I found an interesting post a while back on the concept of cognitive surplus. The core of this post was basically a reference to a video which I will place here:
It does make you wonder about the future. Indeed, there are many small projects that carve out cognitive surplus, and the question then becomes how do you engage people to give some of their cognitive surplus to your project.
What I also wonder is how much this is a chicken-egg situation. After all, if you look at social sites, that carve out a part of the cognitive surplus (Though albeit somewhat mindlessly) they mostly operate on the possibiity to meet other people and thus require enough people to take off. A critical mass of sorts is required to launch such systems.
But even when we look away from those types of sites to sites that provide more useful information, they nonetheless require a critical mass to ensure that the amount of information found is large enough to attract people to contribute themselves.
The question then becomes on how to attract the early adopters as to create the required critical mass to make it of interest to the public, as well as how big the critical mass is for a given system.
I presume that earlier adopters are probably reached more easily if the interface of the web-application is intuitive, innovative and interesting. And obviously, that the problem you’re trying to address is something of relevance to the user.