Thursday, October 04, 2007

SharedKnowing and alternative collaborative models

Mailing lists these days seem like relics of a bygone era, suitable only for people who haven't moved on to the shiny 2.0 this or that. Nevertheless, I will be subscribing to and participating in the new SharedKnowing list, as announced by Larry Sanger of Citizendium (and formerly of Wikipedia). Larry's vision for the group is of "well-reasoned, polite discussion and announcements about the nature of online knowledge production communities". His wishlist of participants makes it sound like he wants to chew the fat over epistemology with latter-day Platos and Aristotles, but I suspect the list will be a lot less stuffy and academic that Larry makes it sound like. Hopefully a humble journalist-turned-programmer like me can find the answers to some of the burning questions still in my mind about how to structure the creation of knowledge on Tinfinger - knowledge in this case being the profiles of famous and semi-famous people, with which I want to push the boundaries of the semantic Web (but that's for another post).

One major question I want to explore is different structures of collaboration. The wiki model is only one possibility among many in how to make collaborative knowledge production work on a public Web site, in my opinion. Perhaps not surprisingly given my background as a journalist, I am a firm believer in knowledge producers having the option to be rewarded for their work. Creative Commons licensing is all very well for people who are rich in time and/or principles, but not everyone has the capability to be so giving of their valuable efforts without compensation. The WP/CZ model assumes that no one owns a document, or is the author, but they both have the editor/writer relationship which guides the evolution of an article towards compromise.

I would like to try out something different. Specifically, I have been thinking a lot about how to engineer a system which allows people to join groups who claim collaborative authorship over a document, and thus enjoy the ability to profit from publication of that document. These groups - or factions or crews or cliques or cells or what have you - would have to be so fluid as to allow them to be formed around a single document, or over hundreds of documents at once. It's not as if it's a new concept in a theoretical sense: it's pretty much how scientific journal articles are attributed, with most having unique lists of contributors, some including hundreds of names. Making that work in real time on a knowledge production Web site, however, would be a non-trivial technical feat of document authoring software - not to mention the complexities of ensuring accurate monetary compensation. Getting the politics right will also be tricky, which is where I hope the SharedKnowing list can help.


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