Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Wisdom of Crowds = Collective Intelligence

I am nearing the end of 'The Wisdom of Crowds' by James Surowiecki, and this morning I came across a great post by Kathy Sierra on the Dumbness of Crowds. She doesn't disagree with Surowiecki, but she does point out the mis-perception that many people have about what the wisdom of crowds really means. (ie. Read the book, don't just quote the title).

In what is potentially the most misleading book/idea title in the history of the world, the "Crowds" in "The Wisdom of Crowds" was never meant to mean "mobs", "groups acting as one", "committees", "consensus" or even "high collaboration"

This becomes very important today with Web 2.0 because giving power to the community (the crowds) is a key tenant of its makeup. Letting the community make decision. But community consensus does not equal collective intelligence. Kathy posts a number of great examples to highlight the different between collective intelligence vs 'the dumbness of crowds'.

"Collective intelligence" is a pile of people writing Amazon book reviews.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is a pile of people collaborating on a wiki to collectively author a book.

"Collective Intelligence" is all the photos on Flickr, taken by individuals on their own, and the new ideas created from that pool of photos

"Dumbness of Crowds" is expecting a group of people to create and edit a photo together.

"Collective Intelligence" is about getting input and ideas from many different people and perspectives.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is blindly averaging the input of many different people, and expecting a breakthrough.

She goes on to say:
It's the sharp edges, gaps, and differences in individual knowledge that make the wisdom of crowds work, yet the trendy (and misinterpreted) vision of Web 2.0 is just the opposite--get us all collaborating and communicating and conversing all together as one big happy collaborating, communicating, conversing thing until our individual differences become superficial.

The entire discussion is extremely relevant in our current environment of web 2.0 tools. Its important to make sure that the tools make their best effort to harness collective intelligence instead of creating a large group decision acting together as a single entity.

If the Wisdom of crowds is relevant or potentially relevant to your business read/listen to the book closely - it will make you think.

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