Quick Takes From MIT5

There’s WAY too much going on here at the MIT5 conference to get it all down in some coherent way (and I think others are doing far better jobs of it than me! Hello, Technorati tag!).

Instead of overview, I want to get down some key ideas from the plenary session on collaboration and collective intelligence (description and speaker vitas here). The panelists offered three different examples: MySpace, Second Life, and Pokemon. Clearly, divergent principles underpin these arenas, yet all seem to, in one way or another, encapsulate the ambivalence of many online collaborative endeavors. Trebor Scholz called one version of this “the commercialization of social life.” He was referring most specifically to MySpace and Facebook, but it’s easy to come up with ways in which time spent in Second Life, creating digital objects to sell to others, would quickly fall into this category. Pokemon too; buy more cards, get more involved. Lather, rinse, repeat. A very clever audience member raised the question of the relationship between commodity circulation (for the sake of simplification, read: negative); and individual participation, social interaction, cultural production (for the sake of simplification, read: positive).

On a completely unrelated note, Thomas Malone, the session moderator and director of MIT’s new Center for Collective Intelligence, described social research from the 1950’s that examined participants’ reactions to different kinds of collaborative projects. I can’t re-produce these verbatim here, but he did describe one model in which a project can be atomized (i.e., participants can “do their own work” and compile their results–essentially, an additive model). His example here was that of a rope pulling contest. A second structure: one in which the success of the group is determined by its slowest member (e.g., climbing a mountain). A third: one in which the success of the group is determined by its fastest or most capable member (more difficult to bring forth an example here; relay races? Other?). For the record, all of these make me wonder if competitive reality televsion writers have been reading the same research…

My question, I suppose, is whether there is an inherent connection between these two ideas. Do different types of project design enable more or less participation, interaction, production, and likewise, more or less commodity circulation by instilling a different relationship between participants and project results?

No answers here. Off to think about authorship and transmedia narratives…