Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Year of the Inter-Web Social Authorship

So I've been spending much of my unemployed summer exploring one of the key features that the Web offers its users: the ability to easily switch from a consumer of information to an author of information.

This here blog, for instance, while serving mostly as a repository for my inner musings slightly formatted for outsider consumption, does have a readership. And, although most likely small, this (potential) audience is enough to make me (the author) self-conscious enough to strive for more coherence and depth than the average "Dear Diary" would require. By writing for an audience, I am able to think critically about content, style, and accuracy that would be impossible without online distribution.

I've also been poking around on Wikipedia, creating whole new entries (Speaking In Code, Wighnomy Brothers) and improving existing ones (see "tennis in popular culture"). Wikipedia is a fascinatingly vast and complex tool that is really only understood through participation. Wholly different than the traditional encyclopedia and protected from chronic graffiti by its large community, Wikipedia thrives on the "power-law distribution," in which the largest portion of users contribute just a little bit and a small portion of users contribute a lot. (Shirky 123). The sum of these contributions mixed with a small number of informal moderators and administrators is one of the largest and most significant reservoirs of information ever created. It's fun the be able to be a part of that.

But the nook on the Web that I am most excited about being a part of is Infinite Summer, a Web community dedicated to reading the epic book, Infinite Jest. IS gathered four bloggers designated as IJ guides, and a boatload of participants asking questions and discussing plot points on the IS forums. Infinite Jest, a book screaming to be decoded and deliberated, is the perfect chunk of literature for such a project. Reading the guides' stories of how they stumbled upon IJ, clicking through the links, and reading others' interpretations about the novel have made my deep appreciation for the piece even deeper. This is how literature is supposed to be enjoyed: alongside a group of intelligent, dedicated co-readers all contributing to each other's understanding of the written word.

Perhaps this is how all media should be consumed. We are social creatures, so why shouldn't we participate in information dissemination socially in a way that contributes to the global understanding of the world around us? Whether we are publishing our own, unique visions of the world on a blog, discussing the merits of an image's copyright on Wikipedia, or enjoying a book with other readers, the Web offers us a substantially more human way to connect all the dots and learn about our place in this crazy whirlwind of words, data, and ideas that is modern society.

Thanks to Wikipedia user Husky for the Power-Law curve image.

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