It’s often more interesteing to know what a group thinks rather than what individuals think. Statements made by a group have more weight. But, how can a group “speak” ? There have been several solutions:

There are many forms of collective speech; and it is an essential part of OrganizedCulture. It is also a way to reduce InformationOverload - it’s generally impossible to go through what every member of a group says.

Think of how often people have to add a disclaimer to things they write - “this is only my personal opinion, it does not represent a statement from my political party/company”.

Contrast with collective decision making

“Collective speech” is different from GroupDecisionMaking - it’s more about making a statement of position than making a decision (It’s the “talk” part in ThinkTalkAct - the “think” may be CollectiveIntelligence). We are concerned as to whether the statement represents the position as the group as a whole, whereas in decision making we’re wondering whether the decision is the best.

Some interaction between the two:


Electing a parliament works well for well-defined groups like nations, or associations with membership. However, some groups - women, jews, non-smokers, geeks, or non-smoking jewish female geeks - have no clear reprentatives or, more often, have many groups claiming to represent them as a whole, and to speak in their name. Those groups do serve a real purpose, since they will often be listening to what those they represent say, and will concentrate and broadcast that. But they also often claim to represent a larger group than those they’re listening to (think of feminists and women, or the religious right and christians).

The Internet is also changing the nature and usefulness of representative groups.

For online communities

Things get easer with small groups and high technology. For example, we have our own CommunityWikiBlog :)

Some communities have a collective blog that aggregates many individual user’s blogs (For example, - there are many other “planets”); this is a better way of knowing what a group is thinking/talking about than just dropping by at random in their forums; since it specifically collects entries about a specific topic, and is supposed to be somewhat inclusive.



(Err, maybe there’s already something about this somewhere ?)

No, I think you’ve found a critical page! It’s great!

Do you have any links supporting ”…“Those in power” are generally expected to take poll results into account, which is why some game companies making MMORPGs deliberately avoid polling their users - it would force them to act accordingly.” ..?

Not saying it’s not true; Just thinking: “Wow, what an interesting idea; That’d be a much more powerful point if I had a link to support it.” Because it’s something I’d like to repeat to people, and I’d like to give them a link about it. :)

Er, another of those “I read it somewhere on the ‘net and don’t remember where” :P, I’ll see if I can find it again.

Can’t find anything right now - I wish I had a link for that one too. I think it was about WorldOfWarcraft, but I’m not sure. It was either “they don’t do polls”, or “they do polls or collect statistics, but keep the results private”, and I was thinking “Hey, that makes sense, I never thought about it that way” - if you’re going to do something most of your users disagree with (you may want to do it for profir, for game balance, for technical convenience …), it’s better in terms of reputation / complaining users not to poll them about it. So it makes perfect sense, and it’s also the kind of thing totalitarian countries would do (There are probably quite a few topics the Chinese government wouldn’t want the population to be polled about - though it may itself collect that information and keep it secret).

(I modified the paragraph saying there’s no source for that)

If you get nitpicky, you can’t nail down a distinction between CollectiveSpeech and GroupDecisionMaking. Any decision can be seen as “speech”, and conversely any choice of what a group says can be seen as a “decision”. The decisions of the stock market could be considered to be “speech”, and the choice of how to assign percentages to poll options could be considered a “group decision”.

However, if you interpret those words in the normal fashion, then I agree that the poll isn’t a group decision, and the stock market isn’t speech. But then I’m not sure if the poll is “collective speech” either; people might answer the poll without an intent to “speak”. For instance, if 80% of Republicans polled in a scientific study claim to enjoy sex, I would find it misleading for someone to claim, “The Republicans have spoken! They say like sex!”. Or if some reporter calls up a bunch of Republicans and polls them, and 80% of Republicans polled said they think that Democrats tend to lie, again it would be misleading for someone to claim, “The Republicans have spoken! They’re calling the Democrats liers!”.

The difference is that, if a group of people “speaks” statement A, this often implies a little more than A. In the sex example, a listener would interpret “The Republicans have spoken; they say they like sex” as “Republicans like sex, and they want to tell me about it”. In the liers example, a listener would interpret the statement not just as “In the depths of their heart, Republicans don’t trust what Democrats say”, but rather as, ”Republicans are accusing the Democrats of lying – they want to make a big stink about it”.

It wouldn’t be fair to go up to one of the Republicans who took that poll and say, “Could you please reserve the public sphere for conversations more important than ‘I enjoy sex’” or “You can think what you want of other people’s opinions, but you have no grounds to publically accuse the Dems of being liers unless you have some evidence!”.

But if the Republican party issued a press release saying, “We, the Republican party, enjoy sex”, or “We think the Democrats are liers”, then those reactions would be appropriate.

Therefore, I think a speech act, narrowly construed, involves an intent to speak. If you answer a poll, you might just think, “Okay, I’ll be nice and answer this question so as to help the person who is asking me learn more, but I don’t really intend to make some grand public statement”.

Some polls do constitute a speech act, though; for instance, referendums. The distinction is fuzzy; some polls are presented as, “Hi, sorry to bother you on the phone, but we’re just some quiet, curious researchers, and we’d really like if you could help us out and give us 5 minutes of your time and answer a few questions, please?”, and others are presented as, “If you want to MAKE YOURSELF HEARD, go to this website and VOTE!!”. Most polls are probably perceived differently by different participants.

OK, anyhow, about stuff like ParliamentaryProcedure; I think that lies in the intersection of CollectiveSpeech and GroupDecisionMaking. In ParliamentaryProcedure, all of the decisions of the group are expressed as resolutions, which are CollectiveSpeech; and all CollectiveSpeech has gone through a group decision-making process.

So, interpreted narrowly, CollectiveSpeech and GroupDecisionMaking are separate things, but there are a lot of processes that are both CollectiveSpeech and GroupDecisionMaking.

I agree that the decision / speech thing is pretty blurry. I think the difference is relevant when we’re talking about systems that are good at representing what the people think/say as opposed to deciding what’s the best thing to do.

And yeah, there is this difference between deliberate speech (for example, our CommunityWikiBlog, or statements by Greenpeace), and polling or just nosing around on forums seeing what people are talking about. It gets awfully messy, trying to distinguish:

  • What people think
  • What people want to say
  • What people decide to do
  • What’s true

… especially when there are contradictions among these. Maybe some people vote left-wing but prefer to live in conservative towns. Or organizations that hold extreme views but make moderate / appeasing statements in order not to damage their image. Or, think about the creationism-evolution conflicts as to what of the above Children should be taught ?

Nitpicking on this is useful, I felt quite unsure of what I was writing earlier on.

Hmm, good points. Maybe there are three things:

  • CollectiveOpinion?: the most general; includes the other two. Any method for estimating, predicting, or finding out what people think is included.
  • CollectiveSpeech: What people want to say. Does not includes instances like some forms of polls in which opinion is being surveyed, but there is no intent to “speak”. Does not include the stock market. Includes referendums, legislation, press releases, wiki.
  • GroupDecisionMaking: When a group makes a decision. Acting, not “just talking”. Includes the stock market as well as legislation. Does not include polls.

There is overlap between the last two:

  • Sometimes a decision may be “speech-like” (for example, legislation).
  • Sometimes even when speech is “just talking” speech, it may be produced by a GroupDecisionMaking process (imagine using Robert’s Rules to collaboratively write a story)

A big gray area is, when is a speech-production process a GroupDecisionMaking process? Is collaborative writing on a wiki an example of GroupDecisionMaking? I would say that, to get nitpicky it always is, but in the plain sense of the word, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. ThreadMode usually isn’t, DocumentMode usually is.

Hmm, something that should also be developped is the importance of a group talking to itself. Reading about the History of "Planet" got me thinking about that - often a manifesto is as much to talk to the people “inside” (who would supposedly rally behind it) as to the people outside.

The distinction between a group broadcasting it’s ideas to the world and a group “talking to itself” is thin. Consider someone who writes a manifesto about Flurbing, which a lot of people rally behind - they start calling themselves “flurbers”. The manifesto can also be seen as a “creation” of that community - maybe hundreds of people wrote manifestos about “florbing” and “blurbing”, but only one of them really struck a chord and resonnated accross the world.

Hmm, I feel like I’m sliding into CriticalTheory. (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m just not equipped with a lot of tools from aroun there.)

Anyway, manifestos. “Planets” made me think of that, because it’s of a similar nature - it helps define the community. It’s halfway in and halfway out.


Define external redirect: CollectiveOpinion

EditNearLinks: FreeSoftware WorldOfWarcraft DocumentMode AdvoGato PeerReview