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A brilliant idea at Harvard

Thursday, August 14, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named underarmGirl.jpgBefore I started blogging, I held many if not most of my good ideas in reserve because I thought some day I might do them as products. But as you get older, you realize that most of the things you think of are going to be outside your grasp, you're not going to get to do them, so rather than hold on to them, it's better to let them go. Maybe someone else will do them, and at least you'll have the pleasure of using the product before your time is up. That was one of the ideas that led me to write the first set of DaveNets, I was just dumping all the ideas I had pent up that I was never going to do. Permalink to this paragraph

Anyway... Permalink to this paragraph

When I was at Harvard, I came across a project called H2O, which was an abbreviation for Harvard 2.0, kind of like Web 2.0. Cute, eh? I believe it was the brain child of Charlie Nesson and Jonathan Zittrain.  Permalink to this paragraph

At first glance it appears to be a discussion group, a way for a community of people to discuss something, but it's actually twice as clever, and represents a fundamentally different idea. Something new in discussion groups, you say? Cannot be. Everything's been done, everything's been thought of. Well unless I'm mistaken this is a new idea. It was for me. Permalink to this paragraph

Let's say you're in an online discussion. Someone asks a divisive question. Quickly the discussion devolves into personal attacks. Sometimes it's amazing how quickly it gets personal. Of course there's nothing interesting about that, the people don't know each other personally, so the attacks aren't even on target. And you get no new perspectives on the issues, no new information that might change your mind or at least help you see the other side of the argument. Permalink to this paragraph

What if, instead, you couldn't see what other people said for 24 hours. Then the first responses are unveiled, and you can write a rebuttal, but once again, they stay hidden for 24 hours. You can write as much as you like, or as little, or edit or refine your position, but only you see it. It works, you learn a lot more this way. Permalink to this paragraph

And then you can tweak it from there. What if during the 24 hour period only one other person, chosen by the moderator, can see what you wrote? The moderator can be devilish or compassionate, he or she can choose someone who will agree with you, or show you the folly of your ways, or show you a perspective you've never considered. That's where people like Charlie and Jonathan really shine, they are always thinking of ways to bend your mind. Why not make an online platform that enables them, not just the idiotic pointless banter that most online discussions devolve into. Permalink to this paragraph

Anway that's the new idea for the day. Permalink to this paragraph

PS: Pretty sure H2O is open source. Permalink to this paragraph

PPS: The discussion software is called Rotisserie, the project is H2O. Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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