Saturday, April 15, 2006

33 Wikis: #23 -- The QEDen "Millenium Problems" Project -- the seven million dollar wiki

This is the twenty-third installment in "33 Wikis," a close look at best practices in wiki-based collaboration. Each day -- for 33 days -- we look at one wiki and briefly describe what the wiki is for, why we like it, and what we all can learn from it. If you want to nominate a wiki, please let us know. On day 34 we will post a public wiki featuring info on all nominees.

We thank the folks at Slashdot for introducing us to today's wiki.

What this wiki is about: We interrupt our coverage on business wikis (we began our run just yesterday) to tell you about a wiki that means business. A group called QEDen has launched a wiki that hopes to solve the notorious Millenium Problems, which the Clay Mathematics Institute calls "classic questions that have resisted solution over the years." The Institute has promised a $1 million dollar reward for the solution to each problem. The QEDen wiki hopes to accelerate the problem solving by "assembling an army of nerds."

Why we like it: Whether or not you think this project is naive (more than a few folks at Slashdot think so), the QEDen wiki is one of the most radical expressions of "wisdom of crowds" that we've seen throughout this entire survey. And we like that the organizers are looking at the big picture, beyond the Millenium Problems. "QEDen is looking to change the very nature of mathematical and scientific research. Internet collaboration has been used to successfully build state of the art products ranging from software to encyclopedias. Why not see if it can be used to advance human knowledge?" Oh, and if you're wondering about how QEDen is planning to divvy up the bounty -- they're not. If a member of the community solves the problem, he or she gets to keep the whole thing. "QEDen itself will not try to lay any claim to the prize money (although a generous donation from the winner back to the community would certainly be in good taste.)"

What we all can learn from it: Again, this is "wisdom of crowds" in the extreme, and we will be very curious to see how the project progresses. For now, it should encourage other groups or organizations who might benefit from the use of a wiki environment for problem solving. A short while back, it was becoming fashionable for businesses to invite students and inventors to submit their best ideas, with the faint promise that a winning notion might result in a substantial reward. Why would a business do this? It can save a lot of money in R&D, and the pool of talent, theoretically, is limitless. The QEDen project suggests that there's an easy tool for organizing experiments like this.

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