Friday, May 10, 2013

Special Guest: Derek Lackaff

Today's special guest is Elon University School of Communications Professor (and also my coolest1 brother-in-law) Derek Lackaff. Derek is working on a project called Better Alamance, which uses social media to help local residents share ideas on how to improve their community:

Derek wants to know...

How long would it take the citizens of Alamance County to put everything they know on the Better Alamance: Wiki, and how big would the wiki be when they were finished?

Great question, Derek! According to Wikipedia, Alamance County in North Carolina is home to roughly 150,000 residents. According to at least one source, a human brain has on the order of 2.5 petabytes of memory, which means 150,000 brains would have roughly 370 exabytes of memory. This data includes everything from which Alamance park needs the most improvements to what the final score was in the last Duke vs. Tar Heels game.

If a wiki page is anything like a text document, it would require anywhere from 10 to 100 kilobytes of memory.2 At this many bytes per page, we'd have about four quadrillion wiki pages of material stored in the mental matter of Alamance citizens. If we printed every page of the wiki, it would be long enough to reach to the Sun and back!

If you like the idea of using social media to help improve your community, let your voice be heard. Go here and vote for Better Alamance in the MacArthur Foundation-sponsered contest, Looking@Democracy.

Aaron Santos is a physicist and author of the books How Many Licks? Or How to Estimate Damn Near Anything and Ballparking: Practical Math for Impractical Sports Questions. Follow him on Twitter at @aarontsantos.

[1] <cough> Caleb sucks <cough>3
[2] It could be substantially larger if contains large pictures.
[3] Just kidding.4
[4] No, I'm not.5
[5] No, just kidding again. I wuv u Cublub.

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