Sunday, December 2, 2007

Distributed Activism

I want to interrogate the factors at play in the success of certain 'distributed' projects, and explore the extensibility of this model to issues of more social import.

We've heard of distributed computing projects that enlist the extra 'cycles' of PC processors to solve computationally expensive problems such as protein folding simulation or a search for extra terrestrial intelligence. As we sleep, we've asked our computers to continue working for some 'greater good' by tapping into a networked grid.

Some projects are successful in harvesting human processing cycles. Google's image tagging game ((, for example, has capitalized on thousands of hours of labor by asking people to devote their free time to assigning tags to images. Other internet campaigns have asked people to mindlessly click on ads to raise money for a specific cause.

There is something unique about these problems that allows for collaboration in such a framework: they are parallelizable and distributable. I want to explore whether it is possible for activism to operate with this kind of model. Why are we tagging Google's images in our free time instead of correlating images in a crime database? Are activist projects more or less 'commodifiable'? Do they parallelize poorly? What are the implications of donating our 'cycles'? Of what nature are the imagined communities surrounding successful distributed projects?

I plan to engage with the readings from Terranova, Rheingold, and Rafael, as well as some basic theory from distributed and parallel computing literature. If I can identify an activist project that should be able to operate under this model, I'd like to implement it.

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