On alternatives to profit-making websites emphasizing other types of transactions than exchange, see my comment: "1. Outdoor Holiday Lights 2. ??? 3. Profit!" http://slashdot.org/comments.p...
As I mention there, I've been working on-and-off towards software for supporting a social semantic desktop. Many other have of course (like with NEPOMUK), I'm just one more. The Maelstrom sounds like it may be heading in that direction too.
I have some later stuff I have not released yet, but it is pretty similar to this:
A key idea there is to write applications that spread their content state across a set of files, where you change the content state by adding a new file rather than changing an existing file.
So, for a simple example, imagine you have a document you can find by some UUID. When you make a new version of it, you write out a new file that references the same UUID but has a later timestamp. When you want to display the content, you search through all the versions of the document you have and display the one with the latest timestamp. Every actual file can be referenced by its SHA256 hash value and its length
Now, things can rapidly get more complex that that like by having hyperdocuments where only part of the document is in each file and so on. That requires a somewhat a different style of writing applications than is typical today.
In that version, you can have log files you add to, which can be generated by the system as it accepts new files and sees if they have special indexing tags. You can also have git-like variables that represent a pointer to a specific file and which can only be changed if you present the current version of the variable.
That older version is a bit more complicated than the one I'm working on, which has been progressing mostly by subtraction. :-) In the new version (not yet on GitHub, but I plan to put it there at some point), I got rid of the logs and variables, and replaced them with memory indexes of all content which is always a JSON document. Standard indexing of the files is simple and mainly just enough to find related ones which you can process or index further locally. Indexing in the server is based mainly on files having an optional ID (representing a document potentially with versions under the same ID) and having optional tags (to provide context about hyperdocuments), as well as having a SHA256 and length for direct retrieval. You can also query a server for files that match those IDs. Eventually, I see those queries as being like "magnet URIs".
I think there is a great potential for such tools for community dialog and community planning and community design. I have a video related to that on the front page of site that is currently running the Pointrel20130202 software:
Of course *many* people have been working towards a social semantic desktop (like NEPOMUK). And there are many document-oriented databases (CouchDB, MongoDB, etc.) and a variety of other databases of different sorts. These are just my own experiments and I don't know if they will succeed in being generally useful. I remain hopeful that someone will develop a general purpose system for this and it will be useful for communications, planning, and design. Maybe Maelstrom (or Maelstrom plus some new apps written in the way described above) will be it.
The Theodore Sturgeon short sci-fi story, "The Skills of Xanadu" is part of my own inspiration. Both these links are ironically down at the moment (background info and an audio version of the story):
This is still up, with the text of the story:
Other ideas and inspirations (from 2006 and earlier):
" Hyperscope is a browsing tool that enables most of the viewing and navigating features called for in Doug Engelbart's open hyperdocument system framework (OHS) to support dynamic knowledge repositories (DKRs) and rising Collective IQ. HyperScope works with the Mozilla Firefox version 2.0."
And "Memex" is another inspiration, as essentially a distributed system where people are making copies of information to share (photographically in that case).
Of course, none of that solves the problem you raised of good content being costly to produce because it takes a lot of time. That remains true. But, using Google and reading lots of blogs and sites like Slashdot, and participating on various mailing lists. I've seen that there are many economic alternatives, which I discuss on my site. It is probably only because of cheap and easy access to all that information that I was able to educate myself on these topics as much as I have (always more to learn and self-correct).
There is a lot of truth to this comment by C Mattix:
"Sid Meier is a time traveler"
"I get to break this out again:
As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.
Commissioner Pravin Lal, "U.N. Declaration of Rights"
Accompanies the Secret Project "The Planetary Datalinks"
Of course, here is a whole dictionary of alternatives someone told me about, so it is not like that knowledge is that hard to find if you want to find it:
"The Dictionary of Alternatives: Utopianism and Organization" by Martin Parker, Valerie Fournier, Patrick Reedy
"This dictionary provides ammunition for those who disagree with the early twentieth-first century orthodoxy that 'There is no alternative to free market liberalism and managerialism'. Using hundreds of entries and cross-references, it proves that there are many alternatives to the way that we currently organize ourselves. These alternatives could be expressed as fictional utopias, they could be excavated from the past, or they could be described in terms of the contemporary politics of anti-corporate protest, environmentalism, feminism and localism. Part reference work, part source book, and part polemic, this dictionary provides a rich understanding of the ways in which fiction, history and today's politics provide different ways of thinking about how we can and should organize for the coming century"
To quote Zinn, on what Haiti used to be like before Western Imperialism arrived:
" Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:
"They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus. ...
The Indians, Las Casas says, have no religion, at least no temples. They live in "large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time ... made of very strong wood and roofed with palm leaves.... They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of their friends and expect the same degree of liberality. ...""
When the world wide web first got going substantially in the late 1990s, there had been a hope the web would be a different sort of society -- perhaps one more like the (better parts) of what the Arawaks had. Do we all really need to ignore the social and cultural wealth from the web staring us in the face like Columbus did and instead focus on shiny yellow stuff we can't eat and which can't keep us warm and which can't tell us interesting stories?
As Philip Grrenspun wrote more than a decade ago:
"One of the beauties of Web publishing is that it can be free or nearly free. It can be done in such a way that it need not make money. And indeed if your site is destined to lose money it is much less humiliating when you can say that making money wasn't the idea. Nonetheless there are plenty of folks who've forgotten that greed is one of the seven deadly sins. This chapter, therefore, is about how to make money on the Internet. ...
The Web is a powerful medium for personal expression, for sharing knowledge, and for teaching. It has also made a lot of people very wealthy, but that doesn't mean you can get rich by adding banner ads and referral links to what started out as a beautiful non-commercial site.
Aside from those who started our with a decades-old centralized computerized database of some sort, the real money in the Internet business has been made by those who operate online communities."
The promise of Maelstrom, or a Social Semantic Desktop, or even pre-spam email or that matter, is to support a distributed community without a need for a business model that makes money to host a few hard-hit servers. If that community is large enough, there will always be useful and interesting content created on it for whatever reasons. The biggest problem these days is more the other ay -- there is too much content of low quality, and someone needs to weed through it. Again, that is a place the community can help. As explained here:
"The Internet, electronic mail, and the Web have revolutionized the way we communicate and collaborate - their mass adoption is one of the major technological success stories of the 20th century. We all are now much more connected, and in turn face new resulting problems: information overload caused by insufficient support for information organization and collaboration. For example, sending a single file to a mailing list multiplies the cognitive processing effort of filtering and organizing this file times the number of recipients - leading to more and more of peoples' time going into information filtering and information management activities. There is a need for smarter and more fine-grained computer support for personal and networked information that has to blend the boundaries between personal and group data, while simultaneously safeguarding privacy and establishing and deploying trust among collaborators."
Those are the sorts of tools needed on top of Maelstrom or whatever other distributed systems we use.
My own suggestions on that:
"This suggestion is about how civilians could benefit by have access to the sorts of "sensemaking" tools the intelligence community (as well as corporations) aspire to have, in order to design more joyful, secure, and healthy civilian communities (including through creating a more sustainable and resilient open manufacturing infrastructure for such communities). It outlines (including at a linked elaboration) why the intelligence community should consider funding the creation of such free and open source software (FOSS) "dual use" intelligence applications as a way to reduce global tensions through increased local prosperity, health, and with intrinsic mutual security.
I feel open source tools for collaborative structured arguments, multiple perspective analysis, agent-based simulation, and so on, used together for making sense of what is going on in the world, are important to our democracy, security, and prosperity. Imagine if, instead of blog posts and comments on topics, we had searchable structured arguments about simulations and their results all with assumptions defined from different perspectives, where one could see at a glance how different subsets of the community felt about the progress or completeness of different arguments or action plans (somewhat like a debate flow diagram), where even a year of two later one could go back to an existing debate and expand on it with new ideas. As good as, say, Slashdot is, such a comprehensive open source sensemaking system would be to Slashdot as Slashdot is to a static webpage. It might help prevent so much rehashing the same old arguments because one could easily find and build on previous ones. ..."
Do I know how to do that? Not really -- I'm learning as I go, as are so many other people out there. As Van Gogh wrote: "I am always doing what I can't do yet in order to learn how to do it". :-)
As far as software, imagine a system where, for example, you could download this essay, and if you wanted all the related links, and you could always keep a local copy of all the content (including the slashdot page) and you could still follow all the links in an easy way and continue to annotate and comment on and summarize all the content locally, and share such changes with others when you wanted to. We don't yet have such a seamless system for doing that, but someday we might. And overall, I think that would be a good thing.