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February, 2007

Open Creative Communities and the Death of Zero Sum

Over the last two days I've read two things that have really wowed me. Both take things I've thought a lot about over the last six months and really push and articulate them far better than I have.

Open Creative Communities

When Piers and I started likemind we didn't know what it would become. We never explained what it meant to be of 'likemind', yet 15 wonderful people showed up. Since then it's blossomed and spread around the world.

Over the last six months I've thought a lot about why we've gotten such an amazing response. I have a few theories, but reading "what is an Open Creative Community?" by Mark Kuznicki opened my eyes in some new ways. He defines these communities by "interest, practice, proximity and values," going on to explain:

These communities live in a hybrid virtual- and place-based geography. They are hyper-creative and produce some phenomenal artifacts of human ingenuity and culture. They are open, in that the barrier to entry is not a membership fee or a geographic line in the sand or a common ethnicity. The barrier to entry is creative citizenship, and you are either a citizen and a participant or you are not, based on your individual relationship to that community’s interests, practices, proximity and values.

After I read that I was hooked. Especially the last bit, "you are either a citizen and a participant or you are not." The beauty of likemind is that showing up makes you both an active participant and citizen. In the online world, the 1% rule applies: 99% of your users will not be highly active participants. In open creative communities, the opposite is true. By their very design it's impossible not to participate. In some ways a community like likemind both lowers and raises the barriers to entry by forcing people to self select.

Anyhow, before I go on forever about the article, go read it and tell me what you think.

Death of Zero Sum

Since I went a little long on the first half of this I'll try to get to the point on this one.

About four months ago I wrote about the relationship between binary code and the rise of ambiguity. Basically what I was getting at is that we live in a much more blurry world and I have trouble understanding how the binary code that sits at the bottom of all digital technology allows for that.

Grant McCracken has brought these idea back to the surface for me with his piece on "Beauty and the death of zero sum". In it he uses the Dove Real Beauty campaign (which you can read all about in the comments of my latest entry) to show how "in every domain of taste, we are seeing a willingness to expand the tools of judgment and the size of the winner's circle." (Just for reference, zero sum means "a participant's gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s).")

Grant writes:

Zero sum is dying in our culture. The notion that there is one single hierarchy of any kind is now in question. . . . The death of zero sum is especially evident on the internet where it turns out crowds matter more than elites. The new media emerge and they create a multiplication of value, a new superfluidity of admiration. This may be because people are prepared to "pay themselves" in admiration they do not deserve...but if it works, it works. There is nothing in the anthropological rule book that says that a culture may not make every individual an arbiter of his or her own value.

The internet and digital technology are driving a lot of these changes, but they are slowly seeping into the rest of culture. The web has redefined choice, offering us millions of results for each google search. The fascinating thing about those results, however, is that it's often not the first that you find most useful. Rather, it's some combination of many that gives you a final conclusion.

It was only a matter of time until that thinking began to invade the other parts of life.

February 28, 2007
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.