Hack the Planet!

Other people, it seems, have felt similar disappointments to mine with the gush of web 2.0 cash-ins. People with web 2.0 visions, I’d like to direct your attention to something you may have been overlooking: Planet Earth. I have a feeling that we (as web-app developers) are missing something right under our noses. Something big. We may have more power than we realize. The power to change something. Short of an actual idea, I present to you a niggle: the glaring absence of an idea where there surely should be one.

This niggle stemmed partly from reading Pay it Forward. It’s about a real world-hack that feeds off the same power as email chain letters. Someone does a very good deed for you and instead of paying them back you promise to pay it forward to 3 others. Kindness proliferates exponentially. Of course it works in the novel, but I think the internet has lowered the bar for making things like this happen in real life. Things happen faster on the net. It’s easy to experiment. And there is a steady supply of bored surfers to experiment with. If only we’re open to the possibilities maybe we can come up with something to shake things up. I recommend Pay it Forward as web 2.0 reading material. Plus it’ll make you feel all warm and bubbly inside.

While you’re at it, and to bring you back down to Earth so to speak, read the Gumption Memo. You could hardly find a more easily digestible yet outlook-altering 50 pages. It’s a specs document for solving world problems by Brian Skinner, an open source coder who I hope to be collaborating with over the next while. One of Brian’s positions is that national governments, driven by tribalism, are squandering their enormous power to cure some of the world’s ills. Here too I think we have something on our side. The Internet melts country boundaries. Online, you are primarily a citizen of the net and only secondarily of the country that hosts your physical self. When you act in the interest of your netbrethren it is for a vast, yet connected nation, the likes of which the world has never managed to host before. The rest of the world will be joining our virtual nation shortly. It would be great to have something cool ready for them when they get here, apart from somewhere they can upload photos or find hot chicks.

I think one lead is the power of social software to create and distribute value at a micro-level. I’m talking firstly about value in information. Flickr (or any social tagging site) invites its users to spend a small amount of their time adding metadata to their (and other’s) stuff using a simple textbox. Crucially, this effort is mostly directly for the benefit of the user themselves. They create a valuable information scaffold around their data to help find things in future. But the software skims some of this value off and, by the power of aggregation, reuses it for the good of the community. A global information scaffold emerges to benefit anyone who needs it. Everybody wins, to some extent. The game of information exchange is not zero-sum

Now information is one thing. Of course, there are other currencies, like money for instance, that do tend to be involved in zero-sum games. But money and information do not live in unconnected realms. People readily exchange money for information every day. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is getting towards what I’m talking about. It pays people just for having the abilities of a normal human (and having access to the net). It connects. A bundle of capillaries channeling droplets of value around the net. Yes, from a developer point of view, when you start handling money as well as information things get a bit more complicated. That’s something else that needs to be worked on.

Like me, you don’t have to have one altruistic synapse in your cranium to tackle something like this. Do it for the for the fame and adoration. Do it because you might make the world a nicer place for yourself to inhabit. Do it to learn Ruby on Rails. Do it because it’s better than making another social bookmarking site, right? Channel some of that web 2.0 energy and direct it towards World 2.0. Think global, and then act global too. There’s even the possibility of investors out there for budding world-hackers.

So idea-people, that’s the niggle. I’m suggesting to you that these days changing the world, far from being a lifetime’s work, may simply constitute a weekend of inspired coding. Pass it on. I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

Update: Forgot to mention the Recovery 2.0 project.

3 Responses to “Hack the Planet!”

  1. Robin Blandford Says:

    Have you seen Recovery 2.0?
    http://www.bytesurgery.com/gearedup/2005/11/recovery-20-gets-moving.html

  2. Mike Says:

    Great post and good inspiration! Trust me, we are thinking about more than just creating yet another social bookmarking site. Keeping “World 2.0” in mind is definitely worth doing and hopefully will come up with some ideas that help make the world a better place. After all, that’s what it is all about.

  3. Eureka Man Says:

    Robin: Yeah, meant to mention that.

    Mike: Glad to hear you’re thinking ambitiously. I’ll keep an eye on your stuff. That’s all I’m trying to do here: stimulate a few neurons to see what happens.

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