Information philanthropy

I hadn’t quite thought about the co-production economy from the standpoint of philanthropy, but in a message from Chris Baskind, the admin of the Lighter Footstep Ma.gnolia Group, he said:

I know there’s nothing more valuable to you than your time, so let me ask for it directly: please contribute great links when you see them. Ma.gnolia’s interface is snappier than ever, and it doesn’t take long to archive a resource that might really make a difference to someone down the line.

It occurs to me that perhaps in the information economy, quality information, links and good ideas really are useful and valuable surrogates in place of donating money, which require centralized bodies, disclosures and other “conversion taxes” (that is, changing your dollars and cents into things that are tangibly useful for an endeavor).

I dunno, thoughts?

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

9 thoughts on “Information philanthropy”

  1. My thought: sensational idea. Herbert Simon put forward models (all across the social/decision sciences) in which the ultimate constraint is human brainpower. (He’s the often-unacknowledged forefather of Attention Economy, Abundance Economy, Long Tail…) Everything else is in relatively abundant supply and will get relatively more abundant, therefore making the value of one’s attention to a given task constantly increasing in value. What you give is valuable, will get more valuable, cannot be taxed or subject to false price signals (Edelman aside) and cannot be lessened by being consumed an infinite number of times by an infinite number of people.

  2. I disagree that “everything” is in abundant supply. This will become more clear over the next several decades.

    But perhaps the common script of the coming century is ultimately collaboration. It’s no longer just follow the money — it’s follow the collaboration, which makes the flow of ideas and capital in a world economy possible.

    Provocative idea, chris.

  3. In an information economy, this makes sense. Value in the information could still be received in other ways, indirectly. This is the essence of open source I think.

  4. Chris (Baskind – nice site!)– I think the qualifier “relatively” is critical to the argument. Many things are subject to constraint – diamonds, oil/energy – and it is not a matter of waiting for this to become clear.

    However, they are relatively less constrained (e.g. it is easier to gain an increment of oil through greater energy efficiency) than cognition which is absolutely constrained.

    Over time we can expect the supply of diamonds, oil/energy to grow relatively to human computational abilities. Value will tend to be placed in that which is in relatively less supply.

  5. Getting back to the philanthropy angle – I think that one feature the Web may increasingly provide is the ability to quantify the sort of social contributions to communities that are usually performed without payment or, often, much recognition, e.g. filtering, recommendation, critique, etc. The fact that Google is making billions from the very simple recommendation system of hyperlinks surely indicates it has some value – imagine if people could expose more of their opinions (perhaps directly as actions – like Steve Gillmor’s GestureBank – or less directly as some standardized format for up/down-voting content.)

    I would certainly love to be able to ‘subscribe’ to a feed of all the articles people whose opinion I respect recommend, without requiring them to blog about it – most people don’t have the time, and blogging tends to bias towards the controversial.

  6. Skarl: one can do that to some degree now with (I hope I am not being too ungracious by not using ma.gnolia but I am not familiar enough with it to be concrete), depending upon the extent to which the group of people whose opinion you respect use it

    In a way, tagging is a form of public performance. For example:

    It’s interesting, the first blog I knew of existed to share links and would appear to have been quite a chore to maintain with the tools available at the time. Now, a button in my toolbar allows me to do in one second what probably took many minutes of hand-coding html did a decade ago.

  7. Skarl: you’d like how Ma.gnolia works. You could, for instance, subscribe to Chris’ bookmarks (or mine, or any other user) through a variety of RSS, Atom, OPML, and microformat feeds. Ma.gnolia even allows you the option of “lite” or “full” feeds, so you can choose to take site thumbnails and linker comments or not. I know is great, but they don’t approach this functionality.

    In addition, there are collaborative collections by topic. These can also be subscribed as above.

    To me, Ma.gnolia has two killer features: a well-developed, interactive community; and automatic archiving of links. The latter means that once you’ve bookmarked something, you’ll always be able to get to it — even if it goes offline. Cool.

    Okay, enough Ma.gnolia flackery. But it’s a good place to invest one’s time, and will increase the value of its users’ social investment from year to year.

  8. Really interesting stuff here. What keeps coming to mind as I read through is Steve Gillmor’s thoughts on attention as a commodity. If ‘follow the collaboration’ is the new ‘follow the money’, then we really are coasting into a time when people can drive change just by what they pay attention to. And that attention becomes valuable because we can only give so much of it AND because it drives our future actions.

    If we accept that attention has value, which I think it does, then the capacity for change increases. Rather than polls that demand and measure the statement of opinion (which comes with all kinds of cultural garbage about the practice of stating opinions), direct measurement of what is holding the attention of a population of specific demographic could both terrify and empower politicians enough to make changes more directly driven by constituents. Or would they just abuse the knowledge of what people are watching for? The reality would likely be a constant tension between the two.

    This speaks to the idea of information philanthropy, and sort of recasts it as ‘attention philanthropy’, where we can support a cause simply by showing that it’s important enough to us to pay attention to it.

    To speak with my Ma.gnolia hat on for a second, our obsession with building output channels is in a big way about offering ways of directing or harnessing attention through links to resources and the tags we give those links. I (cautiously) use a tag called “Act On This” for bookmarks that lead to things I think are worthy not only of attention, but action as well. It might be signing a petition, or it might be writing a letter to an MP, or joining a protest event. What is key here is that through these outputs, I can ask people for their attention, and even their outright support, and turn simple data output into social action.

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