USNOW and Looking for Whitman Today

While I was surfing the web on a rainy night, I stumbled a documentary called USNOW.  The reason I felt this documentary was relevant to the Looking for Whitman Project was because it embodies one of the main themes of the project, community participation. USNOW is a documentary that discusses how user participation and group collaboration tools allows individual people to come together to accomplish incredible things. Three online communities are highlighted:

1.       Couch Surfers – share hospitality with one another

2.       Zopa – a marketplace where people lend and borrow money to and from each other, sidestepping the banks

3.       Ebbsfleet– a user and community owned soccer club

More information is available in their respective websites.

While not directly related to Whitman literature, the first thirty minutes of this short documentary discusses the implications of new media and web2.0 technologies. These technologies have allowed for the creation of a digital community that is being actively used for this digital experiment (Looking For Whitman). This project is creating a community of knowledge regarding a very influential writer in American history.

Each class is taking a different look at Whitman’s word depending on their geographical location and time period in his life. At the end of the semester, the project will have hundreds of pages analyzing the poet. Any casual student of Whitman’s work can browse through these pages to learn about Whitman from several angles. Each college can present a different perspective due to our locations and we tie everything together through the website.

As stated in the documentary, the web drops collaboration costs so low now that consumers can create and produce meaningful bodies of work. When the internet was first coming alive, it was intended for research academics to share information but it has become a commercial vehicle for companies around the world. The Looking for Whitman project is taking the original purpose of the Internet back to its roots.

The existence of this project on the web creates transparency. New pieces of work are released often. Everyone is able to use and scrutinize this piece of work. I can leave comments on my classmate’s pages with questions, which lead to more investigation. People help each other through the comments and allow us to expand our knowledge. Everything is done in plain sight so everyone else can benefit.

The online environment is decentralized with little moderation. If this kind of project scales to the thousands, a small community of moderators would rise to  ensure the quality of the posts. How can we trust the integrity of the work, some will way. I cannot claim with certainty that everything in this project is 100% accurate but that goes for any content online.

No longer do people have to work in ivory towers to publish meaningful works. The costs of producing and distribution content such as pod casts, writing, and movies are essentially zero. The only major investment these days is time and having access to the internet.

We are in the infancy of group collaboration tools.  New technologies such as Google Wave will help shape the group collaboration landscape. Technology is changing the way we do things everyday. One such example is telecommuting which allows works to work from home remotely. As long as I have access to the internet, I can get work done anywhere, regardless of the location.I recommend that anyone give this short documentary a look if they wish to have a different perspective on how new media collaboration can and is shaping our future.

You can download the film using a torrent client from their website.

On another note, something peculiar happened in class recently. Three students let the professor know they were going to be late but used different channels of communication. One student tweeted, another used facebook and the last sent a traditional email. These are definitely a sign of the times. There are so many channels of communication available these days that if you need to reach someone and give them some information, you will probably be able to. The next challenge is communicating with someone but selecting the appropriate channel.

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