Ligon Essay 2

Welcome to toknow.org.

The goal of this project is to create a database of user generated information that can be used as a learning resource. Users will come to this database to learn anything from abstract concepts (fields of academic study) to much more concrete processes (tutorials for software, etc.). In order to accomplish this, the website must support an incentive community that encourages content production and the diversity of information contained therein.

Concept behind the content: Recombinant Learning

Western Academia emphasizes fact driven research and learning. Toknow.org does not. Instead of treating learning as the process of acquiring ever more accurate information, toknow.org seeks to improve intellect in a much different process. In our Knowledge Management research, Fred Turner spoke about early military think takes in the period prior to and after the Second World War. Here, specialists from different fields of research had to share ideas in order to make progress toward a collective goal. By creating a technical language to communicate factual information, the specialists were also able to share their perspectives.

Consider a hypothetical. Robert, a mechanical engineer, seeks to build an autonomous robot that can walk, run, talk, and make decisions based on sensory information. He asks his friend, Igor (a programmer) for help in designing Charlie’s (the robot) autonomous abilities. Robert specializes in building mechanical functions, yet he must adopt Igor’s perspective in order to design the functions properly. This is not a process of merging mere factual information. Robert must learn to think like Igor. On a deeper level, this means that Robert must learn to structure his thoughts as Igor does. These new thought structures may provide Robert with different ways to solve existing problems. When Robert walks away from this project, what has he gained? Certainly not the immediate factual information he shared with Igor; that will be long forgotten or stored in a database for further use. Instead, Robert will walk away with Igor’s thought structures; he will be able to think like a programmer and an engineer. He will be able to use both perspectives to solve problems instead of just one.

In the information age, facts have become harder to verify. Some argue that we as a culture put less value on the legitimacy of information and have begun to value information in a different way, through patterns. Determinism, Structuralism*, Fatalism, etc. (really anything with the suffix “ism”) all govern how we structure and use information. There is already a huge emphasis in our culture not to just learn the facts, but learn the systems that give those facts meaning.

Our most skilled professionals are expected to mix and play with these structures in the face of a problem in order to find a solution. This ability emerges from what I call recombinant learning: or, the process of combining and recombining these thought structures in new and interesting ways. Toknow.org seeks to build a “recombinant fluency” in each of its users.
*Ironically my argument has strong Post Structural undertones.

The problem of content:

In order to be successful, toknow.org must have content. This content must be produced by the users (as I cannot produce it by myself, nor pay other people to) which then must be managed automatically by toknow.org’s infrastructure. But how do I get my active users (which may range anywhere from 7 to 15 percent of the total users) to contribute content?

Andrea Forte and Amy Buckman asked a similar question:Why do people write for Wikipedia? The results of their research were interesting. The greatest user generated information database in the world does not allow its writers to take direct credit for the information they have created (Wikipedia does not allow authorship because its articles are open to alteration by any author). So what exactly causes the average user to generate content that they receive no credit for on the larger scale? The answer to this question is a small, self-legitimating, incentive community.
The active user (for these purposes, I mean content generating users) pages display each article that the users have contributed to. Interested users can view the extent and depth of each other user’s contributions through this system. These active users actually do research and communicate with other active users, creating a whole level to Wikipedia that the average passive user never sees. Status and recognition in this community (that is all but invisible to the average user) is enough of an incentive to cause active users to research and produce new content.

Hence, in order to get users to produce content, I must have a framework for an
incentive community.

Game Logic:

As I set toward thinking about building an incentive community, I wanted to approach the problem in a dynamic fashion. I kept coming back to the findings in my analytical report while examining my use of Web 2.0 technologies. The only time I produced substantial content for Web 2.0 technologies came when I played online games (the idea being that my game play was actually content that other users could consume and vice versa). This occurred, I hypothesized, because online multiplayer games unified the processes of consumption and production. I enjoyed my game, and as a byproduct I created content for other users.

Obviously, I cannot hope to create an online video game; I have nowhere near the skill nor the resources required for such a task. However, I would like to steal the intention behind online games that makes them successful: provide the user with a system of mutual competition that encourages and rewards skill-building. The goal is to produce something akin to addictive behavior in the active user. In order to encourage this behavior, toknow.org must provide a dynamic reward system and an intuitive tool set to help advance the user’s skill.

Users will be rated primarily by their peers (administrators will have some weight to help balance malicious community action). Each piece of content submitted by a user will be subject to evaluation by other users in 4 categories: quality, level of technicality, diversity of ideas, and accuracy. These ratings will be factored alongside number of hits and administrator input to rate the user directly. This data will also be used, along with relevance to search criteria, to place the article in response to user search queries.

In order to have a healthy incentive community, the reward system must be prestige based, meaning that the rewards help increase your status in the community as a whole. Each of these rewards must also have an immediate aesthetic benefit to the user. A good way to do this is to provide achievements or “medals” for completing certain tasks (e.g. getting 10,000+ hits on a submission, getting an average of 5 “star quality” on 10 submissions, etc.). These would be on display on the user’s home page. These medals could also unlock multiple page design themes (that I would pay professionals to design) to customize their online presence. This is just one of many applications of this design strategy.

In order to keep the incentive community healthy, I must create intuitive tools to help users advance their recombinant learning skills. In many ways, toknow.org would actually encourage stealing from other users. While I don’t mean plagiarism (safeguards would be installed to discourage such behavior), I do mean that users are encouraged to steal other users thought structures. New users benefit by imitating how established users think. They can then take that at mix it with other thought structures to produce new and, if they are lucky, more popular content. Hence, the goal is to build tools that aid this process of “theft”. The “flag” tool would allow users to keep track of and watch users that they hope to imitate and learn from. They could track a user’s submissions while preserving their autonomy.

A useful resource:

Toknow.org would seek to create competitive and marginally addictive behavior in its active users. On a broader scale, much like Wikipedia, it would serve as a resource to the general population of passive users. A user may come to the website to learn about Determinism because a professor mentioned it in class. Instead of teaching the passive user facts about Determinism, toknow.org would teach them to think like a determinist (and in the quickest and most efficient way possible). Toknow.org would also function to help users with more direct tasks, like learning tricks in Photoshop through a healthy tutorial database. This traffic from passive users looking for knowledge resources will also help to bring in active users.

It must be noted that toknow.org does not seek to be recognized as a legitimate source of information. In fact, it seeks to do just the opposite. It ignores the obsession with fact based knowledge. The design trusts nothing as permanent or factual understands everything as if it is in flux. Instead of trying to find “the truth”, its users will be more interested in seeing what they can come up with.

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