Why Selfish Activiy Matters

The discussion over at Wikipedia continues over whether or not to allow my page to stay up. I am fine with whatever decision they come to. I understand that Wikipedia has rules and I didn’t play by them. But I also firmly believe that they ought to let the page stay up. We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, this whole episode, plus extensive readings of Jaron Lanier’s Digital Maoism essay and many of the replies (some of which are on this delicious tag of mine) have got me thinking about selfish activity and why it matters.

Clearly there are people who do amazing work for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Jason Calacanis turned me on to this book about Dr. W.C. Minor who provided literally thousands of entries to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary.
But Minor, an American expatriate in England and a Civil War veteran,
was actually a certified lunatic who turned in his dictionary entries
from the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

I am not saying that Wikipedians are madmen. Nothing could be further from the truth and that assertion would clearly end all chance of getting my Wikipedia page approved. But I am pointing out that people do amazing things for many different reasons that often have nothing to do with money.

But many more do things because they are selfish and vain. That is an important part of the blogging phenomenon and increasingly an important part of the Wikipedia phenomenon. And it should not be condoned, it should simply be understood and managed.

Selfish activity taken too far is spam. But selfish activity within reason is very healthy. If my Wikipedia page stays up, I will check it regularly to make sure it is accurate. Because I care about the accuracy of a page about me. I don’t intend to control it but I do intend to monitor its accuracy.

Search engine optimiziation is healthy to a degree. The machines at Google and Yahoo! may not have initially made Coca-Cola’s home page the number one result when someone typed in "coke".  But it is now. Coke’s marketers made sure of that. And that is good.

Search engine marketing/paid results are good. There are certainly plenty of searches where the paid results are better than the organic ones. That was Bill Gross’ initial insight that led to the creation of a business model for the search business, the best business model invented so far for the Internet.

Self tagging is good to a degree. Publishers and bloggers who provide a bunch of descriptive tags on their content to delicious, technorati, and others are doing all of us a service. It makes it easier to find what we are looking for. But those who take it too far are tag spammers.

So I think selfish activity should be celebrated not condoned as long as its within reason. Of course, a soft term like "within reason" is a problem for people who write algorithms. But most people can determine "within reason" fairly easily.  Maybe that’s a really good job for the hive mind.