Culture Hack: Collaborating with Strangers
via Mo Riza on Pinterest
below is an entry for the CultureCon Contest by Sebastien Paquet
The culture hacking story I want to share with you is almost ten years old now. Back then I was a Ph.D. student in Computer Science with a deep interest in social software. I was posting to my blog daily, and building a reputation as a thinker in the field.
One of my issues with the blogosphere (as we called the universe of all blogs) was that it appeared as this galaxy of nebulously-connected personal streams. As a result, people with a shared interest in a given topic had a hard time finding each other; conversation on any given topic was discouragingly scattered.
“I’d like to explain an idea that I have been bouncing around for a while. It might well be a reformulation of what others have said previously. I believe that implementing this properly would give a nice boost to the blogosphere’s social aggregation capability. ”
I then offered a short blueprint of a system for pulling together blog posts from all over the blogosphere with a shared topic into a single stream, thus helping people connect around shared interest. I then wrote, “I haven’t worked it out in detail, but wouldn’t it be possible to hack a beta
of this together as follows?” and spelled out how the thing might be built. The idea was slightly peripheral to my focus, and I didn’t have time to learn all that was needed for me to implement it myself.
What followed exceeded my expectations many-fold. On the other side of the planet, in New Zealand, a programmer named Philip Pearson came across my post and read it. He had been working blog-based systems for a while and must have thought the idea had merit, because over the weekend he hacked together a complete working prototype version of the system I had dreamed up, and unassumingly sent me an email telling me about it.
As you can imagine, I was excited and slightly flabbergasted at the news. Philip and I were aware of each other, but he didn’t really know me, nor did he owe me anything… nor had i asked him anything!
In any case, what I did next was to simply dive into a collaboration relationship with Philip, promoting the system that he had built to my blog’s readers, inviting others to test it. We collected data on how people used the system, and this work ended up as a research paper, “A Topic Sharing Infrastructure for Weblog Networks”, which was accepted for publication and presentation at the Communication Networks and Services Research conference.
What I had done there was very unusual in the research world, especially ten years ago – I had basically openly shared what I thought was a promising idea with the world, instead of keeping it close to my chest. I had taken the risk of the idea being appropriated by someone else. But in so doing I had also invited collaboration from no one in particular; and I ended up receiving exactly that, and reaping benefits from it.
I regard this as my first intentcasting
success story. In the following years I’ve been kicking myself for being so timid about conjuring this magic again, but I still believe in open collaboration and have begun again experimenting with “intentcasting out in the open”, with results that are usually surprising and positive.
- I expressed intent publicly as a plausible promise
- There were people listening
- There was willingness to be first to trust and commit and move into action
- I did return the ball that was returned to me, setting the dynamic to make things happen
Implications for Cultural Production
- Open collaboration can happen – you can collaborate with people you don’t know yet
- It can be worth throwing a ball without advance knowledge of who might receive it
- Clarity and concreteness of intent makes a difference