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[ox-en] an idea looking for a home


I've had an idea in my head for the last few years that have been
looking for a home.  When I've shared them with friends, mostly they
just give me a blank stare.  I saw the /. article and decided to vent on
this list, see if I've found some compatriots.

I started playing with Linux in '97 (whenever Redhat 5.0 was around) and
it felt like a whole new world was at my finger tips.  I read 'The
cathedral..' by RS and found it almost profound and striking: here was a
human productivity model that was almost like cold fusion (if only it
worked), unlimited energy was available, and it *did* work.  The part
that sticks in my head is what I call (apologies to un-cited references)
the 'one out of N principal': whatever the task, no matter how trivial,
unpleasant or difficult, one out of N people will gladly do the job for
free.  If it's a really dirty job, N is very large.  If it's merely a
hard job N is smaller.  If it's kind of interesting and useful, N is
pretty small.

Most non-geeks don't understand the amazing potential of distributed
collaboration so I thought of starting a project that non-geeks could
get into, that would produce a noticeable result.  The flashy result
would get peoples attention and serve to educate a wide audience about
the power of distributed collaboration.  Since I wanted N to be very
small, the project would have to involve something that everybody did or
at least everybody would be interested in the result.  I came up with
(drum roll) drinking water quality.  Everybody drink water, everybody
knows that water quality around the world is declining but most people
aren't motivated to generate political pressure on the subject.

The project would consist of a website describing a simple water quality
test you can do at home or maybe a middle school science lab, say lead
content (of course the particular test would have to be carefully
chosen) and a reporting/display facility.  Drinking water fanatics (I'd
guess about 1 out of 10,000) people would take monthly local samples,
submit the results and then look at pretty colored data maps.

Here's what I'd hope would happen:

- people in provence 'A' would see that even though their water quality
meets legal standards, it's still worse than the water in provence 'B'. 
They'd do something about it.

- people in provence 'C' would find out that their water does not meet
legal standards and they'd do something about it.

- people in provence 'D' would notice a local failure in the water
system before local authorities do, or before authorities do something
about the problem and pressure for a quicker fix.

- people in provence 'E' would notice that while their water quality is
generally OK, during spring run-off the quality drops briefly. 
Investigation reveals a previously unmapped toxic dump that's only a
problem part of the year.

The last scenario is the big pay off: a bunch of high school kids,
retired citizens or whoever, working for fun in their spare time,
discover a toxic mess that the entire federal system missed.  If the
federal government tried to build a 'real time', cross border water
monitoring system, it would take years and billions of $ but some
volunteers did it for fun.

If this worked, people would realize that much of the services provided
by government can be done by interested volunteers.  Other projects
mimic and evolve.  Taxes go down.  Community spirit grows and flows
across borders.  Productivity goes up.  Utopia is upon us. :)

Comments, questions?

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