In order to put off writing my lecture notes for tomorrow until I’m yet more tired, I’m going to write about something that seems appropriate, given my interest in wiki.
I was at a meeting today with some other developers for a RPG I’m working on. Actually, I’m not sure I’m allowed to say it’s an RPG: we haven’t written up the NDAs yet. The project manager suggested that we should make up NDAs, such that we should not say too much about the game lest someone “bigger” get our idea and do it first.
He made a good point, that there are “genre definers” in games. If you make a really good introduction to a new genre, then all other games in that genre are considered imitations. I like that, though I’m not totally sure I agree. What was Command & Conquer imitating again?
To some extent, idea paranoia shows an insecurity in your own skills. What you’re saying when you say, “I don’t want anybody to get my idea or else they’ll steal it,” is in fact, “I believe that if someone else gets my idea, then they’ll be able to do it better than I can.” In software, this is hardly the case. 10% of the people that decide to use your idea for profit will finish with something so incredibly different from what you had in mind that you’ll both be defining your own genre (or they will slip into the genre that they know/like best). The other 90% will never finish.
A bit ironic, when I first got the idea for Miki, the music wiki, I hoped that nobody else had thought of it first. :-)
When you tell someone enough ideas to give them an impression what you’re doing without the important details, they go “that’s cool”. When you tell them enough ideas to give them an impression of the details, they’ll give you ideas back. Actually, that’s how I joined this project. Last summer, Chris, the founder of the project, described to me very passionately and in great detail everything that was going on in his brain about the linguistically-based magic system. I was intrigued. I decided that I must be a part of this, being a computational linguist and all. If he had said “we’re doing a really unique magic system, but I can’t tell you what it’s about because I’m under an NDA”, I’d have said, “good luck,” and gone back to watching Family Guy.
Ideas are free to transmit. The probability of your coming across a world-changing idea grows quadratically with the number of ideas you are previously exposed to (this is reasonable, since new ideas are just unique combinations of old ones). That means that the more ideas you share, the faster the intellectual technology of the Human race progresses. But it doesn’t change your probability of finding anything new. Hiding things for that reason seems awfully selfish to me.
It all ties into this commons sociology that Lawrence Lessig1 studies (whose latest book is free for download after having a widely popular published book previously, that he surely made some money with). It is a natural behavior that comes out of evolution (doesn’t everything?) which is very, very advanced and which I have not been able to simulate in the slightest on the computer after many trials. In a world where we cherish each other’s lives so much so as not to let the stupid, handicapped, or otherwise unfit1 die (assuming for the sake of argument that the United States is the only place in the world), personal “fitness” stops making any difference. We’re not up against any other species anymore, and we’re not up against each other. What are we up against? The limits of our knowledge and understanding, which, as things are going, will cause us to exhaust the planet’s resources and blow each other up with nuclear weapons. So we’re now thinking of the Human race as a single organism that must survive against something that it doesn’t understand. That organism had better learn all it can about its enemy as quickly as it can.
1And he’s even put one of his old books on a wiki for editing, with the intention of republishing with the world’s edits, profits going to the creative commons.
2Oh, except for those who were unfit enough to be indistinguishable to stupid Americans from the people who bombed the WTC in 2001.