Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wiki Design: from Toasters to Spaceships

Participatory Exploration. Frednet. Lunar Boom Town. Open Luna.

These all deal with the concept that we are trying to take the brainpower of the interested public and use it to solve the technical, political, and business problems that confront our efforts to expand into space. I conceived of a tool that can facilitate this.

Look at Wikipedia. According to last year's annual report (check it out in your spare time, Nick,) there were "approximately 100,000 active editors (defined as users who made more than 5 changes in the last month)." 100,000! That's a huge number of people!

With the 11 million articles on Wikipedia, you can be sure that many of these editors are fueled to participate in a wide range of articles by the synergistic combination of articles that they can work on. In other words, editing in Wikipedia gets "sticky" (Check the definitions at the bottom)

So here is the point. Crowd Sourcing is good. Better Crowd Sourcing is better. Better Crowd Sourcing can be had by implementing a dedicated web based methodical structure that fosters and requires attention to the essential questions of systems design.

So I am hatching this idea for something that could be a Wikimedia project, specifically for designing things. It would work a bit like this:

You come to the wiki design sight and tell it that you want to start a new design. It asks you some basic questions like what your primary objective of need is, what kind of system it is (Vehicle, building, processing machine, etc.), Does it require data processing, etc.

The site shepherds your thoughts into a rudimentary top level systems architecture framework by asking you questions like: what does it do? And how might it do that?

It gives you some templates for functional and physical breakdowns, templates with high level headings for a system specification document, and you, the user get as detailed or a vague as you want at this point.

So then your site is live and anyone can come in and populate the content, like with Wikipedia, but unlike Wikipedia, some powerful organizing tools and templates are integrated with the content.

Some of the possible features:
  • Integrated 3D modeling web app that helps with part numbers and hierarchy of parts
  • Expired patent and journal search that lets you link relevant patents to functions or subfunctions
  • Discussion and voting tied to specific elements of the system definition.
  • Commenting on parts of the system definition (Saying things like: "This design is horrible. If it were 3 inches long it would have way more strength and only add a small amount of length")
  • Chat with other members of the project
  • robust and targeted permissions to set "baseline" requirements, functions, components, interfaces, etc
  • Automated quality check that alert users to possible functional overlaps, shortfalls, etc.
  • Autocheck to make sure that users don't give functions titles that are nouns or verbs as titles to items.
  • Freedom of Information Act Request facilitation.
  • Reuse of components, functions, etc from other projects. (Got an idea for something with wheels? Pick from a myriad of projects in which the wheel was defined already!)
The idea is that most people don't know beans about systems engineering, requirements, or interfaces. Design by committee, forum posting, voting, or by blind feel with no knowledge or application of systems engineering is not an effective method of harnessing the domain knowledge that many people do have.

So who is with me? Let's storm the Wikimedia foundation and get them to put this thing online so that we can go about the business of designing space vehicles in style!


Mark A said...

Wow! That would be an amazing tool. As one that designs objects as well I can see how much time I wast modeling and rethinking stuff that I know has been done before. I could see this as the next big step in CAD much like the step from 2D to 3d hierarchical parametric. The IT involved is staggering but the end result would surly pay it's way. I'm not sure I see your vision clearly but I like the blurry picture just the same.

Anonymous said...

I need to find out how to launch roughly 100,000 toasters into space by the time i turn thirty