Sharing Your Brain: Making Your Hard Drive into a Wiki

mindmeldWhen technologies reach a tipping point, they can suddenly lead to dramatic changes in human behaviour, at least among those who are comfortable with technology. When bandwidth becomes almost unlimited, and hence essentially free, it means everyone can have her own phone number (which in turn means we can soon expect global 12-digit numbers to replace the current 10-digit ones), and cell phones can essentially replace land lines. It also means that the cost of calling becomes essentially free, as Skype users have discovered. This means you can essentially be in touch 24 hours per day with anyone anywhere in the world, for next to no cost — if you have the hardware and the (free) software to do it. With cost no longer being a constraint to voice communication, the onus shifts to the recipient of calls to filter those calls to a manageable number — and deal with disgruntled callers who don’t make it through the filter.

Google G-mail essentially reduced the cost of storage of e-mail messages to zero. That means you no longer need to keep messages on your hard drive, which in turn means that you can manage your e-mail from any computer. For some, that means smaller portable devices will become their major communication and information tool, replacing the PC. But in the future, if it becomes possible to keep your whole hard drive on a secure central server, it may also mean that stripped-down inexpensive PCs with almost no memory and all-free software may pop up everywhere, built into every desk and table wherever you go — so the idea of a ‘personal’ computer may become obsolete. Why lug around an appliance when the content and functionality you need can be accessed from every flat surface on the planet?

The simplicity and near-zero cost of blogging software has allowed millions of people to become instant publishers — producing everything from private newspapers to influential journals to travelogues of their vacations for the folks back home. Why write anything by hand, and why put your journal entries in a place where no one can see them, when it’s just as easy to blog them so you can get Google to index them for you, and so that you can share them with the world?

I think the next tipping point will be focused on wikis. We are close to the point where we will no longer have to pick an ‘application’ to create, open or change a document, any more than we have to pick a particular type of writing implement to do so in the physical world. What that will allow us to do is convert our entire hard drive — every document — and all the content we maintain on central servers — every message and blog post, into a single ‘virtual’ wiki, a kind of giant tableau of all our stuff, everything we have created or contributed to, and everything created by others we have filed away or bookmarked or otherwise ‘taken as our own’.

This would be useful, first of all, for personal navigation. Google Desktop is a big help, but it’s still a hunt-and-peck kind of personal content management. A wiki of our ‘universe of knowledge’ with a mind-map-type navigator would allow us to explore and amplify what we know and share with others in a more holistic, powerful way than anything we can do now. It would allow us to ‘get our head around’ everything we know, and care about, everything that has meaning for us. It could literally allow us to ‘expand our minds’.

But — and here’s the really exciting part — it could also allow us to ‘share our brain’ with someone else, to allow someone else to see how we think, and what we think about, and get an idea of the frame of mind that organizes, filters and colours our thoughts. And, if memory becomes cheap enough, we could even ‘subscribe to’ the wikis of those whose thoughts, for whatever personal or professional reason, we care about, and we could then annotate that other person’s ‘brain’, shared consciousness, with our own interpretations, understandings and amplifications, and, if we and that other person were so inclined, we could then share that ‘feedback’ with the person whose thoughts provoked it. A kind of digital, brain-to-brain, dialogue or conversation. What could come of all of this might be some shared spaces, some collective intelligence that two or more people agreed was a synthesis of information, agreement or shared understanding, that they owned in common. So your wiki would then have three ‘flavours’ of content:

  • stuff that you created (more or less) yourself
  • stuff that others created that you have taken for your own, your ‘accepted wisdom’
  • stuff that is ‘shared wisdom’ that you and others have inseparably created in common

We are presumably close to the point where transcriptions of conversations could also be indexed and added to this repository.

One of the challenges would be one that those of us who spend much of our lives online are already grappling with: How to integrate e-mails and conversations into our organization of more ‘formal’ documents. I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts on this subject. How do we integrate the results of conversations and e-mail ‘discussions’ into our own brains, our ‘frames of thinking’? My sense is that these context-rich exchanges and searches for common understanding are very important to us, and get distilled tacitly by our brains, in ways different from how we internalize either analytical writing or stories. How might we represent this in a wiki-brain tableau?

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11 Responses to Sharing Your Brain: Making Your Hard Drive into a Wiki

  1. Jon Clement says:

    Information overload? Recreate the filtering our brain does using mechanical steps. Regularily summarize interesting emails or conversations. Then pull a few ‘value’ statements from your summary. These statements can be placed into a categorized hierarchical tree. I’ve modified my Getting Things Done theory to place reminders and links not only to actions, but to related values. It’s all managed by one custom piece of software.

  2. Zephyr says:

    I am fond of your exuberance, Dave, and your efforts at teaching the world with your weblog here. I think that you’re on point with this one; there was an essay you posted a few months back which spoke of how the future of the internet is the social things which will be designed. I agree that writers and philosophers need to get together into social groups on the internet. Too often you find a collection of lonely webpages written by writers speaking their very eloquent thoughts to a very small audience. They aren’t visibly conversing on the internet as colleagues… And this kind of social interaction between writers – if it was witnessed – would be attractive to large numbers of people.I have downloaded and dabbled with the “mediawiki software” which runs wikipedia – and I plan to someday build at least a small community that way. This would be initially for friends I meet it could be an internet address placed on a business card where we could keep in touch, and network with other people. I think other forms of software – traditional discussion boards – would turn out to be too much maintenance for me. There are a couple free ones out there, right now – “yabb bulletin board software” – is one I’ve been tinkering with, off and on. It’s more workable, I think, to have a social environment which everyone can moderate, freely.I wish our society would support and develop more graphical kinds of chat interaction. There’s a wonderful chat client included with windows ’98 Microsoft chat – which uses cartoon characters to speak. I never have found anyone who had discovered it, and was using it… so I haven’t had the opportunity to try it out. There’s also a downloadable chatclient – at They host comic book style chatrooms – where words appear in thought bubbles above your head. Unfortunately, people might be too timid to try this out – because the creators of the software haven’t ironed outthe social issues completely and the conversation can get pretty ridiculously in the gutter in certain rooms.But, that comic book style has lots of potential – it requires fewer computer resources than video chat – and it expands one’s communication ability quite a bit – if you can use your body language.

  3. dave davison says:

    Dave You are moving closer to the target – a visually mapped content/context dynamic knowledge repository – I have some trepidation about trusting Google or any other repository for my private data – but the value of AORTA (Always On Real Time Anywhere) ubiquitous knowlwedge and computing tools access, plus the potential for knowledge sharing almost effortlessly is very appealing – The personal map and the ability to share and annotate other’s maps promises a potential leap forward in organizing and utilizing the harvest of our own and other’s computer mediated mindsets.

  4. medaille says:

    I fail to see the dramatic social impact that this would bring, but I’m not really an active participant of the evolving internet landscape and am usually 2 years behind the front line. I can see that it would be useful to be able to organize and search/sort files as in your personal desktop idea that you combine with your social networking idea. My question is this: What’s holding this back? Why has this not been achieved yet? Another question I have is: Is there a place on the internet where designers can interact with builders to create projects? I often find myself with good ideas that I am perfectly capable of designing thoroughly, but with no means to implement them. I am not a programmer and thus can’t write software, nor would I know what libraries I would need to use or learn. I also find that a lot of the computer programmers I’ve met aren’t really creative enough to come up with useful software on their own. They tend to be better at being cogs in the machine, where someone tells them what function needs to be accomplished and they go ahead and do it.So I guess what I’m looking for is a website or community whose sole purpose is the betterment of software for the personal user. They would be in charge of collaborating user ideas into functional pieces of software by allowing users with functional needs, designers with the holistic vision to deal with how different parts of the system would interact, and programmers who would be able to achieve this.Does something like this exist?I’m aware of sights like freshmeat, sourceforge and the like but they lack the commanding vision to really be useful. They certainly aren’t very useful at drawing in the user community into the development process.

  5. Dave, you have put into words what has been working my mind for the past few years… The Internet and all the tools that come with it (Web, Blogs, Skype, Wikis) have strongly contributed to shaping my work and my ideas. The Net has served me not only as a repository for discovering new texts, but as a media to help me connect to the ideas of other people – in this sense the web has indeed grown to an extension of my brain and my thinking… Without these connections to other people’s thoughts I doubt I would have been able to learn as much as fast and become as creative as I can be today. For a while I have tried to become more systematic about storing and developing these (brain) connections by using a tool called The Brain. In fact, this tool aims at allowing to do something you described in your post: sharing brains… However, as it was not as seamless as it should be to help me use it systematically I stopped applying it… Does anybody else have experience with this tool?

  6. Indigo says:

    The blogosphere has definitely made a big difference in how I relate to the world. It gave me the first chance to get my writing out and find out that people widely enjoy my writing. I was never able to get articles published in magazines, so I never got feedback beyond friends I could convince to sit down with a piece I wrote. I have since gone on to write an entire book! (Actually two, since I also wrote an unpublished novel in NaNoWriMo a couple years ago.)My current new online loves are which is an online bookmark repository that allows you also to follow idea threads within other people’s bookmarks, and audio blogging, which just makes the whole thing more personal as far as I’m concerned. I would love to have my “hard drive” stored remotely, such as through XDrive, and even have the software stored there so I don’t have to download every new piece of technology I want. Just let the purchase be processed and the software sent over to my online “hard drive” and automatically installed for me. Then I just start using it an hour later or so.A frustration I am encountering is that where I live (very far up the mountain) there is no high speed internet access. I feel locked out of so much already because of that, and fear that the problem may accelerate as more intensive communication softwares become the norm. It is becoming a two tier society of those in metro/suburban areas with high speed and those of us out in the country on dial-up. They say the lack of population density and the cost of line maintenance (many power and phone outages as it is plague my area) doesn’t make providing DSL, cable broadband, or even clearwire to my area. I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I am actually thinking of moving as my dependence on online tools increases. Does anyone see any coming technologies that will make bandwith less important?

  7. Mark Elliott says:

    You’ve read my mind! Myself and a friend here in Melbourne are currently living in a shared wiki – we each have our own ‘webs’ and a soon to be launched consulting sort of business thing is a shared domain between us. Our wikis will soon publish to our personal websites & blogs and they already have pretty nifty systems for tracking anything and everything we’re doing in them (both personal & research/worky stuff). I’m very keen to develop visual mind mapping navigation, and expect to have something along those lines by the end of next year. BTW, we’re using TWiki, a very powerful and shapable system. We are also working on tools for sharing/exchanging content as well.We are feeding this development into a number of collaborations we are running, and are considering developing and releasing a ‘structured TWiki’ of what we’ve developed once it is reasonably stable and comprehensible.Not quite Spock yet, but getting there ;-)

  8. Dinesh says:

    Dave:I feel a SuperGlu that is also a Wiki would be a good step forward.Thinking of RSS feeds as “knowledge feeds” this translates to: * stuff that you created (more or less) yourself—–>Your RSS Feeds(Blogs,Bookmarks,Photos etc.,) * stuff that others created that you have taken for your own, your ‘accepted wisdom’—–>RSS Feeds that I subscribe toA SuperGlu of both of these feeds would be the raw brain. * stuff that is ‘shared wisdom’ that you and others have inseparably created in common —–>This is where the Wiki could play a key role-in building shared understanding.Am looking at Wikis as a tool to fuel the collective sensemaking process.

  9. Bill Seitz says:

    I’ve been using a WikiLog as my wiki-based publicly-readable weblog for years.I used to let guests Append to any page, until Spam made that unworkable.(I also have a local PrivateWiki I use as a journal, which crosses occasionally with the wiki I run on my Zaurus PDA.)A number of wiki people are working on SisterSites implementations to auto-link wiki spaces based on matching page-names (which doesn’t work for engines like MediaWiki which use FreeLinks instead of SmashedTogetherWords.I think the use of SmashedTogetherWords creates a process similar to tagging which will allow more connections within and across spaces.TouchGraph is a tool that’s been used to provide a visual interface to a wiki space, though I don’t think it’s been used to jump spaces.The FreeMind mind-mapping tool has a viewer applet which a couple people have implemented with a wiki to store a map’s test in a wiki page and view it as an inline map.There are a number of people coming at different approaches at integrating wiki with multiple media for multiple groups of people in varying contexts…

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Jon: That’s useful, and I do the same thing. The problem here isn’t info overload, it’s poor communication, misunderstanding, and lack of collaboration and creation of collective knowledge.Zephyr: Very interesting. I’ve been watching some people using avatars in Second Life recently and agree there are some interesting possibilities using ‘third person’ identities to enrich the understanding of our communications.Dave: Yes, absolutely. I’ve expanded on this a bit in today’s (Nov.30) post.Medaille: i think places like SourceForge are good for what they’re designed for — collaborative work once a specified objective and outcome has been identified. I don’t think there is any place where those objectives and needs are well articulated by drawing on the Wisdom of Crowds — it’s usually a lot of people (like me) saying “I think we need X” and hoping that someone in R&D at Google or WL Gore or other innovative companies will get the message. Perhaps you should create such a place — I’d certainly visit a site that asked the public at large what the world needs and aggregates and synthesizes the results.Alex/Phil: Interesting approaches. Thanks for the links. Like to see this dead simple, so intuitive you don’t need to explain it, even if that means giving up some power and bells and whistles. Indigo: I got the same unbelievable story about distance for years, and then suddenly, even though we’re so far out that we have neither gas lines nor sewer lines, they suddenly ‘solved’ the high speed Internet problem for us two years ago. Don’t move, bug the phone and cable companies to get you service. You can get high-speed download through satellite dish too, I think, though phone DSL is better.Mark: Sounds very promising — I confess I can’t get your link to display on either Firefox or IE, to comment further.Dinesh: Presume your link s/b to — this sounds like a good approach.Bill: Thanks for the info — that’s helpful. I long for the day that instead of having to aggregate and ‘flatten’ content from different apps we have a single ‘meta-app’ for all content creation, and plug-ins to it when needed to integrate content that a wiki itself can’t handle.

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