I’m a huge fan of both distributed computing networks, which allow users to contribute their unused PC capacity directly to a cause they believe in, and online social networking sites, which allow users to learn about the niche content they love from other users just like them.
To me, a service like the new Clean Energy Project from IBM and Harvard University, which leverages the computing power of potentially thousands of computers to come up with a cheap, flexible solution for creating solar power, demonstrates the power of the Internet at its best.
Thanks to Facebook, online social networks are firmly entrenched in the online mainstream. But distributed computing networks — which, frankly have much more value to society — remain “for geeks only” despite their generally low barrier of entry, which usually consists of downloading a piece of software and letting it run in the background.
I’d love to see someone create a service that makes distributed computing networks easy to find and manage, fun to understand and somewhat competitive.
What I envision is a social networking site that aggregates and parks distributed network software within a Facebook-like community where users can discuss the latest news and innovations about the issue their network is working to solve and monitor the progress of the network — after all, the whole point of a distributed computing network is to run analysis to solve complex problems.
The site could also include a running scoreboard showing its most popular networks and a “Hall of Fame” of networks that have actually solved their problem.
This type of information trading, coupled with a mildly competitive gaming process, could push distributed computer networks into the mainstream and help solve some of the world’s more complex problems at the same time.