Quora is a new social media service that’s organized around questions and answers. So far, it’s pretty intriguing. The proto-web of the 1980s – Gopher, FTP sites, BBSs – was built around collectively-authored FAQs. I’m sure Google, Bing and Facebook all find that a most web searches are awkward attempts to convey in Boolean terms what you’d convey to a human in the form of a question. Ask Jeeves has always failed at natural-language processing, just like the giant mainframe EMERAC in the 1950s Hepburn/Tracy comedy Desk Set.
IBM is still hard at work at Watson, a computer smart enough to win on Jeopardy. Questionable PR move – everybody roots against Deep Blue. HAL was more sympathetic, and IBM disowned him. See Electric Dreams for more on the history of computer advertising.
But Quora takes a different track, drawing on the crowdsourcing model of Wikipedia to develop one global database of FAQs. Further, it doesn’t attempt to iron out differences of opinion as Wikiprose demands, but rather embraces a diversity of voices and relies on the crowd itself to serve as collective gatekeeper by rating each answer.
Who knows where this will go. But we may be seeing the formation of the next Google. Or Facebook. Or Pets.com – who knows. Ideally, it’ll become the next Wikipedia – one which embraces crowdsourcing, but also rewards both expertise and diversity, while engaging the crowd as both producer and gatekeeper.
So, I figure I might as well try to get in on the ground floor, or at least as close to the ground as you can get without ever having lived in California, pitched a venture capitalist or attended SXSW.
Here’s my answer to an ongoing discussion on Quora: Can information be empowering, and why?
The distinction between information and knowledge is like that between database and algorithm. (Also content v form, superstructure v base, syntagm v paradigm, & practice v theory, and logos v mythos.) Information without a contextualizing theoretical (and inevitably ideological) framework is just “data smog” or bloatware. We all have access to more information – in terms of pure bits – than any citizens of any society ever before us. Does that make us more powerful? Not necessarily, as long as we still remain trapped within ideological blinders, stale frames & obsolete paradigms. Information becomes powerful – revolutionary, in fact – when it inspires and fuels paradigm shifts: from feudalism to capitalism, from monarchy to democracy, and hopefully from postmodernity/late-capitalism/corporate-globalization/scientific-rationality/phallogocentrism to transmodernity/postcapitalism/the-commons/dialectics&alchemy&mythos&logos
I also started a new question:
I’m developing a new media studies class for undergraduate media studies majors. In small 8-15 student seminars I teach game design by playing and then discussing board, card and party games like TransAmerica, Apples to Apples and Werewolf. In large lecture classes so far I’ve assigned students to download and play the World of Warcraft demo, I’ve set up presentations where students demo games for the class, and I’ve given students the option of writing about games on their final essays. But I miss the opportunities for playtesting and examining strategy tweaks and rules variations that I had in the old seminars.
On Quora you can choose to “follow” other users, just like Twitter. If you let it, Quora will scan your Facebook friends to find people to follow.
Hi Quora Followers –
I’m sending this post to let you know I’ve now both answered an existing question and asked a new one.
I answered the question: “Can information be empowering, and why?” If you find the answer helpful, please consider voting it a thumbs-up, or whatever they call the little up-pointing triangle to the left of each answer.
I also asked my first question: “How do you teach game studies in a 30-student classroom?” If you have any thoughts on the subject, please consider answering. And if you check out the posted answers, please vote for your favorites.
I’m brand-new at this, but already intrigued. Thanks for the follows!
Click here for “Farmville: The Garden in the Machine.” In Media Res (December 8, 2010).
Hi, I’m Noisy. Won’t you be my neighbor?
I’m the middle of Ted and Kate’s three cats. The newest is Pilot Squeaky, a three month old kitten. Congratulations to Rebecca Jackson, who won the #namethiskitty contest with the suggestion that we name Pilot after the gas station where Rebecca found her. Rebecca will soon be the proud owner of Kiki’s Delivery Service, plus a bonus Miyazaki DVD since she already has the second official prize, Ted’s book Electric Dreams.
I play Farmville and Frontierville every day. I give out lots of Mystery Gifts. Tell your friends about me, too, because I’m trying to build as big a network of neighbors as possible. It’s part of Ted’s research on social games. He’ll be writing about the experience in the upcoming In Media Res theme week on games. In Media Res is the online journal edited by Alisa Perren of the Georgia State University Program in Moving Image Studies. You can find it here.
Ted’s also curating pages for upcoming 2011-12 In Media Res weeks on Jung, Play, Pop Music, Heroes and Shadows. Ted’s looking for contributors to all weeks from inside and outside of academia. Rock critics, public intellectuals, grad students, filmmakers – please all consider joining in. It shouldn’t be too hard. Start by clicking here to find #IMR-hashtagged conversations. Reply to anybody, adding the #IMR hashtag to the end of your tweet so that your tweet can be found by everybody else. Add a second hashtag like #Jung or an address like @katyperry if it might help people find what you have to say.
Ted’s going to curate the feeds on specific topics, then turn them into the Friday roundtable pages for the IMR weeks he edits.
At least, that’s the concept – we’ll see if it works in practice. You can help in the following ways: – Become Facebook Friends with Ted Friedman and two of his cats: Pilot Squeaky and Noisy. The third cat, The Dude, doesn’t yet have a page – Facebook doesn’t approve of Firstname: The, Lastname: Dude. He may sit this out – he’s an introvert anyway.
– Become all of our Neighbors in both Farmville and Frontierville, if you play. If you don’t play, consider trying both.
– Contribute to <In Media Res conversations by going here and adding to the conversation, hashtagging your tweet by including #IMR in your 140 characters.
– Contact Ted Friedman to discuss curating a day or editing a week. You can tweet him @tedfriedman or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The standard format for the weeks Ted edits will be: Mon – Intro by Ted. Tues – 2nd curator. Wed – 3rd curator. Thurs – 4th curator. Fri – 5th curator.
The idea is to hold this discussion in the Commons, in the sense developed by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Commonweath. The Commons isn’t exactly public or private – it’s that Third Space that Jane Jacobs described in The Death and Life of American Cities. At its best, it can be a lot more than a Starbucks or mall food court. This will be the explicit subject of some of the discussions, and the implicit context of all of them. On Facebook, we will treat this private company’s network as a resource fairly purchased with our advertising eyeballs (and probably overpriced, given the data mining they do now do with your info). Same goes for our use of Google, which I assume none of us could do without. And the publishing side of this venture is In Media Res, an online journal created by Avi Santo with the help of Media Commons. That’s the concept. If all of you pitch in, we can make it happen. So, won’t you be my neighbor?