spread freely without restriction. This idea is similar to the economic principles advocating for low taxes on capital, which argues that tax on capital should be minimized so that capital can be allocated efficiently to its optimal use.

If information is allowed to spread freely without restriction, then information production will be maximized. By maximizing the amount of information produced such information will invariably be used to produce new products which will benefit society.

Old rules, which lock-up information, prevent information from being allocated efficiently. One such lock on information, is an excessive copyright/patent regime. These laws can be viewed as taxes, since they allow the government to allocate which parties will be able to use a given piece of information. The more excessive the copyright protection the greater the resdistributive effect.

In today's trend to expand the current copyright/patent protections, we run the risk of over-taxing this information, and thereby damaging our economy and society.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Death to the Great Library

Although a somewhat dated post, it saddens me to learn that our country's draconian copyright laws (and protectionist publishers) will prevent Google, via Google Print, from effectuating the largest advancement in library science since the Great Library of Alexandria.

Step back away from the nonsense of our current copyright system and imagine the societal good that would result from having the information of the worlds printed material, searchable (although crude compared to Westlaw/Lexis). Research would be quicker for all. Any individual, especially those in communities without vast, accessible libraries, would have the world at their fingertips.

Since the benefits to such a system outweigh whatever narrow benefits the corporate publishers would gain, resulting from the more efficient allocation of information.


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