Bright Ideas and Bunches of Intelligent Others

E-mail Melanie Martella

So, bright and early (local time) on Monday, an underground nuclear test was (allegedly) performed in North Korea. I'm not going to talk about the politics, rightness, wrongness, or even wrong-headedness of this. What I am going to talk about is the data collected, and what interested laypeople did with it.

Information Sharing
First I want to introduce you to a Web site: Boing Boing, a blog that collects and links to news, oddities, opinion, and whatever catches the bloggers' fancy. In the wake of the North Korean nuclear test, you could find, on Boing Boing, an extract of the North Korean press release and a link to a New York Times article , a link to the USGS Earthquake Hazards program giving the time, location, and intensity of the "quake" that resulted, a link to the Google Maps page showing where the test occurred, a link to a Google Maps page showing the site of the weapons development program, and even a link to a Google Earth .kmz file that shows the week's seismic activity, including the event caused by humans. One reader even linked to research that finds underground nuclear explosions can trigger other seismic activity.

People Helping People
So why is this noteworthy? We keep talking about pervasive computing and data mining and integrating multiple types of data to create an image of an entire system, and these are interesting and important topics. But we don't necessarily talk about how these things can impact us and we don't talk about the really interesting things that are done by people who have a computer, an inquisitive mind, and the desire to share information with others. Take Wikipedia, for instance. This is an open-source encyclopedia. Sure, I wouldn't rely on it as my sole go-to source for information but very frequently it'll give me enough information that I can ask intelligent questions of other, more reliable reference works. It exists because someone had a bright idea and a bunch of intelligent (and devoted) others were delighted to contribute materials.

Boing Boing provided a forum, read by many, many people, where interested and informed folks could share what they knew. They gathered, within a day, an array of interesting and relevant information that you wouldn't necessarily find in some main-stream media analysis. This approach isn't always better than our existing avenues of information but it's also never been possible before. There's a ton of trash out there on the Web—but there's also treasure if you can only find it. Where do you find your information? What do you like or dislike about these sources? Please use our site's "Post a Comment" feature (scroll down to the bottom of the page) to participate in this discussion.