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22 October 2006

The collection challenges of the 21st century

Further to the discussion of how we even begin to explain the terms of reference for the types of problems the community is facing moving into the new century, we find the following item:

Categorize this as another unsubstantiated Google rumor, but the word on the street is that Google has acquired SpaceShipOne and is putting it inside building 43 at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. No word on the purchase price, or if this was a donation, or why the ship is not staying at the Smithsonian.

Now the rumor has turned out to be an error of interpretation, as detailed here:

My source was good, but it was clear there was more to the story. To solve the mystery I said I’d send an iPod Shuffle to the first person that took a picture of the ship today and sent it to me. Thanks to readers, I now know the rumor is false. Google did not acquire SpaceShipOne. But they did acquire a full scale replica of the ship and have indeed installed it in building 43 at Google.

But the process itself is instructive. A distributed collection network was in effect instantiated based on common interests and the promise of tangible reward, which provided multiple source confirmation of a difficult question in very short order.

However, it is exceedingly hard to describe this event, and the dependencies and drivers underlying it, in terms which will allow others outside of the hyper-connected and technically savvy digerati to understand the power of this model if the community could find the means to adapt it to current targets and issues. Most of them will still be caught up in the strangeness of the corporate culture at one of the world’s arguably most important knowledge based companies, that a symbolic representation of aggressive vision and dramatic innovation should be acquired for its totemic value. (This lack of understanding alone is very likely why there are few good monuments to the community’s recent activities, despite the number of new buildings which could house them, and newly minted professionals that would benefit from the uniting effects of ritual and memory. After all, our more recent monuments are still written in Cyrillic….) Quite a few will still be struggling with the concept of privatization of what once was exclusively a government domain…

The event as a case study itself is actually about journalism and the new media. The real promise is in the model taken back out beyond the water’s edge and into the hard target arena.