Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wisdom of the Crowd, Collective Intelligence, and Collaborative Co-creation

“Wisdom of the crowd” is a great phrase, but we’ve had difficulty really understanding what it means. As mentioned by Ross Mayfield, one way to think about it is to break it up into two halves: “collective intelligence” and “collaborative intelligence”. Voting-style systems exhibit collective intelligence. Google’s page link algorithms involve pages voting for other pages; there are authors behind these pages, so implicitly there are people voting for people or people voting on content. Those are aspects of what you might call “collective intelligence.” It involves the averaging of opinions. I think a less buzzy term for it is "collective averaging".

At the other end, we have "collaborative intelligence", in which we see content production being produced in a kind of divide-and-conquer environments. Ross Mayfield said on his blog that the Wiki style of wisdom of the crowd was more “collaborative intelligence” than collective intelligence. For example, the group of people who are experts on World War II tanks will write that part of Wikipedia; the group of people who are experts on politics in Eastern Europe at the end of World War II will write those articles. So there is an implicit self-organization according to interest and intention. It’s not everybody voting on the same thing—it’s everybody collaborating on different areas to result in something, so that the sum of the parts is greater than the parts themselves. That seems to be at the spirit of this kind of collaborative intelligence.

I don’t really like the term “collaborative intelligence”—it sounds too buzzy—so we tend to call it “collaborative co-creation” instead. It is a very interesting production method. There is a lot of research now on, for example, the open source movement—how it’s a collaborative co-creation mechanism, how successful it is, what’s wrong with it, etc.

Wikipedia probably the most interesting collaborative co-creation system right now, and it is unique in the sense that it is all-encompassing; its net has been cast very wide and it has been able to succeed because of that. There is a little bit of a success-breeds-success phenomenon going on there with the feedback cycle.

This feedback cycle is the part we’re really interested in understanding, because coordination is at the heart of collaborative creation. We want to understand how people are coordinating with one another through either self-organizing mechanisms or through explicit organizing mechanisms; we want to understand the principles by which those things happen in these environments but not in other environments.

6 comments:

Alex said...

I think that maybe it is easier to understand both "wisdom of the crowd" and collective intelligence (I prefer the latter term) as a phenomenon involving two components: innovation and selection. Averaging is just one way to perform selection if you have to select from an infinite set of continuous values. Frequency counting is a way to select among a finite set of discrete values. From this point of view Wikipedia is not that much different from any other collective intelligence technique. I think there is no need to introduce other terms.

Ed H. Chi said...

I think you're right in that the terms don't really make much of difference. Introduction of new terms are not necessary when one term can encompass both meanings. What's interesting perhaps is that the process behind various collaboration mechanisms are really different, even if they perform conceptually similar functions. That's what is at the heart of our research.

kevin jones said...

i've noticed i enjoy reading your blog in my rss reader rather than on the web, because my reader doesn't make me read white type on a black background. i come to the web only when the excerpt from the reader is done and the experience is not as pleasurable because of how hard the contrast is.

Ed H. Chi said...

kevin: I changed the font to be a bit darker, from #cccccc to #999999. Let me know if this is easier on your eye.

Tom said...

You might want to check out our site http://www.redesignme.com
A growing community of product co-creators that are paid by companies by means of online currency.

Ed H. Chi said...

Tom: Very interesting site indeed. It seems like you have some traction and people are interested in engaging in conversations about design. I applaud your effort to make design a cultural conversation