Novelty UFO in Moonbeam, Ontario, Canada by P199 released into the public domain.
Continuing my effort to give a boost to the long tail of skepticism, it is time once again for Wishlist Wednesday. The idea with these posts is to kick around an idea for a skeptical project that someone could launch, that fills a niche in skepticism. I still believe there are many opportunities for online skeptic projects like this that have not yet been built. I hope to encourage skeptics to build them. Last week I proposed a podcast, this week it’s a website.
This week the idea is something I’ve personally wanted for a while. My previous job was teaching computer security training classes, and so I was travelling around the country regularly. Whenever I travel to a new place on business, I try to figure out if there are interesting sights to see or other things to visit while in the area. It can be a fun way to kill some down-time while on a business trip, and can often be quite educational.
Every once in a while I was able to visit a place that was related to skepticism while doing this. But some of these places are fairly obscure, and not easily found. And some you wouldn’t know to look for unless you were already from the area.
But what if skeptics made an effort to collect these locations and document them? Not only would casual travelers benefit, but skeptics wanting to learn or investigate something could use it to find convenient places to do so. Let’s think a bit of how we would build this.
One of the early posts on this blog was about the long tail of skepticism. In that post I talked about how skeptics should be looking for an interesting niche within skepticism, and create projects like blogs and podcasts that cater to that niche. There are several good reasons for this strategy you can read at that post.
I still believe there are many opportunities for online skeptic projects that have not yet been built. In the past on this blog I have successfully exhorted skeptics to get involved online in one way or another. Most notably Susan Gerbic has created an entire blog and Wikipedia project based around the ideas I originally championed here. There are others too.
With that in mind, I’m going to start a series of shorter posts in which I toss out an idea, partially flesh out why it might be useful to skeptics, and encourage skeptics to build it. I’m going to do one per week. It’s called Wishlist Wednesday, and my first idea is the “Skeptic Podcast Sampler”.
An idea popped into my head this afternoon. Readers who are enthusiastic users of services like Foursquare or Untappd will get it immediately, but the rest of you might need some explanation first.
For some time now I’ve been writing about things skeptics can do online to advance the cause of skeptical outreach. Of course blogging and podcasting are obvious avenues, but lately I’ve focused on crowd-sourced projects such as editing Wikipedia skeptically or rating sites in Web of Trust.
I think these projects could have a broader appeal (and perhaps a broader effect) in part because they lend themselves to small, incremental investments of time and effort. Blogs and podcasts generally require a substantial commitment of time, something not all skeptics are able or willing to do. But making skeptical edits to Wikipedia (for example) can be done in very small slices that can easily fit into an otherwise busy schedule. You can spend as much or as little time on it as you see fit, and it all still counts.
But therein lies a problem. For their huge investment of time, bloggers and podcasters get ample recognition for their work. We all know their names, as they have thousands of readers or listeners.
But how do we provide some recognition or incentive for skeptics to devote little slices of their time to these crowdsourced projects? These tiny incremental efforts normally go unnoticed. Read on for my proposal.