Distributed Wayfinding

Earlier this year, Metafilter spawned a new creation called ask Metafilter. It allows you to tap the collective wisdom of Metafilter's 17,000 members to answer questions you can't find an answer to on your own.

Google is great, but sometimes it comes up short. It usually requires you to know enough about what you're looking for to come up with a decent query. That can be a problem. For example, a few weeks ago, I wanted to buy some Bristle Blocks for an assignment in studio. Trouble was, back when I played with them as a kid, I had no idea that's what they were called. I explained my problem, and within seven minutes, someone posted an answer. Trivial, yes. But helpful to me.

Today though... WOW. I found out just how powerful this thing is. For my thesis, I'm studying wayfinding differences between Europe and America. One aspect of this is city layout. I had read that Paris was built on a radial plan, and New York on a strict grid, but that was about all I knew. So I asked for some help. The response goes FAR beyond anything I was envisioning. The members of Metafilter have absolutely latched onto this topic. Books, maps, websites, newsgroups. It's really beautiful.

I spent about three hours in the library tracking down the books they've recommended. I could probably have stumbled across some of this information on my own, but their personal observations are impossible to recreate. People know a lot about where they live, and Metafilter's members live all over the world. Whether it's a complaint about the organic complexity of Mumbai, or praise about the gridded regularity of Phoenix, it shows the world outside Pittsburgh with a clarity that's impossible to capture in a book.

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