eTech Ohio 2007, day 2 – Rex Sorgatz, Group Think


Another interesting keynote today albeit a short one and a sparsely attended one, probably due to the inclement weather in Columbus today. This is really a shame, because even though Rex Sorgatz isn’t exactly an educator, he provided the audience with opportunities for the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that education needs as Susan Patrick called for earlier today.

Group Think: Online Community and Collaboration
Rex Sorgatz (, Seattle Microsoft (MSNBC). technologist, designer, journalist.


Don DeLillo “The future belongs to crowds”

There are many new ways to navigate and consume news (wisdom of the crowds). This talk is about how stories can be told by groups of people using digital media.

Potential to create a wisdom of the crowds, more heads are better than one.

Some “did you know” statements:

(did you know the first city had no streets)
Someone had to invent streets

(did you know the cigarette lighter was invented before the match?)
Sometimes ideas happen out of synch.

(did you know the fortune cookie was not invented in China?)
Sometimes ideas happen in the wrong place.

(did you know in the ‘70s NASA invented concepts of space station they didn’t think would ever exist)
The future is never what you expect it to be, but that’s ok

Wikipedia: revolutionized our thinking about how content is created.
70% of content comes from 2% of users (3,300)
No experts
1.6 million entries
200,000 registered users

Google Image Labeler:
Game, you are paired with someone else and label pictures.
Google uses the info to improve its algorithm for image searches.
It’s a step towards wisdom of the crowds.

Amazon Mechanical Turk (AAI)
You can create an application so people can do small tasks. E.g. sheep market. Designer paid people 2c each to draw sheep. He then sold each sheep as cards at $2 each.

Jim Gray (Microsoft scientist who disappeared): similar concept used to try to find him in the Pacific Ocean.

Concept: lots of people contribute a little bit to create knowledge (Google Answers, Yahoo Answers, NowNow, Ask MetaFilter).
Other examples: One Red Paperclip, the Million Dollar Homepage.

More practical examples:
Robocam: webcam controllable on the web, take pictures with it. Used to gather info and report it back to people.
Led to things like (community blog), average Joes reporting, committing acts of journalism, reporting much quicker and better than the major media sources.

Katrina: reporting by empowering people who were in the flood by having them tell their stories (, multimedia (3d navigable video) with blog (with a total of about 100,000 comments)

Photosynth (Microsoft Live Labs): pictures by hundreds of people. Using technology, you stitch them all together (interacts with flickr); there are four collections right now.

Big idea: many small ideas contributed lead to one big idea! Interesting session, many cool sites to experiment with…

Image Credits:

“eTech Ohio logo”, eTech Ohio:

“Escher’s Doorknob”, Peter Kaminski’s photostream:


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