Examples of ‘scenius’ where highly-competitive tightly-communicating groups had surprisingly large effects and often finding low-hanging fruit (somehow) eluding generations before them.
“Knitting Community: Human and Social Capital in the Early Transition into Entrepreneurship”, Kim 2018 (quantifying social contagion/peer-effects of innovation: knitting groups & novel knitting designs on Ravelry)
“Taste for Makers”, Paul Graham
“The Social Subsidy of Angel Investing”, Alex Danco
“Scenius, or Communal Genius”, Kevin Kelly
- “How Flash Games Shaped The Video Game Industry: Flash is dead. But the influence of Flash games on modern gameplay is inescapable”, Jonas Richner (why were Flash computer games so creative and popular worldwide, even in China? The Flash scene benefited from easy entry using an integrated programming environment, small-scale games enabling rapid iteration, many exemplars to imitate, envy and admiration driving imitators, the conviction that improvements were possible, a global talent pool with lots of free time, and game websites like Newgrounds to curate games to create a sophisticated & demanding userbase which could drive mega-traffic to hits, in a virtuous cycle of recruitment/competition/feedback/improvement.)
- “The Revolution in Classic Tetris: How a younger generation used the Internet to master the falling blocks”
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Fosbury Flop
- Épée fencing (Épée 2.0: Eric Sollee/Johan Harmenberg)
- “What the success of rock climbing tells us about economic growth: Machines are not the only engines of greater productivity”; “Rock climbing and the economics of innovation”
- Jeff Cooper’s pistol Modern technique
- “One Man’s Amazing Journey to the Center of the Bowling Ball”
- Competitive Rubik’s cube playing
- speedrunning (“Why Are Gamers So Much Better Than Scientists at Catching Fraud?”; speedrunning improvement over time; especially TAS runs like bruteforcing Breakout)
- “Better All the Time: How the “performance revolution” came to athletics—and beyond”; “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?”; “1⁄100th of a Second Faster: Building Better Olympic Athletes”
- Weightlifting: “The Power and the Gory”, Solotaroff 1990 (cf. Pumping Iron)
- “What do revolutionary new Sudoku techniques teach us about real-world problem solving?”
- Skunk Works
- The Martians? (“The Atomic Bomb Considered As Hungarian High School Science Fair Project”)
- Apollo Project (Cummings 2017)
- John Boyd’s OODA loop
- Engelbart’s The Mother of All Demos (see also Engelbart 1962)
- Xerox PARC
- DARPA (Roland & Shiman 2002)
- Research chemicals (eg. The Hive)
- Patrick Collison’s Industrial Labs & fast achievement lists
- EleutherAI: “What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been: One Year Retrospective”
- “Better Eats: The kitchen of 2020 looks mostly the same as that of 1960. But what we do in it has changed dramatically, almost entirely for the better—due to a culture of culinary innovation”
- “The YouTube Revolution in Knowledge Transfer”, Samo Burja
- Hacking: warez scene/crack intro, demoscene, phreaking, hacking (‘APT stands for Advanced Persistent Teen’–AOL, mIRC, Runescape, Neopets etc.)
- “On Volitional Philanthropy”, Michael Nielsen; “You and Your Research”, Richard Hamming
- “The high-return activity of raising others’ aspirations”; “The phantom Tyler Cowen”
- On Really Trying: “I Could Tell You Something”
- “Mentorship, Management, and Mysterious Old Wizards”
- Emergent Ventures; Pioneer
- “The Politics of Alignment and the ‘Quiet Transgender Revolution’ in Fortune 500 Corporations, 2008 to 2017”, Ghosh 2021
See Also: “Origins of Innovation: Social Contagion?”, “Timing Technology: Lessons From The Media Lab: Try & Try Again (But Less & Less)” (startups as distributed Thompson sampling), Internet Community Design as Multilevel Optimization, Computing hardware & Deep Learning, Copyright Deadweight Losses, Local Optima & Greedy Choices/Ordinary Incompetence, Bloom’s 2-Sigma/apprenticeship
Have you ever noticed that amateur anime/illustrations online have gotten dramatically better since the 1990s?
The very best has gotten better, but I’m convinced that the average/median/mode/whatevers have also gotten much better. Some of that is just the boring observation that hard drives can now store high-resolution images and Internet connections can send them without breaking the bank, and some of that is Gimp/Photoshop/formerly-high-end tools becoming democratized by piracy/FLOSS/freeware and more obscure (to non-artists) technological improvements like cheap high-accuracy touchpads you can sketch on, but I feel that these seem insufficient to explain the drastic leap in sophistication and complexity and colorizing.
I think a lot of it comes from social mechanisms—I’ve noticed that many ‘digital native’ artists seem to rely heavily on online communities to learn from. They look at raw intermediates like
.PSD files to see how it was gone, they watch videos of livestreamed art or ‘speedsketches’ (sometimes recorded as a video for future reference), they compete in informal and formal contests and try to win community approbation (‘mimetic desire’, anyone?), they follow pop culture which creates a constantly varying set of artistic styles to riff off, they post everything they do to DeviantArt or Tumblr and get instant feedback (however crude), they have enormous libraries of existing materials to trace in order to learn or simply outright copy into something they are working on, they can go full-time thanks to Patreon & 2-sided market commissioning websites like Skeb.jp… None of that will necessarily give one inspiration to create divine works of visual art, necessarily (although we have seen a rise of mangas/LNs which began as Pixiv posts), but it sure does help with being a skilled technician.
The same thing appears to have happened with music, coalescing around things like SoundCloud as well as YouTube.
Somewhat like chess, all of this could have been done before in a pre-Internet era, but the competitiveness & communities hyper-charge it all. There was another video game example I had in mind where I read recently a discussion which concluded that YouTube video tutorials / competitions had led to more NES Tetris progress in the past few years than in the prior 20 or so years since the game’s release. Tool-assisted or speedrun or video game hacking in general has been super-charged by the rise of the Internet and small hyper-focused groups collaborating to ‘make number go up’.
Despite—or should that be because?—of their difficulty participating in universities, politics, military, or alcohol.↩︎