Monday, May 31, 2010

Cognitive surplus and why people like wikis....

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Preface: If introductory economics bored you to tears, I can assure you I've done my best to take the dryness out of the subject. I myself was never drawn to harsh economic subjects like econometrics. Instead I soaked up behavioural and information economics. Both of which are very relevant to online media and the change in the way we now consume news.

It may not come as much of a surprise to you, but I am somewhat of a geek. I studied economics for five years and worked as an economist for the QLD Treasury once I graduated. Becoming a co-founder of a wiki has not really helped my cause, although I hope the fashion side of that has at least redeemed me a little.

One of the most fascinating things with economics is its ability to explain the way people behave. Why do they contribute to one forum and not the other? Why do people tweet? Where did all the wikipideans come from and why do they while their hours away editing pages?

After coming across Clay Shirky's "Cognitive Surplus", it jogged my memory about intrinsic motivators and the idea that one is not enticed by external factors such as money or rewards. Instead people are far more motivated to complete tasks due to the warm and fuzzies they feel once they are done. Curiouser and curiouser, if a person were offered an extrinsic reward for something that satisfies them nonetheless, they are far more likely not to complete the task.

Clay talks about a person's cognitive surplus, basically this is a fancy way for saying, one's spare time. He explains that with the rise of consumerism in the 1920s and the subsequent adoption of television, people's cognitive surpluses were once spent mostly on staring at the black box.

With the rise in online media, twitter, facebook et al, cognitive surplus has now evolved into participatory surplus. People now have choices, while TV is a one way street, the internet can be akin to getting lost in New York. It's a busy hub, an avalanche of information is thrown at us everyday. People are not only consuming this information, but they are now sharing it, discussing it and adding it to wikis. There is no shortage of ways in which you can disperse of information.

Due to the sheer volume of information that we are exposed to online, we are seeing a shift from professionalism to mass amateurization. A group of people learn bite size pieces and add them to the the puzzle. The social networks that are now popping up, have brought down the barriers to entry, allowing everyone to share and produce a higher aggregate value. This slow pull away from consumerism is changing society and will in the long term create a higher production value.

Technology is causing a fundamental shift in society and dissolving the dichotomy between professionals and amateurs. Anyone who is interested or would like to learn something new regardless of their education or skill level can join in on the conversation. That's what's so fantastic about technology and online media, it endorses the "more the merrier" notion.

This is exactly why I created Wikifashion, with so many barriers to the industry, fashion is in a sense the last of the impenetrable fortresses. Almost impossible to peek inside, one has to "pay their dues" before being invited to the party. I am hoping to bring down the walls so that those who simply like to flick through Vogue once a month can edit alongside those who write for Elle magazine. Anyone is welcome and we certainly believe the "more the merrier".


  1. thanks for visiting my blog! :D and also for featuring me on Wikifashion!

    i've already put the Wikifashion badge in my sidebar. :)

    i like the blog btw! especially that vintage green tv :p


  2. I'm taking economics this semester, only 100 level though so we don't talk too much about behaviourial economics, just the basics but it's really interesting to see how it can be applied to everyday life. I mean of course, economics is basically looking at everyday expenditure and such but I've never really thought of it in a way where it didn't involve some sort of monetary exchange; which I guess is very stupid of me but anyway I should stop rambling. This was a really interesting read though!

  3. First, thanks for visiting my blog! :)
    Wow I can't believe you started wikifashion.. I love that site!! I'm definitely going to add the little cute badge to my blog now :)
    You've done such an amazing work :)
    I'm definitely going to be back :)

  4. Thanks for your comment honey. Teeth are such a bugger, but I don't want problems in the future so it's better to deal with it all now.

    The work you have done and are indeed still doing for Wikki Fashion is so exciting and makes it so accessible for the 'normal' non industry person.

    Are you going to make the calico bags available soon?

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  5. Thanks Mez :) That's so nice of you to say! We're working really hard to get our redesign/forum done, so it will be a lot easier for people to use and get involved in :)

  6. very interesting insights, lola! thanks for creating me a wikifashion page too(and sorry for not being able to edit it yet; do i have to be a member of it first before i can edit it? :) )

    it's interesting studying people's behaviors! one of my favorite subjects too.
    you can email me here:

    have a fab day ahead!! :)

  7. That's really interesting. I'm definitely going to check out Wikifashion.

  8. Lola,
    I love reading your blog posts and I believe we have similar points of view.
    But I'm not sure how to follow your blog (which button on your side bar is for the blog? I only found the follow on twitter link).
    So i always just come and read your blog when you leave a comment on my blog haha

    I believe your blog is a representative of 'smart fashion' and you often discuss interesting topics that i wouldn't talk about on my blog since its more of just a 'fashion-outfit-posts-blah-blah' blog. I'm glad there is someone saying what some of us are thinking but can't put into cyber words =)


  9. Thanks Emm! And yes the skipping girl bag contest is still open :)

  10. OH, so you're the lovely girl behind Wikifashion! it's really an awesome idea! thank you for featuring me as well! i was really surprised, since my blog's relatively new compared to a lot of other bloggers out there. excited for the continuing growth of Wikifashion!

    will follow you on Bloglovin. :)

  11. hi Lola, i've completed the editing of fashion atelier's page in wikifashion. thanks a lot for making me such an awesome page! i've also made a custom badge linking people to fashion atelier's wikifashion page located on my sidebar, under the 'let's be friends' tab :)

    have a fab day ahead!!

  12. Interesting spot ! I love your blog :)

  13. nice blog

    wanna exchange link and or follow me??

  14. i've never taken any economics course all through college or grad school, so i appreciate your writing this in an understandable way! it was really interesting. ~joelle

  15. hei lola,thank you for the sweet comment ,and maybe my comment same as gela, so you ar the girl behind Wikifashion :0 wow that's great.
    and i'm already put Wikifashion badge so check out my new post too,
    have a great day lovely girl.

  16. I think that thanks to technology there's a lot more inclusion in fashion world but at the same time certain things are still firmly exclusive.

    I love your idea for Wikifashion and do think that it is concept that will be very influential in the near future :)


  17. Having dabbled in both economics and psychology. The subjects are very much alike, everything you mentioned above that relate to economics can easily fit into psychology as well.

    And thanks for creating Wikifashion!


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