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Distributed Thinking
> written 19/02/04. 4 comments.

People often muse about the possibilities of distributed computing, a phrase that was coined long before the web had even started to take off.

The idea behind distributed computing is this, you have a problem; one that requires raw computing power (like finding prime numbers or simulating protein folding, for example). As building a supercomputer tends to cost a fair bit, people began to seek other methods of acquiring the vast amounts of computing power needed. The internet provided the mechanism. By its very nature the internet connected computers together, simultaneously. All that was needed was a way to make the computers work separately, together, on a single problem.

People viewed distributed computing over the internet as such a good idea because average computer users weren't even using the raw computing power that was available to them. Browsing the internet, checking email etc only used a small percentage of their raw power. For example, many users have screen savers that activate when the computer is deemed idle. Wouldn't it make much more sense to use the computer's processing power instead of displaying a pretty picture or a Matrix scroll?

All the above technology is old but it provides a context. Distributed thinking, while it has the same elemental methodologies, differs by the fact that it utilises raw human brain power being effectively used instead of idling away. The only real life examples of this I've seen recently were in the form of Wikis but with the availability of programs like SubEthaEdit, iStorm and others I don't know why we don't hear about distributed projects. Take this example -- writing a book. It takes time, it needs copy-writing and it requires checking (spelling, grammar, clarity/sense etc.). If several people were to collaborate (in real time just for kicks) wouldn't that solve some of the time aspects of a project. One person could write freely while another checks spelling and/or grammar in his/her wake.

I'm not sure really why it hasn't taken off. One can only assume that it just doesn't have a high enough profile and that people just aren't aware of the possibilities.



One reason why distributed thinking hasn't taken off is that the co-ordination and management of people requires an awful lot of effort.

When considering the components of a 'thought project', context is a key requirement. To establish context, a great deal of *related background* needs to be known.

It's not as simple as mere processing cycles.


Ep: Although the WikiPedia is a good example of the "distributed thinking" ideas, I was thinking more along the lines of a software based representation as this would allow for a much greater range of synchronised editing features (eg. real time, edit highlighting etc.)


an example of distributed writing would be wikipedia. everyone can contribute or edit articles on anything.



Extreme authoring!

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