E2 and the value of slime

I was attracted to this place by reading about it in a book (Steven Johnson: Emergence. 2002, Penguin Books). The book is about self-organisation, of how under certain conditions a large set of separate and simple elements can organise themselves -- from the bottom up -- into completely new and highly complex structures or systems.

There is a slime mould (Dictyostelium discoideum), an invisible single-cell fungus, which has a curious ability. The individual cells can suddenly aggregate into one large visible and mobile slimy structure. Under different conditions the structure can equally suddenly de-aggregate into separate invisible cells again. In their individual form the cells are completely mindless. In its aggregated form the slimy structure can even be taught to find the shortest route through a maze.

So E2 is like a slime mould? Yes, in some important aspects, according to Steven Johnson. What he refers to is not the occasional “sliminess” of the material that you may read on E2, but rather its self-organising ability. The voting system mysteriously creates a self-organised, quality-conscious editorial body out of tens of thousands of individually irresponsible dimwits, as it were.

We all know that this is hardly an apt description of E2. For one thing, the editors and administrators have always played an important role for “raising the bar”. But it’s quite clear that the voting system and its ability to weed out thistles and set minimal standards is one of the key characteristics of E2, as it stands today. When I first came to E2, I felt like partaking in a great experiment in “emergence” (= Steven Johnson’s term for self-organisation from the bottom up). Today this experimental feeling has perhaps worn off a bit, as I have come to know and appreciate more aspects of E2 than just its self-organising “slime”.

In the node the new e2, dem bones describes a completely “de-slimed” and sanitised E2 structure. Here appointed editors will decide what will be published and what won’t, revamping E2 into something quite similar to an ordinary net magazine or publishing house. There is no question that the quality of the published material will increase. If the editors are expert and demanding, then New E2 may in time become a widely respected source of information, opinion, and literature. Yes, why not give it a try? Someone has said that E2 is essentially half a dozen extremely bright people with very much time on their hands. So the prospects appear to be good.

On the other hand, as an old Anarchist, I’m still impressed by the fact that Old E2 has proved that tens of thousands of irresponsible dimwits are able to collectively metamorphose to a reasonably responsible and reasonably quality-conscious editorial body. Not more than reasonably so, but reasonably nevertheless. What’s more, Old E2 has motivated tens of thousands of irresponsible dimwits like me to write - and to become increasingly better at it.

Is it possible to save some of the virtues of Old E2, while affirming the high aspirations of New E2? I don’t know. But one way would be to separate New E2 and Old E2 into two sealed-off compartments in the database. New E2 would be edited as proposed and become the E2 incarnation that “faces the World” (and in the future maybe even advertisers).

Old E2 could run essentially like it does today, but more as an internal affair. However, the very best Old E2 material could be picked out by New E2 editors and moved to New E2. In this way newbies would still have a non-intimidating place where to start their career. I’m afraid that the editorial procedures of New E2 are going to scare away many a budding, but initially insecure writer. At the same time I understand that this idea may be prohibitively expensive.

One more thing. When I first came to E2, I was not only impressed by its slimy “anarchism in action”, but also by signs of refreshing self-irony, which were displayed all over the place. The hilarious names for the different levels, ending with “God”, is just one example. I understand that the more professional-looking New E2 may seem to need more bureaucratic titles, like “publisher” and “administrator”. But for heavens sake, keeping some of the original self-irony will hardly capsize the New E2 project! I would strongly recommend keeping the “God”-title. For example, the administrators could be Gods, and the editors might be called Godlets or Archangels.

Anyway, if this daylog is not nuked, then under Old E2 rules it will make me a Monk, a sidesplitting title for an inveterate atheist.