M E-L from Ishbadiddle offered this comment on a recent post:

“Install a good SETI system.” How about a SETI@Home system? Distributed coolhunting / trendspotting via the blogosphere?

I found this interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, it demonstrates that the readers of This Blog Sits At are more gifted than its writer.

Second, it nails one of the big “intellectual capital” opportunities that the internet makes possible, but that we have yet to create. Call it SETI@home, with thanks to M E-L.

Two conditions are now in place for SETI@home.

First, that the participants are now qualified as observers. Trend spotting used to be the domain of gurus and other Mr. and Ms. smarty pants who fancied themselves as deep thinkers and far seers. Now many more people can contribute. (Henry Jenkins is our guide for what happened here.)

Second, the blogsphere makes us instantaneously accessible to one another so that observation and valued-adding intelligence can swarm in a “decision markets” kind of way. (James Surowiecki!)

A third condition has not arrived: an incentive system. (No one is going to create value unless they have some way to harvest value.)

This could be a more or less conventional business model. We monetize the outcome (trend reports, trend conferences, etc.) and then pay the participants. The trouble with this model is that value of this kind is amorphous in several ways. “Value from” is almost impossible to calculate. (We can let the market decide “value to.”)

There is another system, something more reciprocal. Hargurchet Bhabra told me that physicists have created a kind of Ziggurat on line. Anyone can contribute and the lowest rung of the Ziggurat is open to all. But a hierarchy of access is eventually created. The idea here is that people end up with access to value extraction in proportion to their level of value creation.

I am not sure how this works in an emergent way. As Hargurchet told it, I think there were gatekeepers in place, and that’s a little tedious. Maybe, it’s a voting system, and the more others like, read, comment on, build upon our stuff, the higher we can go on the Ziggurat.

So, let’s review. Everyone contributes to the lowest rung of SETI@home. This is on the order of “something I just noticed.” This is the equivalent of the “pictures” of space that SETI has us work on. Then everyone takes a small problem, often their own contribution, and thinks about them carefully and well. Then we need a line of editors who sort, bundle and promote various things. This creates a much smaller, but still quite large universe. So we need another set of editors working at this still higher level. I guess that’s maybe how it would work. We get access to the next aggregated level of SETI@home if one of our contributions have “made the cut.” (Presumably, we want to aggregate this too, so that we get to keep our access privileges even if our latest contribution has not make the latest cut.)

Our incentive here is that we get access to streams of intelligence and analysis. We give to take. But it would also be possible to give people in industry access to one of the levels through a subscription fee, and this could then be distributed to editors and participants. Or it might be used to fund an annual conference for the SETI@home players. This would be a fully participatory TED or POPTECH operation and it should probably be held in conjunction with same. (I prefer the latter and that’s because Andrew Zolli is the man.)

I know someone is going to say that this entire affair is just too damn Canadian, that’s it tries to organize what is ought to be and is in fact emergent. I beg to differ (though of course the criticism of Canada is precisely right). As it stands, we are reading one another and citing one another. But I don’t hear anyone sitting down, taking the feeds from x blogs and given them a systematic, clarifying, aggregating treatment which in turn becomes a feed to some still larger act of aggregation and analysis.

As a last note: for the list people we would want to contribute, may I suggest John Maeda, Allen Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Laboratory, author of “Design by Numbers,” “Meada@media,” and”Creative code” and Scott Fedje, Director, Image Design at Cole Haan. I heard them both talk at the FUSE conference and they were sensationally good. Fedje did some great stuff on remarkable developments taking place in Japanese retail design, including a store the internal space of which changes shape constantly.


For Ishbadiddle