We’re still all a flutter with the concept of “social networks.” Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr generally get the most attention. They’re well known and are the household names that even your mom knows. Last night I watched an episode of Numb3rs that referenced the famous Seti@Home project. For those that don’t remember SETI is an acronym for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. It’s a volunteer based social computing project that launched in May 1999.
There are all these conversations taking place in space. Some are simply noise, but some could be evidence of life beyond this planet. Someone needs to make sense of the noise. It takes an inordinate amount of time and effort to sift through and make sense of the information. For years special large super computers were used to analyze very narrow band radio frequency from outer space. Relying on just the limited number of super computers was a slow time consuming approach. The Seti@home project was designed to eliminate that problem.
By downloading the Seti@home software any computer anywhere in the world could help make sense of the noise coming from space. In essence the Seti@home project combines the power of all the computers participating in the program to decode the data from space faster. The more people who download and participate, the faster we’ll discover life beyond Earth. Talk about joining something for a higher order of reason.
I remember when Seti came on the scene. I was working at Fallon and learned about it from a colleague. He explained to me that every person who signed up for the program was helping to find Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. He demoed the software for me and I was hooked. I downloaded the software and started trying to convince all my friends and family to do the same.
To date the Seti@home project has over 5 million members in more than 200 countries. This is amazing considering the original goal for the program was between 50,000 and 100,000 members. In total this community has contributed over 19 billion hours of computer processing time. Unfortunately, the project hasn’t uncovered any Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, but it has identified several candidate targets (sky positions). In 2004, the astronomer Seth Shostak indicated a conclusive signal from Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence would happen some time between 2020 and 2025. That’s an amazing amount of progress for a program that’s only 10 years old.
Brining this back to social networking, the buzz topic du jour. The Seti initiative has all the underpinnings of what a defines a great social network:
- Limited barriers to join
- Gender and age agnostic
- A real reason for joining – a greater good
- Sense of being and purpose
- Like-minded individuals
- Connected to a common goal
- Constant feedback
- Measurable results
- …and yes even Transparency
- The ability to opt out easily
This isn’t to say that Seti@home is perfect. In truth, it’s a social network that’s showing its age. In today’s new and ever evolving landscape where we’re all hyper-connected to the internet it seems like they’ve passed on serious opportunity. For example, how hard would it be to have an iPhone app that leverages the 3G network to compute the information a Facebook/iGoogle widget that basically is the software? Given all the people we’re connected with and the ease/efficiency to grow networks today, why haven’t they invested in leveraging those connections?
As the web evolved the program remained virtually stagnant…trapped in 1999. If ever there were an initiative that could really harness the power of today’s social web this is it. Seti I want to help. Let’s talk.