Humbolt squid captured alive

Morse code beats SMSing


What do you get if you cross Wikipedia with Google and Dodgeball? Well, you get the world’s geekiest question, for one thing. But you also get Cellphedia — “the first ubiquitous social encyclopedia”, as it’s billed. The creation of the New York University student Limor Garcia, Cellphedia works like this: When you’re on the road and have a question, you fire out an SMS to the corresponding Cellphedia topic group — such as “art”, “entertainment, or “politics”. That SMS goes out to anyone who has signed on to Cellphedia and selected those areas as their interests. Then anyone who has an answer to your question SMSes it back, and voila: An instant, highly distributed, totally portable knowledge base. (And, I might add, an incredibly cool way to cheat on exams.)

The site lists some current examples of questions and answers flowing over Cellphedia, such as:

name new lebanon p.minister — najib mikati

prince williams age — 22

andy warhol died — feb 22 1987

what is ad hoc — latin for: “to a specific end or purpose”

bkln bridge length — 6016ft

age new pope — 78

what’s a phreak —- a phreak is someone who is highly skilled in the use of phone systems. phreaks are considered a subset of hackers.

who painted those big waterlily paintings — monet

mileage milwauke to ny — 879miles 12 hours 45 mins

What’s interesting here is that while some of the replies are off-the-cuff knowledge — such as the reply to “what is a phreak” — others include highly specific information (i.e. the length of the Brooklyn Bridge) that suggests the replier is sitting at their computer and Googling the answer. It reminds of an “answer service” I once thought of, where if you desperately needed some information — but weren’t near a computer — you could call a 1-900 number and, for a minor fee, have someone quickly answer your question using Google or any number of other online resources. In fact, before I got my Sidekick, when I was travelling I used to regularly call friends at work to Google stuff for me.

(Thanks to Tom for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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