Saturday, April 21, 2012

Potential for Change

The distributed economy appears to offer enormous potential for change. Technologies such as the semantic web, additive manufacturing, crowd-funding and crowd-sourcing and social-micropayments, distributed computing, and network visualization all appear to have great potential. The potential of one component, the semantic web, is described briefly by Tim Berner's-Lee and Mark Fischetti in the book Weaving the Web,
"I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize."
Further information from Tim Berner's-Lee may be found in the Youtube video: The Semantic Web of Data. Additionally, Tim-Berner's Lee appears to offer a broader view of the Semantic Web and the Web in general in his interview with Tim O'Reilly titled, "A Conversation with Tim-Berner's Lee".

Students from the University of Ottowa have also provided an excellent overview of the potential of the semantic web in their video, "Semantic Web vs. Web 2.0". For those that need to see more of the technical side of the semantic web, a video titled "A Semantic Web Overview" may be useful. A site such as with its Distributed Information Management System makes a lot of use of the semantic web, and provides a means for inspiration. The company, Metatomix, is also very interesting. Please also note Metatomix's cross-agency systems for justice, which seem to parallel this distributed economies functionality. In addition, an ideal semantic web application should work without extensive knowledge of RDF or other semantic web technologies.

Additive Manufacturing, another component of this distributed economy, also appears to offer great potential. One emanation is the 3D printing craze. Perhaps as this technology, and others under the additive manufacturing umbrella, become more widely available, and perhaps open-sourced, a great change may happen. Manufacturing could become much more distributed. An article by the Atlantic Council titled, "Could 3D Printing Change the World? - Technologies, Potential, and Implications of Additive Manufacturing" provides an excellent discussion on this very topic.

A number of pieces of hardware have come out that have been open source. One such example is the Rep-Rap printer which has a website at: Another example is the Lasersaur laser cutter, which may be found on the web at: Yet another example is arduino, which may be found on the web at:

Crowdfunding, which is the virtual equivalent of pitching an idea and offering rewards while keeping a bucket in front of you, is growing rapidly. In fact, President Obama recently signed the JOBS act which includes crowdfunding. This is described in an article on titled, "Crowdfunding goes prime time -- what next?". Crowdfunding may be found at sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Vodo. As described in the article, it is different than the traditional model for starting a business, which involves appealing to rich venture capitalists who may want large returns. As the article suggests, this could allow for more flexibility and creativity.

Flattr, is one example of a social-micropayment platform. Like crowdfunding, it can involve transferring small sums of money. However, it is more like the "like" button on Facebook than the sales pitch for crowdfunding. This distributed economy could have both. Basically, each URI could function like a "like" button, and URIs could be connected to other URIs that give further detail by means such as text or multimedia.

The distributed economy also uses crowd-sourcing. which is defined by, is "..the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call". Basically, it enables open source projects and taps into such ideas as Open Research, Open Science, Collaborative Innovation Networks, Open design, Open Innovation, and perhaps others.

Distributed computing, or grid computing, has been around for some time. It was used for the famous SETI project. While this was university-based, private individuals may also set up their own grid computing networks. Some of the projects on BOINC team USA are such examples: The university-based Constellation project which may be found at: is also very interesting. The virtual supercomputer that results from a grid computing network could be used for improving and testing models that were funded by social micro-payments and/or crowdfunding and built with additive manufacturing. Supercomputing seems instinctively vital for larger projects, such as those described by

Network visualization software is used to visualize data. Network Visualization has been used for things such as social networks in applications such as Thomas Fletcher's Friend Wheel, random constructs in a collaborative fashion at Perl Trees at, in multiple ways with Touch Graph's applications (with a Facebook plugin nearly identical to the network visualization within Diaspora idea presented earlier), Visual Thesaurus from, for academic searching with Action Science Explorer which was cited by the National Science Foundation, for academic searching with Microsoft Academic Search (possibly built on the same technology?), for Security Network Visualization at UCDavis, in Gephi which describes itself as "like Photoshop(TM) for graphs", Large-scale RDF Graph Visualization Tools which are described at in addition to theory, Ontology mappers such as Snoggle, RDF visualization tools such as RDF Gravity, Revelytix's Knoodl 3.0, and likely many other things. Network Visualization is transformative because it allows people to see patterns in data that they would not see otherwise. It speeds up research as in Action Science Explorer. TouchGraph's Facebook plugin and especially Revelytix's SPARQL query visualization appear very close to the use for this particular distributed economy.

All of the components of this distributed economy would work together, and are and will likely continue to cause radical change. Of course, such transformation has not occured without resistance, and it seems Hackers have tried to set up a Peer to Peer Bank to fund open source hardware, but they faced a lot of resistance from the conservative banking industry as described in Wired. Presumably, intellectual property will also be a huge issue. In addition, at least some work may involve Professional Engineers in some way. Fortunately, the semantic web holds the promise to make data much easier to find which could smooth legal issues (or it could go the other way?). Hopefully this distributed economy would encourage people to be more open. After all, if you have more in the semantic web, more people can find you and contribute their ideas which could make things better for everyone.