Friday, November 14, 2003

Convergent and Divergent Discussion

A thought inspired by a talk I went to today by Judith Donath of the Media Lab:

Although Donath described Usenet as having an information landscape, I'd disagree. The information in a Usenet group is a derivative function of the social landscape - the "content" (such as it is) exists only as part of social interactions. That content can be differentiated as one-to-many (first posts) or a hybrid one-to-one/one-to-many (a reply), but there's no freefloating content (except, perhaps, FAQs, which probably show up in Marc Smith's work as a one-post-no-replies uninteresting spam.)

In contrast, the information landscape on a wiki is the primary function, and social interactions are at best secondary/implicit. It's my hypothesis that the kinds of social interactions and information evolution found on a wiki are fundamentally different from those found on Usenet. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that the difference is at least in part that Usenet dialog has a strong tendency toward divergence, while wikis tend toward convergence. Testing this hypothesis would require some way to computationally determine con/divergence, an interesting challenge itself.