Web-based collaboration has come a long way, since the launch of Wikipedia. In fact, Wikipedia, whilst undoubtedly a success story, may have reached its peak. It seems to soon to start imagining a world without it, but there is evidence that the vitality that launched it is draining.
Chart taken from:
Now, we are into stage two of web collaboration, and people are collaborating on all sorts of exciting projects to further knowledge. As a scientist at heart, I have been taken by two particular recent examples:
Galaxy Zoo is an open project where anybody can get involved in the world of professional astronomy and cosmology, by helping to classify the thousands of new galaxies that are being discovered by ever better telescopes. Over a quarter of a million people are collaborating in reviewing Hubble Space Telescope images of far distant galaxies to categorise them. This is leading to new insights based on large statistical data sets that are too big for the small professional community to generate, yet rely on observational insight that is still beyond our computers.
Hanny Van Arkel is a Dutch school teacher who is passionately interested in astronomy. So she joined the Galaxy Zoo project and started classifying objects. One stumped her. It did not fit into any of the classes of object. After much further research, professional astronomers concluded that Hanny had found a completely new kind of astronomical object. They looked up the Dutch for “object” and decided to call it Hanny’s Voorwerp, or Hanny’s object, for want of a better name.
It is an object the size of our own galaxy and is still mysterious. Whilst astronomers have working hypotheses about what it is, how it relates to its neighbouring galaxy and how it is formed, the fact is, that web collaboration has taken us not just to the edge of the universe, but beyond the edge of current knowledge.
Polymath is wikipedia like collaboration among professional mathematicians and amateurs, aimed at solving mathematics problems collaboratively. Led by two outstanding mathematicians, Timothy Gowers and Terence Tao, the collaboration early on solved a complex problem in just six weeks by drawing together contributions from 39 collaborators. This is astonishingly fast for such leading edge maths.
Timothy Gowers (left) and Terence Tao (right)
The founders view this as an early experiment, designed to find the best ways to foster collaboration. It is an exciting development that could change the pace of mathematics research.
And so to management…
If you are reading this, you are doubtless interested in management. So, whilst classifying astronomical objects or solving complex maths may not be for you, how about a chance to get in on the act of re-defining management practices for the 21st Century? This is what the Management Information Exchange offers. In their own words:
The Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) is an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century. The premise: while “modern” management is one of humankind’s most important inventions, it is now a mature technology that must be reinvented for a new age.
Here, you will find people like you starting and contributing to debates about management challenges or injecting and commenting on “Hacks” – radical ideas like voting for our managers or making a whole corporate email system open to all staff for searching and reading. Why not ask more dumb questions and how can you make that into an organisational process?
My take is that some contributions are thin, some are verbose and a some are genuinely engaging and thought provoking. But I have had little time so far to root around. I am looking forward to spending more time and have joined the community. Come on in.