The crowdsourcing scalability problem (or the thinness of the cognitive surplus gruel)

I’m sure someone has mentioned this, but the interesting thing if you look at Wikipedia is how many editing hours have gone into each page. Shirky says there’s a hundred million hours put into Wikipedia. There’s an estimated 342,768 full articles in Wikipedia

That’s about 291 hours per article. I don’t know what they get to write an article at Britannica, but I imagine it is something less than a sixth of a year.

If my math is wrong, feel free to correct it. This is back of the envelope stuff. (and yes, I’m aware that many articles in Britannica are re-edits — feel free to include in that sixth of a year all edits from the 11th edition until now if you want, I think the core claim does not change).

If my math is right, you can only crowd-source a very limited set of things before general productivity collapses. And as all good economists know, productivity is the key to quality of life — the quality of life, ironically, that allows us enough time to edit Wikipedia articles for free…aka the “cognitive surplus”…

Critiquing the MetaMovement

So when I heard the Occupy Everything movement referred to as a “MetaMovement” I thought — at last, someone has nailed my ambivalence.

It turned out I was wrong about what the coiner of that phrase meant. But here is what the MetaMovement should mean —

There is a core of the movement that is a critique of movements, a reaction against traditional forms of collective action in favor of what the organizers imagine to be the quintessential post-millennial movement.

But we’ve been through this before, haven’t we? Wasn’t Obama’s campaign, to many, a campaign about campaigns? A MetaCampaign? 

Haven’t we seen this in the House, and especially the Senate, where an unwillingness to remove filibuster has resulted in an endless series of votes about votes? A MetaLegislature?

Isn’t the problem with our media that it’s a Meta-Media, endlessly talking about whether the way people are talking on TV about policies is rude, or leftist, or out of touch and how media viewers will react to that — while never analyzing the fundamental claims of the policies themselves?

In all these cases we’ve been disempowered, replacing crusade and vocation with empty ritual and navel-gazing. The means becomes the end.

I think movement politics should always be looking to evolve to more effective forms. And to some extent, that means tapping into networked approaches. But my worry is the core of the movement, just the core, mind you, is so infatuated with the supposed uniqueness of their movement and the intricacies of their anarchic procedures that as it scales it will break down.

Don’t get me wrong — I support OWS (and more particularly, all the non-OWS people who are giving up their time to do this). I support them wholeheartedly, just as I support Obama, the meta-candidate, and the Dems in our meta-legislature.

But if this succeeds — if it actually achieves important aims — it will be because at some point a critical mass of new participants overwrite its anarchic DNA with something a little more goal-focused and less process-oriented. Meta is the disease, not the cure. And the most revolutionary act in this slog of a time is to get a little less meta, and a lot more real.

World’s Simplest Stimulus Plan: Student Loan Holiday?

I’ve become cynical enough in this space that I thought nothing could surprise me. I was wrong. This is shocking:

Of the nearly $1.5 trillion in loans that US students have ever taken out on record, about $900 billion of it hasn’t been repaid. Yes, there are, according to the best estimate available, around some 60 million Americans walking around with student-loan balances. No, the numbers aren’t really so staggering because grads are slackers who never pay their debts; a third of all student loan debt was incurred in the last four years. So the national outstanding-loan debt is growing fast. Too bad for all us suckers who took out all that aid that the same cannot be said of the job market.

Is it possible that there is some sort of error of definition here, due to changes in how loans are managed in the last three years? 

If there is not, here is the world’s simplest stimulus plan — student loan holiday. 

Update: BTW, I am reading this as a third of all student loan debt ever taken on was issued in the last four years — the other interpretation, that one third of extant student loan debt was incurred in last four years would not be surprising, since student debt accumulates for the the first four to five years without payment, and then is paid off over a ten year period (usually). 

Ed Roulette Project Is Off and Running

Jim Groom, Tim Owens, and I have started talking about how to make Ed Roulette a reality. 

Please take 5 minutes of your time and check out the short wireframe walkthrough of how the application would work and let us know if you can help us build it, test it, popularize it. It’s a killer project that combines 20 years of research on Peer Instruction with a MOOC-style eye towards massive scalability. It also will answer the question of whether a massive online course can teach entering freshmen basic skills — this approach can not only do that, it can do it better than we currently are in 20 seat face to face classrooms. 

If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the walkthrough. If you are interested in the literally hundreds of research articles that indicate this will work, leave a comment or shoot me a note, I’ll send you the links.