The Comedy of the Commons

I’m a huge fan of online collaboration, and I particularly love (and try to build) tools that encourage people to create common good while having fun. It’s the exact opposite of the tragedy of the commons: rather than squabbling over limited resources, and destroying them, people improve a shared resource, or create entirely new ones, while having a good time and benefiting themselves.

Many Eyes, from IBM’s Visual Communications Lab, lets you visualize word relationships in literature. It’s tremendous eye candy, and the visualizations are in essence collaborations between the site’s developers (Fernanda and Martin, who I saw give a great talk at this year’s Foo Camp*) and its users, who contribute data for the visualizations.

Self-sacrifice is a beautiful thing, but not the most effective motivator; for getting things done, there’s nothing like aligning the interests of individuals and groups. It’s idealism without the masochism, something Wordie aspires to. Many Eyes is fun, beautiful, and a great example of this mechanism in action.

* Pathetic name dropper: guilty.