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Cross-disciplinary! (and disjointed…)

October 14, 2009

It’s funny–as I was reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar, I couldn’t help but think that Eric Raymond would make the ideal student if he were a minor; he’s deeply invested in what he’s doing, willing to try and unafraid of failure (hence the releasing early and often).  Next week’s theme for my Technologies for Creative Learning class is “Communities of Learners“, where we’ll discuss Mizuko Ito et. al’s “Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project“.   The paper divides new media usage among youth into two categories: friendship-driven and interest-driven, and Ito implies that we should prod youth towards interest-driven participation in online communities to maximize learning.  In these interest-driven online communities, the main activity is “geeking out,” which “involves learning to navigate esoteric domains of knowledge and practice and participating in communities that traffic in these forms of expertise” (Ito et. al 28).  The activities associated with geeking out are almost always social, engaged, and driven by passion. Raymond’s bazaar-style of software development perfectly exemplifies this type of online learning community.

Conceptually,  Web2.0 is extremely attractive–I think the idea of a deeply-interested programming community who would rather collaborate to de-bug new, imperfect software than wait around for new releases of products that will probably be buggy anyway is pretty cool, and even beautiful.  It doesn’t even matter if everyone is self-interested in maximizing their “egoboo”; the end result of the participants’ collective labor (of love!) still makes everyone a little better off.  And if egoboo (and therefore reputation among the Web 2.0 community) is in fact the main currency at play , it’s possible that developers might try to appear altruistic when they are actually self-interested.

I like that the O’Reilly piece explicitly encourages developers to “[d]esign for ‘hackability’ and remixability”.    When I saw Ethan Zuckerman speak at the Shorenstein Center last week, he mentioned that his Mediacloud team didn’t have the resources to help the project reach its fullest potential, but they would make the source code available so that someone else might try to improve the project.  It amazes me that he can just trust that someone else will put in the time and effort to improve the project.  My natural tendency would be to worry that I had put in a lot of time and effort to build something that would go nowhere, but this week’s reading indicates otherwise; there are enough people out there who care about Linux and Fetchmail, so surely someone will pick up Mediacloud as well… right?

And so, once again, the key takeaway for the week is that deeply interested people are/can be mobilized to achieve great feats in their virtual lives.  The question is, does this virtual mobilization translate into action in the real world?

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