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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Model of Mass-Collaboration

Many of my blog posts have focused on the business benefits of open source. But perhaps even more significant is how the open source model of “mass collaboration” is changing the way the world works. Some of you know that I’m working on a book on this topic. I’ll reveal the title as soon as the publisher is locked down. In the meantime, I’d like to share some of my thoughts around this topic in various blog entries. I welcome your feedback and continued discussion.

Of course, everyone is familiar with Wikipedia – the “open source encyclopedia”. And, many people have heard about the famous MIT experiment where obscenities were randomly inserted into various Wikipedia entries to see how long it would take the Wikipedia community to “self-police” itself. On average: 1.7 minutes. That's it! Under two minutes to remove randomly inserted obscenities. It’s the model of mass collaboration where people self-select based on their passions and skills. OK, some may argue that skills don’t play enough of a role, but you’ve got to admit that on average, the “wisdom of crowds” prevails such that the cream rises to the top and the crap gets filtered out. At my last count, there was something close to 6 million articles in Wikipedia. I remember reading a story in Nature
a couple years ago that carried out an “expert led” investigation to compare scientific entries in Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Their findings? Factual errors existed in both sources, but “the difference in accuracy was not particularly great.”

Speaking of science, InnoCentive
has emerged as an innovative solution to solve scientific conundrums faced by organizations. Established in 2001 (same time as Wikipedia), InnoCentive bills itself as “the first online, incentive-based initiative created specifically for the global R&D community”. It is built on a unique ‘Seeker’ and ‘Solver’ model that brings together scientists from over 175 countries to solve scientific problems. ‘Seekers’ such as Procter & Gamble, Boeing, Pittsburgh Plate & Glass and the Rockefeller Foundation pay annual fees to access InnoCentive's network of scientists. Scientists (or ‘Solvers’), offer solutions … and the winning solvers are rewarded. A current InnoCentive seeker is Prize4Life, a non-profit group focused on research for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), offering $1 million for a biomarker measuring progression of the disease. The InnoCentive advantage is that it opens problem-solving to a global scientific workforce and fuels collaborative problem solving. The power is in numbers – thousands of scientists can participate in the problem solving process, a scale that any one organization can hardly reach with its in-house R&D environment.