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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...
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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
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    Good morning, Infosphere!

    Over the past few months, I've been wanting to set up "Metathink Mondays." Essentially, once a week, post an insight or a question that we can all ponder and reflect upon, in the service of making us smarter. Then, I'll collect all the feedback, assemble it into another post or ebook that would be like an 'insight report' for all of us. We've done this once before, but I know we've all grown since then, so I'd like to revisit the topic.

    What's Metathinking?

    So, if you haven't been following along here, I've been working on this concept I've dubbed "metathinking," or "a way of figuring out what the hell is going on." We're surrounded by all these streams of information, complexity, and accelerating change, and just trying to find a way to keep up. Well, there's no way of "keeping up" - it's flowing and it's only getting faster. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel that will keep us from drowning. As Clay Shirky put it, "It's not Information Overload. It's Filter Failure." While the programmers and engineers improve the quality of search, we need to be doing the same - but not with code, with people.

    The way I define metathinking is "employing critical thinking through a multitude of frameworks in order to identify weak signals, make connections, and solve problems." It's a working definition, but for anyone out there doing 'knowledge work,' this is the final frontier folks - not outer space, but the 6 inches God gave us from ear to ear. If we want to be competitive today, we need to spend focused time learning how to unleash the power of our minds.

    I think a huge part of this process is in learning how to harness the power of networks, and that's the purpose of today's post. Though I called it 'The Power of Twitter,' it's not really about Twitter at all. Twitter is a platform, a communication tool for information exchange. What makes it useful is the people that are pumping info through it, but I didn't think titling the post 'The Power of Humans' would travel as well. What I have found as I've experimented over the months is that when used with intention, when assembling our human network in an intelligent way - looking for people to learn from, for strategic alliances, and for insights - Twitter becomes a learning powerhouse. The people with whom you interact end up doing the filtering for you, not only making your tweetstream useful in general, but they'll even directly send you information that they think you can use to grow. This is the way I've been using the platform, trying to provide the best quality, most useful information that I come across, and in turn my peers are returning the favor.

    So today's question is this: How have you benefitted from your Twitter network?

    For me, I'm following around 900 people, about 200 who don't follow me back, but they're smart or tweet great stuff and I'm interested in what they have to say. There are around 150 that I keep up with in a broad sense - I don't always speak with them, but I'm ambiently aware of what they're tweeting and who they're talking to. And then there are around 30 or so that I communicate with regularly. It happens in open exchange with @replies, via DM, or via conversations that unfold in the comments section here. When there's a particularly interesting idea still in gestation, we'll hash it out privately via email. I don't even know what most of these people directly do for a living, but I know they're thinkers, change agents, and linchpins. And they make me smarter every day.

    As you may know, I'm in grad school right now, researching how technology is impacting society and culture, how it is changing our behavior and the way we think. So 'thinking about thinking' is kind of what I do. I clearly find this to be important, and I put in the time and effort to write things here because I want us all to be smarter and better. Unfortunately, the very situation I'm in that gives me the ability to do so much research also puts me on the other side of the wall of practical implementation. My outlet for all of this is here, my insights just feed back into the infosphere, hopefully returning me more insights. What I'd love is some feedback of your experience.

    How have the networks and connections you've made directly helped you at work? What are specific examples of how information that was shared with you via Twitter (or any social media, really) allowed you to DO something new - create a better experience for a customer, client, student, child, or friend. What are you doing to amplify the social capital within your web of connections?

    If you can, take some time to reflect on this, then write a post and share the link in the comments section or just leave the comment here. You might have something in mind already, or maybe you haven't really thought about this before, in which case - just observe your behavior today. See who is providing you with the links that you click through. Who are these people? Are there certain people that consistently tweet stuff that helps you? Have you helped them back? (I think 'thanks for RT' is nice, but even better is when you can show your appreciation for their link by trying to send them one that you think they'd benefit from too). See if by being very observant of how you interact with the people and information, your behavior changes a bit. Maybe you get a little more discriminatory about what you tweet? Maybe you raise the bar on yourself? Maybe you think about who would benefit most from info you come across? (I'm calling this "targeted sharing.") Maybe you realize that certain people could benefit not just from a link to great information, but by introducing them to great people. (The term being used for this is "network weaving," [thanks @juneholley] - I try to do it as often as I can, using the hashtag #networkweaving).

    I think we can ALL become tremendously more effective in what we're doing if we think about it and do it with intention. I'm really excited to hear what you come up with, and if you do have an insight, but don't want to leave a comment or write a post, feel free to tweet your thought with the hashtag #metathink and I'll aggregate those tweets here as I see them.

    Looking forward, and thanks to everyone who's participating in this amazing learning and growth.

    (This post originally appears on Emergent by Design - though you're welcome to post comments here, I will be aggregating the comments/insights here. Thanks)
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    We've entered into a new year, the channels have been flooded with list upon list of 2010 predictions and trends, and now we're laying the foundations for how we'd like to characterize the times - David Houle is calling it the Transformation Decade, a tweet from @RitaJKing mentioned The Imagination Age, and Seth Godin rang in the new year with a post titled "Welcome to the frustration decade (and the decade of change)."

    Organizations are still scratching their heads about how to implement a social media strategy into their business plan and how to measure ROI, educators are wondering how to bring it into the classroom, marketers want to spam the hell out of it, and the layperson just wants to connect and share.

    There are many levels of experimentation going on in the space, and there will be for years. But I wonder, is there a bigger picture here that might indicate what all this means? Most of us here, who seem to co-exist on and offline, feel pretty comfortable that we "get" social media. Or we think we do. But do we really understand what these tools represent, and what they enable? I'd like to share my view of what seems to be happening. I'm going to try to provide a context and make some connections. If it seems unrelated at first, just bear with me, I'm going to do my best to bring it all home in the end. :)

    What is media?

    Ok, before we talk about social media, just a quick overview of 'media' in general. By definition, media is the plural of medium. So that means it's an intermediary, it exists between two things. We think of "the media" in terms of it being the delivery system between news and us, or the message and its audience.

    But think about the world around us. About everything manmade. Isn't it all a media in some way? You could say we live in a fully mediated environment, in that we as human beings have literally constructed our realities around us, with almost everything serving as a representation of something else.

    Think about the way we've constructed our physical realities through buildings and cityscapes. Architecture may be a combination of form and function, but it's also a representation of the cultural, political, and economic flavor of its time. It represents power, beauty, and often the ideal of perfection or divinity. (Many great structures seem to have been built in accordance with the golden ratio, or 'divine proportion,' a proportion found in nature and associated with aesthetics.) So as media, our built environment tells us stories about who we are, our ideals, and our values.



    We see this in imagery as well, as we construct our social realities. From the iconic photographs we circulate to represent our memory of history,



    to our ideas about popular culture,



    to the products we buy and where we buy them and what that says about us,



    to the propaganda that influences our political views and cultural ideals.



    The point is that much of 'reality' is an illusion, insofar as it is the collection of symbols and stories that we are told and that we tell each other. We collectively agree upon them, and so they become real.

    So what's social media?

    OK, so we did the crash course in media studies, now back to social media. Why is social media so interesting and incredibly powerful?

    In the short history of communication technologies, information was usually limited to flowing from one to one (telephone) or from one to many (radio, television). Then the internet came around and became a read/write web ("web 2.0"), characterized by applications and services that have given us the ability to create and share information. It allows for many-to-many communication, connection on a global level, and signaled the beginnings of a networked culture.

    Through blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, photo sharing, and social networks, we are creating windows into each other's lives and minds. Communities are forming around ideas, hobbies, causes, and any kind of organizational affiliation imaginable.

    Then we decided we wanted even faster access to information, faster access to news, faster access to public opinion, and faster access to each other. Enter Twitter. Wikipedia calls it a social networking and micro-blogging service, but I think of it more like an Information & Idea Exchange. There was a nice write up by David Carr about the service in the New York Times the other day, titled Why Twitter Will Endure, which will give you a nice overview of what it's all about. You can also check out the experiment @ekolsky and I did the other week by searching the hashtag #MonTwit; we sent out a call for anyone interested to write a post on the same day about what they'd discovered about Twitter. We ended up with 20 some blog posts and another handful of responses in tweet form. Not a bad turnout for about 15 seconds of planning. For some practical business tips about how to use Twitter, check out this article in Forbes.

    But essentially, Twitter is a communication platform that's comprised of just about 100 million people located around the world. And unlike any other network, when you're on Twitter, you're in the same room with every other person on Twitter. It's like a pulse of what people are collectively thinking about, and so in some ways, becoming a kind of global consciousness. We're connecting with peers around the globe and exchanging tips for business practices. We're connecting with educators and researchers and scientists and discovering new ways of teaching and learning. We're being exposed to each other's perspectives on the world, and our capacity for empathy is expanding.

    Sure there's misinformation, spam, and useless junk too. Just like anywhere. It just means our ability to scan information and critically evaluate its validity will grow to be an ever more important skill.

    But there is something happening here that is truly unprecedented in human history. Never has there been a potential for all of us to be connected like this. And the implications are huge.

    So what's social media? It's the opportunity to create shared vision. All these platforms are just the tools, but look what they enable. In the way that mass media has shaped our perceptions about culture, politics, and society, now social media also has that ability. But the message isn't traveling from them to us, top down, from the aristocrats to the plebes. It's moving from us to us.

    We are living in a time of tremendous change; global systems are collapsing (economic, political, environmental) and opportunities for better systems to emerge are being revealed. People are waking up and aching for a new way to understand what's happening and to be participants in shaping the outcome.

    If you're using social media as part of a new vision for your organization (social business design, social CRM) or as an addition to your personal learning network (PLN) or to empower people or to build and spread ideas, you get it. We're growing into a global human network, and we're able to begin constructing our own reality. 'The way things work' isn't set in stone, it's a social agreement. So many aspects of the way we work, the way we live, and the way we relate to each other are products of the systems that are currently in place. When we start experimenting with new ideas put together in new ways by new groups of people (and failing often), eventually we'll figure it out - it's how innovation happens. At so many levels, as a species, we are at a pivotal time in history where we can collectively design a new future.

    If every world-changing set of actions is set in motion by an idea, and this new form of communication allows us to plant the seeds for those ideas to blossom and take shape, then those folks at the beginning of this post are on to something - it truly could be a decade characterized by frustration, imagination, and transformative change.
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    "Collective Intelligence (CI) is the capacity of human collectives to engage in intellectual cooperation in order to create, innovate, and invent."
    - Pierre Levy + James Surowiecki + Mark Tovey

    I wrote a post a few days ago, Is Twitter a Complex Adaptive System?, that proposed the idea that Twitter may be evolving into an entity of sorts, a collective intelligence. I've come across some new posts that are amplifying that meme, and I just want to keep the thoughtstream going.

    Insight #1

    I was reading an article by Nova Spivack from 2006 over on Ray Kurzweil's site, titled The Third-Generation Web is Coming. In it, he lays out the evolution from Web 1.0 —> Web 2.0 —> Web 3.0, a more intelligent web "which emphasizes machine-facilitated understanding of information in order to provide a more productive and intuitive user experience."

    He also lays out the key technology trends driving the evolution. Among them are Ubiquitous Connectivity (broadband, mobile internet), Network Computing (SaaS, P2P, cloud computing), and Open Information (open APIs, open-source software, OpenID).

    Sound familiar?


    Insight #2

    Then this article from ReadWriteWeb passed through my tweetstream, The Future is all about Context: The Pragmatic Web. The author, Alisa Leonard-Hansen, paints a picture for "a highly relevant and individualized Web experience based on the ubiquity of our identity data."

    However, with the rise of the social Web, we see that what truly makes our online experiences meaningful is not necessarily the Web's ability to approximate human language or to return search results with syntactical exactness....Rather, meaningful and relevant experiences now are born out of the context of our identities and social graph: the pragmatics, or contextual meaning, of our online identities. My Web experience becomes more meaningful and relevant to me when it is layered with contextual social data based on my identity. This is the pragmatic Web.

    Then she goes into a different direction, talking about business models and Facebook. She finishes by just touching on the implications of the centralization of identity data, which is such an extremely important concept that I need to save that discussion for an entirely separate post. But to begin building your framework for understanding the importance of open technology, bookmark the Peer to Peer Foundation website and the P2P blog.

    Dave Winer echoed the sentiment of context in his recent post, How (slowly) we add metadata to tweets, in reference to the new retweet feature on Twitter and issues about attribution. He links to an article by Alex Bowyer, A better design for twitter retweets, which is a very well thought out post that deserves to be read.


    Insight #3

    I then found this article by Dean Pomerleau, titled Twitter and the Global Brain. He starts by explaining that some recent evidence in neuroscience has suggested a new model for understanding how the brain is altered during learning. He then makes a correlation between that process and the emerging structure and function of the real-time web, i.e. Twitter.

    Imagine a twitter user as a neuron. He/she makes the equivalent of a synapse with each of his/her followers. When a twitter user sends out a tweet, it is the equivalent of a neuron firing. Followers who receive the tweet decide whether to propagate the activity by retweeting the message, in a sense by deciding whether they too should fire in response to the tweet.

    He acknowledges that this is not exactly how Twitter works yet, but he goes through some interesting examples of how it could work, and if that system became automated, it could signal the emergence of a type of Global Brain.

    I think he's done a very good job of distilling this concept into terms that are understandable to the layman.


    Insight #4

    Then, just this very morning, I discovered this site: information economy meta language. It's mission is as follows:

    The main mission of the Collective Intelligence Lab is to pursue theoretical, empirical and applied researches related to ieml. This general mission can be decomposed in three sub-tasks:
    - to develop the vocabulary and the grammar of the information economy metalanguage,
    - to design and build the technical and methodological tools that will encourage and spread ieml uses,
    - to exploit ieml-related tools and methods for the study of information economy, the improvement of knowledge management and the growth of collective intelligence.

    On the site, I found this document by Pierre Levy , the team's Director, titled From social computing to reflexive collective intelligence: The IEML research program (PDF), which appears to be due for publication in the Information Sciences journal in 2010. It's a dense 25 page paper, but I see a lot of correlation between what he's proposing and what I'm proposing with the Metathinking concept.

    Essentially, he's saying that we need a new language infrastructure for the web in order for it to evolve to the sematic web stage. I've been echoing that thought by proposing we need a new thought architecture in order to process the new types of information that we're encountering.

    This 'new language' Levy describes seems to be the necessary structure that would have to be created in order for Pomerleau's 'Global Brain' to emerge.


    Synthesis

    This all seems to be brought together beautifully by the Guardian article, After social networks, what's next?

    In it, venture capitalist Peter Theil answers the question by asking us to evaluate what stage we're at with social networks, and reminding us that we often don't realize the implications of what we're seeing even when it's staring us right in the face.

    So, based on the above insights, the pieces seem to be in place. Allow me to answer the question with this question:


    Have we transitioned to Web 3.0?

    _____


    This post made possible by:
    @tonnet - tweeted Dave Winer article
    @futurescape - RT @brainpicker to ReadWriteWeb article
    @ideahive - tweeted Guardian article
    @novaspivack - tweeted link to ieml site & Levy paper

    People mentioned in this post:
    Dave Winer @davewiner (Scripting News blog
    Alex Bowyer @alexbfree
    Nova Spivack @novaspivack (creator of Twine)
    Michel Bauwens @mbauwens (creator of P2P Foundation)
    Pierre Levy @plevy (his wikipedia page)
    Ray Kurzweil - not actively on twitter yet, but here's his site

    Some contextual quotes to chew on:

    To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete" - Buckminster Fuller

    The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed. - William Gibson

    The mark of a well educated person is not necessarily in knowing all the answers, but in knowing where to find them. -Douglas Everett

    - @venessamiemis
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    I've seen a bunch of posts bubble up over the past few days that are really sparking my curiousity about what is really going on with Twitter, so I need to do a little brain dump. Bear with me.

    Insight #1

    An article by Rosabeth Moss Kanter was just published today on the Harvard Business Review website, titled On Twitter and in the Workplace, It's Power to the Connectors. In it, she highlights the fact that there is an organizational trend moving away from the hierarchical networks of the 20th century, and towards complex, distributed, non-hierarchical structures of business organization and leadership.

    She also points out that success today is based on a person's ability to leverage power and influence within their social networks, to act as "connectors" between people and information, and in turn build social capital.

    She leaves the evaluation of the significance of Twitter open-ended, but she lays out a few characteristics of Twitter that I found most interesting:

    In the World According to Twitter, giving away access to information rewards the giver by building followers. The more followers, the more information comes to the giver to distribute, which in turn builds more followers. The process cannot be commanded or controlled; followers opt in and out as they choose. The results are transparent and purely quantitative; network size is all that matters. Networks of this sort are self-organizing and democratic but without any collective interaction.

    (just keep those points in mind, I'm going to come back to it)

    Insight #2

    Also published today over on Stowe Boyd's blog, /Message, was a post titled The Rise Of Networks, The End Of Process. He makes a case for the abandonment of worn out systems of industrial management thinking, and a move towards a social way of structuring work.

    He points out that the explosion of the social web is allowing us to connect with others in a previously impossible way, and the ability it's giving us to share information and ideas is actually reforming our learning process and the way we think:

    People are thronging on social sites like Facebook and Twitter because they are a straightforward way to stay connected with others, and this in turn shapes our worldview.

    This same sentiment was also hit upon by JR Johnson on mashable in the post Social Media can Change the World through Common Ground.

    He also points out that as we are awakening to the power of this interaction on the web, the most progressive companies and individuals are the ones actively creating new business models around this information, hybrids that combine existing frameworks with new social models.

    From a social viewpoint, the architecture of business seems all wrong.

    It's becoming clear that to constrict a person's capabilities into rigid, set roles that limit creativity and innovation just doesn't make sense. Diving talent into silos is an outdated paradigm. Rather, we should be encouraging the facilitation of diverse groups of people working together on common problems. I touched on the potential power of this in a previous post, "The Future of Collaboration Begins with Visualizing Human Capital."

    I think his points completely validate the need for a new approach to thinking in general, which is exactly what I'm outlining in my 'metathinking manifesto'.

    Insight #3

    Wim Rampen is also noticing a trend, with yesterday's post, Connecting the Dots, referencing Graham Hill's recent post, A Manifesto for Social Business, and Mitch Lieberman's post Social Just is..., both acknowledging the power of customer networks, looked at through the lens of Social Business. Hill laid out fifteen trends shaping the future of business, which clearly outline the fundamental shift underway:

    I would almost go as far to say that we are fast approaching a period of ‘Business Enlightenment', based not so much on the linear thinking that drove the Enlightenment in the 18th Century, as on networked, emergent thinking which is driving so much new thinking in the 21st.

    Everyone is catching on - Lieberman's post also references Esteban Kolsky's new 5 part series on the Roadmap to Social CRM, an in-depth series of blog posts that outlines how to develop a Social Business strategy.

    Insight #4

    Here's where things get interesting. From a learning standpoint, there is proof emerging that using Twitter builds intelligence. A study revealed these benefits:

    All of the study participants were new to Twitter and had not previously used it or any similar microblogging service.....In a relatively short period of time, the participants formed quite sophisticated peer networks.....Peer support became a key feature of this student network, with activity rising just prior to assessment deadlines or during revision for exams. Content analysis of the messages indicated clear evidence of the emergence of personal learning networks.....Twitter is also very attractive as a data collection tool for assessing and recording the student experience, with a wide range of free and increasingly sophisticated online analysis tools available.

    Synthesis

    At the surface level, one could look at this information and agree that yes, social networks, and specifically the real-time network of Twitter, enable people to communicate and collaborate on new levels. I think there's something deeper happening.

    I've been reading about complex adaptive systems lately, and many of its key properties seem strikingly similar to what's occurring on Twitter:

    • Emergence: Rather than being planned or controlled the agents in the system interact in apparently random ways. From all these interactions patterns emerge which informs the behaviour of the agents within the system and the behaviour of the system itself.

    • Co-evolution: All systems exist within their own environment and they are also part of that environment. Therefore, as their environment changes they need to change to ensure best fit.

    • Requisite Variety: The greater the variety within the system the stronger it is. In fact ambiguity and paradox abound in complex adaptive systems which use contradictions to create new possibilities to co-evolve with their environment.

    • Connectivity: The ways in which the agents in a system connect and relate to one another is critical to the survival of the system, because it is from these connections that the patterns are formed and the feedback disseminated. The relationships between the agents are generally more important than the agents themselves.

    • Simple Rules: Complex adaptive systems are not complicated. The emerging patterns may have a rich variety, but like a kaleidoscope the rules governing the function of the system are quite simple

    • Iteration: Small changes in the initial conditions of the system can have significant effects after they have passed through the emergence - feedback loop a few times (often referred to as the butterfly effect)

    • Self Organising: There is no hierarchy of command and control in a complex adaptive system. There is no planning or managing, but there is a constant re-organising to find the best fit with the environment.

    • Edge of Chaos: Complexity theory is not the same as chaos theory, which is derived from mathematics. But chaos does have a place in complexity theory in that systems exist on a spectrum ranging from equilibrium to chaos. A system in equilibrium does not have the internal dynamics to enable it to respond to its environment and will slowly (or quickly) die. A system in chaos ceases to function as a system. The most productive state to be in is at the edge of chaos where there is maximum variety and creativity, leading to new possibilities.

    • Nested Systems: Most systems are nested within other systems and many systems are systems of smaller systems.


    Complex adaptive systems are all around us. Most things we take for granted are complex adaptive systems, and the agents in every system exist and behave in total ignorance of the concept but that does not impede their contribution to the system. Complex Adaptive Systems are a model for thinking about the world around us not a model for predicting what will happen. I have found that in nearly all situations I can view what is happening in Complex Adaptive Systems terms and that this opens up a variety of new options which give me more choice and more freedom.


    Is this perhaps the framework that we've all been hitting upon without realizing it? Many people have been sensing there is something special about the way we're able to access and exchange information and ideas on Twitter, organize into Twibes and niche groups to tackle problems together, and develop strategies (like using lists and separate accounts) to filter out the content that matters most to us.

    Final question: Is Twitter not a social media platform, but an actual entity, an intelligence made up of all of us?

    ___

    further thoughts: If you have room for one more idea to provide another context, consider yesterday's post by Tim O'Reilly on The War For the Web. If we start to experience real, measurable collective benefits from our ability to leverage the intelligence of the real-time web, will it be exploited, or will we ensure a system that keep our information and knowledge flows open source?

    sources of the thoughtstream:

    I would also suggest taking a look through Pierre Levy's slideshare on Collective Intelligence & Cyberspace, which I found on Victor Godot's site.

    Insights from the Twittersphere

    @SmartStorming Innovation is really a game of connect-the-dots. Try combining two or more seemingly unrelated things in a new way that creates value.

    @spikenlilli Halpern: "How does one learn to see?" "Make associations between data points" - relational, generative, gestalt, anticipatory design #IPF09

    @Innovation360 Can innovation be systematized?http://is.gd/4VCpm

    @acarvin Hargadon: social media can unleash our latent creativity. #ncti2009

    @WebStudio13 RT @craignewmark - RT @AlecJRoss: “The more freely information flows, the stronger the society becomes.” via @ariannahuff


    People referenced in this post

    Rosabeth Kanter @RosabethKanter
    Stowe Boyd @stoweboyd
    mashable @mashable
    Wim Rampen @wimrampen
    Graham Hill @grahamhill
    Mitch Lieberman @mjayliebs
    Estaban Kolsky @ekolsky
    Tim O'Reilly @timoreilly
    Victor Godot @victorgodot

    This post made possible by:

    @SameerPatel - RT'd @stoweboyd's article
    @SocialNetDaily - RT'd @AnneDGallager @HarvardBiz @KellySpors to @RosabethKanter's article
    @Wildcat2030 - RT'd @UniofLeics @TheHistoryWoman @timeshighered to Twitter in academia study
    @emahlee - RT'd @anildash to @timoreilly's article
    @phaloo - tweeted @mashable article
    @ekolsky - tweeted Roadmap to Social CRM article

    note: I'm going to try as often as possible to reference posts in this way, because I think it's a good illustration of how thoughts and ideas are developing as a result of distributed knowledge, and it's easier for me to follow my own train of thought.

    I saw all of these posts within the last 48 hours in my twitterstream.... I don't know that I would have come up with this by reading RSS feeds or by using other news sites.
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