What is “Collective Intelligence?”

The phrase suggests “WikiPedia,” where people work to make the world’s largest encyclopedia, for free.

The phrase suggests “,” the first SocialBookmarking / tagging system for the web, where people attach MetaData to web pages. Metadata that, just a year before, people seriously argued nobody would be willing to place.

The phrase suggests bloggers. Several stories last year were ignored by the mainstream media, but carried by the bloggers. What happened? The mainstream media was forced into carrying the stories. One politician noted that, whereas, in the past, politicians had 2 days to put together a response, now they have to respond to news within 2 hours.

What is Collective Intelligence?

What’s common?

By “individuals,” we mean the people tagging with, or keeping blogs. By “small groups,” we mean the small groups that work on Wikipedia articles, and the group blog maintainers.


“Collective Intelligence” means different things to different people, and we’re not really sure we know what the phrase means, exactly. It seems to describe efforts like Wikipedia, like, and like blogs. It seems to do with (1) individuals and (2) small groups (3) working in such a way, so that, (4) taken together, (5) it makes you, (6) or “the system,” smarter.

  1. individuals
  2. small groups
  3. work in a way
  4. taken together
  5. makes you smarter
  6. makes the system smarter

(By “the system,” we’re accounting for how blogs might not necessarily inform you personally, but they do seem to keep the mainstream media in line, and thus contribute to the health of “the system,” or “the GlobalBrain.”)

Note that there’s very little “mass action” here. This does not appear to be about large movements, tons of signatures, pushing bills through, massive ralleys, or massive fundraising.

We’re not saying that those acts are wrong. We just mean: We don’t think those are the things people are talking about when they say: “collective intelligence.” They may be something we could call “central intelligence,” or “political power,” but they do not appear to be: “collective intelligence.”

Instead, collective intelligence seems to be about making individuals very smart. Blogs make you smart when they allow you to track things in such detail that our traditional media systems could never afford to track. Wikipedia teams make you smart when they tell you about whatever you want to know about. tags make you smart when it helps you find what you saw earlier, or lets you know what’s interesting in your field, or helps you find things. All of these things make you, or your small group, “smart.”

The hope, is that lots and lots of people, made “smart,” will, en masse, perform the right actions.

So then the question is: How can we catalyze collective intelligence?

Well, it would seem to start with: individuals and small groups.

Automatically, we can throw out any work that begins with: “Start raising funds to pay for a central office, start collecting signatures, start signing up members.”

Those can be good acts, but they are not what people are generally referring to, when they say: “Collective Intelligence.”

But lets say that you and your small team put together a website. This website lets people start “campaigns.” It helps people find other people who might be interested in joining, it helps people put together invitations, it has information about getting started, it brings intelligence about the laws of campaigning in different states, it helps find the address of your mayor or representative, or whatever, it tracks who’s signed up and who hasn’t and has a trouble ticketing system and all these things.

If you and your small team put together all these things, and then let the public use it for free, and then the public decides to use it, and it’s easy enough and friendly enough, and a lot of people start to use it: THEN, you have contributed to collective intelligence.

You have empowered individuals and small groups to work in a way that, taken together, makes you smarter, makes the system smarter.

Now there’s much more democracy, because you don’t have to have all these funds and assemble all the intelligence yourselves, to run a simple campaign.


See Also



I originally wrote this with a particular audience in mind; I’m not so sure how well my adaption for CommunityWiki works out.

This is very much “not wiki,” since it’s not using the site LinkLanguage, it doesn’t integrate with the site.

So feel free to erase this, or completely rewrite it, or whatever.

I’ll be posting the original, probably to the Evolutionary Nexus wiki, or to my website.

Okay, I just “wikified it” a little bit.

It still feels like it’s way out of place.

Define external redirect: CategoryCollectiveIntelligence GeorgePor


The same page elsewhere: