Monday, November 06, 2006
Geocaching and Participation Inequality
Most of us know what a treasure hunt is. One that comes immediately to mind is the Easter Egg Hunt, which is restricted in area to, say, a park or a field where the little hunters, armed with baskets, search for the bounty by foot. Then there is orienteering that involves a much bigger area, say a town, where the participants are grouped into cars with drivers and navigators to recover clues that will lead to the ultimate prize.
In this age of game shows, who can forget the thrilling chases in the TV series, the Amazing Race, where participants, in pairs, set off using a variety of transportation modes: air, land, and sea.
Now there is a new game in town that takes advantage of the sophisticated features of a GPS unit. The game is called Geocaching and GPS stands for Global Positioning System. A GPS unit fixes the geographical coordinates of a locale by triangulation of satellite signals and is a standard instrument onboard planes and ships, and trucks whose movements need to be tracked, and increasingly now in cars.
The Geocaching website heralds the games as "the sport where you’re the search engine". According to the online FAQ, “the basic idea is to have individuals and organizations set up caches all over the world and share the locations of these caches on the internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to find the caches.”
If you fancy snooping around odd places with the help of a hand-held device, or just need an excuse to go on an outdoor adventure that promises both fun and thrill, visit the Geocaching website and start your first cache, either hiding it or locating one.
I came across this game from reading a news item in a local daily where a planted cache was mistaken for some dangerous contraband all because some attendees at a funeral service at a cemetery had noticed some suspicious looking trespassers engaging in some clandestine activity involving digging and burying stuff. So do exercise caution, prudence, and above all, common sense.
Now onto geocaching of a different kind where you literally let your fingers do all the work. Of course I’m referring to Internet surfing.
In the first few years of the advent of the Internet, an oft-bandied term was the digital divide as a result of disparity in computer ownership and literacy as well as the differing penetration rates of Internet usage. More recently, another phenomenon has caught on: Participation Inequality. According to the web article entitled Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute, “in most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.” Hence the so-called 90-9-1 rule.
In the rarefied air of the blogosphere, the rule is more like 95-5-0.1. So if you read my blog but do not comment, you are part of the 95% majority. But if you do, you are in the smaller company of 5%. But if you’re a blogger like me, then you’re a statistic in the 0.1%, a rare distinction indeed.
The article goes on to cite Wikipedia’s inequality rule as 99.8-0.2-0.003. This is almost like two-orders-of-magnitude less, which goes to show that it is easier, or people are more willing to write stuff that they can ramble off at the top of their head rather than doing research and fact-checking.
I guess the primary drawback of participation inequality is the lack of representiveness and diversity in the discourse, at the expense of moderation.
The silence of the majority is indeed deafening.