Monday, January 14, 2013

2013 Edge Q: a small change would yield a huge improvement


This year's question for Edge's World Question Series is quite fine:
What *Should* We Be Worried About?

But, just like last year, the outcome is needlessly disappointing: the answers are long-winded, making the endeavor one that's writer-friendly in the short term, but not reader-friendly, thus not writer-friendly in the long term, if the writer wants to be read.
 (It shouldn't just be about being listed among the 140+ Smart People, right?  It should be to be read?)

Why no editing?  Why no length limit?  Why no learning from last time?  There's a lot of effort invested in this project, so why not make the small change that'd multiply its return on investment?

This reader is perplexed. 
Responses from others are in alignment (on the lack of value to readers), largely by their scarcity. The twitter hashtag for this year's Q (first announced two days ago, Jan. 12) is   which as of this writing yields 6 tweets, half from one user.  Or you can just search Twitter for Edge question which is working pretty well, yielding more.  But very few - like, two? - are actually calling out answers other than their own as worthwhile, which IMO is s Sign. My personal favorites are two pointed tweets from  Tim Carmody; one says: "I think Edge should just change the annual question to, "what topic would you like to give a TED Talk about?"", the other "Is your answer the subject of your forthcoming book? Because that is apparently everyone's answer to every question. ")

The followup Q, I guess, is "what tweak would make the answers actually worth reading?" - and it'd probably be to reuse the script I wrote for 2011's question to condense the answers (scroll), so you could at least see at a glance which ones might be interesting to read.  But there are technical difficulties to accessing the script, which I did not have the sense to put on GitHub or equivalent.

And more importantly, what should the Edge folk do next time?  Limiting text entry via a web form has an additional advantage - it facilitates opening up the "smart folk" clique.  From last year:
You could also send out a more general invitation, so that self-selectors could also offer answers; then a volunteer or staffer could pick out gems from among this pool of responses.