Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The typophile experiment of Kevin Davis of has been going on for a couple of years now, and the animations provide a great way to get a quick overview. The link takes you a random letter, which will help me think big rather than getting bogged down in detail.

When you push the start button for the animations for most letters, it's a little eerie at first. Out of random chaos a letter emerges. Unfortunately there seems to be a certain equilibrium point of, for instance, a-ness. We don't get closer and closer to an ideal, we get to a point where random static keeps us in the same place, or randomly progressing and regressing in small degrees.

You have to wonder about those little black squares that appear in what is obviously 'supposed' to be white space. Was somebody so click happy that they didn't read the superlatively simple directions? Did they have an entirely different letter in mind than the one present, and decide to singlehandedly redirect the group effort? Did someone want to make a visible impact at any price? Of course sometimes they get corrected, but a few errors seem to be part of the steady state.

It's a wonderful portait of a certain kind of group effort. Perhaps the biggest difference between this and Collective Detective is that the system doesn't permit moderators to emerge. Nobody is elected or appointed to filter out the noise - and the noise generators.

The competetive spirit may play a role too. Collective Detective isn't exactly playing 'against' anyone necessarily, but there is a sense of individual and collective accomplishment when a puzzle is cracked, and the efforts of contributors are probably known to most of the active participants. Contrast the anonymity and lack of an endstate of typophile - plus the mere fact of having helped a large group make something look vaguely like a letter is too easy to make people work at it once the novelty has worn off.

As somebody who wants to participate in evolving a hive mind, this experiment definitely gives me a lot to think about. I'm not quite sure what the next step is, but I suspect there are several before we try to form ourselves into a prototype of a godmind. I've been thinking about what sort of game I would write if I was a good programmer, based on what I've learned looking at this experiment.

I Low entry barrier, so many people would play. That is, the rules are easy to learn and don't feel intimidating. Maybe some kind of bonus for beginners.

II Individual games or rounds would be comparatively short, so the results of different organizing strategies would become apparent and evolve.

III There would be some kind of scoring system for individuals, allowing scores to vary as teams shifted and reformed.

IV It would be impossible to appoint the most experienced player team captain and have everyone give them all available information and let them make all the decisions. This wouldn't really be self organizing behaviour, except so far as the organization was absolute dictatorship. Maybe the pace of play would be too fast, maybe there would be advanatges to keeping certain things secret. Maybe many different skills would be required.

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