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Archive for the ‘Geek Culture’ Category

XKCD’s Butterfly Effect

As you might have gathered from previous posts on this blog, I’m constantly fascinated by the innovative ways in which different projects on the Internet make use of crowds. I’ve covered Tomnod’s use of crowdsourcing in global crises and the “crowdplaying” of Twitch Plays Pokémon. Then on 1st April, xkcd – “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language” – upped the ante with an interactive, crowdsourced comic strip called Lorenz.

Edward Lorenz, after whom the comic is titled, was an American mathematician and meteorologist. He was a pioneer of chaos theory and coined the term “butterfly effect”, which describes a tiny variable altering events to eventually produce a much more dramatic result, such as a butterfly flapping its wings and eventually causing a hurricane. The comic’s title text (a caption produced by hovering over the strip with your mouse) directly references the butterfly effect, reading, “Every choice, no matter how small, begins a new story.” The comic’s storyline is also dependent on user-submitted dialogue and click statistics and is therefore chaotic in nature.

The comic begins with an image of an individual (their gender has been the subject of much discussion on the Explain xkcd Talk Page, and they are largely agreed to be female based on them being referred to as a “lady” in one line of dialogue. However, as the dialogue is user-submitted, this is not definitive) at their computer. The user is given a choice of four phrases, randomly ordered, for the character to say:



Twitch Plays Pokémon Crystal in 10 Fancomics

In an amazing feat, the chaotic channel chatters at Twitch Plays Pokémon have succeeded in completing Pokémon Crystal in just thirteen days. That’s all sixteen badges, plus a win against the Johto League, rival Silver, and finally Red – and not the Red of the canon Pokémon games, but Red of Twitch Plays, with the iconic team of Zapdos, Lapras, Nidoking, Venomoth, Omastar and Pigeot. As with the first Twitch Plays, a wealth of fanworks has been created around the new team and their individual personalities, their struggles and their losses. If you missed the action, here are ten fancomics which together tell the story of Gold’s – and his Pokémon’s – journey across Johto and Kanto, all the while struggling with the legends of their predecessors and a constant stream of contradictory feedback from “the voices”. (I might have sneaked in an epilogue as well 😉 )


The Evolution of Crowdthings

“Crowdsourcing is the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of a specialised few.” – Jeff Howe

On the Internet today, we see an awful lot of things with the word “crowd” in front of them. It makes sense – after all, the Internet is about bringing vast amounts of people together from all around the world to make new things possible. The most exciting thing about being online is seeing what innovative results can come from combining those people with the wonders of technology and a few ingenious ideas.

The word crowdsourcing itself is very much a product of the Internet age, as it was coined by Jeff Howe in a 2006 Wired magazine article, ‘The Rise of Crowdsourcing’, and later given a more refined definition in his blog. You could argue that each of the terms I discuss in this blog post is just a variant form of crowdsourcing, but I think they warrant being considered separately, because by and large they’ve evolved beyond the point where they fit Howe’s definition at the top there, and instead have taken on a life and characteristics of their own.