The New People Power: How Online Collaboration is Changing the World

We love TED talks, and this one by computer scientist Luis von Ahn has been one of our favourites.

In this talk, Von Ahn explains reCAPTCHA; a service that uses the human responses to CAPTCHAs to digitize books – one word at a time. If you have ever typed a CAPTCHA into Google, Ticketmaster or Facebook, you have been part of this effort – and you are among 750 million others to do so.

Projects such as reCAPTCHA harness what’s called online collaboration, with potentially world-changing results.

So that is it? One definition says online collaboration is knowledge and resource-sharing in real time over the internet. Imagine users in different parts of the world working on the same documents at the same time while instant messaging – all through the web.

‘Citizen science’ is one impressive result of this. It involves ordinary internet users assisting in mammoth scientific tasks that computer power alone cannot accomplish. Results have included finding new planets (by processing NASA data), deciphering fragments of ancient texts, and – with online game FoldIt – a breakthrough in an AIDS-like virus that had baffled scientists for years.

However, most ordinary ‘citizens’ partake in online collaboration for slightly less laudable aims than solving scientific conundrums. It is a useful tool for every company, community and project.

It enables remote employees to work together on the same documents. They can communicate instantly, brainstorm and share calendars. Resources can be cloud-hosted, making them accessible anywhere – even on mobile devices.

The web is full of bloggers announcing they’re loving the simpler cloud-hosted way of working and collaborating on documents. Matt Baxter-Reynolds is one convert, professing:

What Google Docs has done for me is open up a new way of working which offers more freedom, is simpler, and is more rewarding. I'd even go so far to say it was "delightful".

These tools are a great improvement to error-prone methods passing files around, manually tracking changes and manually merging document versions.

It can happen anyone. A couple of years ago, 80,000 copies of novelist Jonathan Franzen's fourth book Freedom had to be pulped because a proof-reader mistakenly sent an unfinished and unchecked version of the novel to the publisher. It was discovered only when it reached the book shops.

So online collaboration offers great benefits for efficient filing and time-saving. Knowing the best practices and risks is vital before bringing it into your workplace, however.

The New York Times recently reported how employees opening documents on their personal devices and on the cloud are scattering confidential data all over the web.

Naturally, ICDL has a solution though.Online collaboration

Our Online Collaboration module is a new addition to our arsenal. The module will cover the tools, theories and technologies behind online collaboration, along with the risks.

It’s the perfect first step for anyone wanting to explore the possibilities online collaborations gives – and make it their own.

We like to think that we’re unleashing a few more von Ahns into the world along the way too.

As the man himself mused:

“The question that motivates my research is, if we can put a man on the Moon with 100,000 [people], what can we do with 100 million?”

100 million? We’ll just have to wait and see.