Collective Intelligence

This morning on the Federal Web 2.0 Virtual Webinar – The Rise of NOAA’s Goverati – different aspects and benefits of social networking were considered. At one point, the notion of “collective output” or “combined input” was mentioned. I did a little research on “collective intelligence” and found some sources on the subject including “The Wisdom of Crowds” which mentions Sir Francis Galton’s (half cousin of Darwin) “surprise that the crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged (the average was closer to the ox’s true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members, and also closer than any of the separate estimates made by cattle experts)” (wiki page).

I found this to be particularly interesting in the context of Twitter. Obviously, Twitter as a site is only as rich as the collective output that is poured into it. And I believe it lives up to the adage “you only get out what you put in” in the truest sense of the phase. My organization, Computech, started a Twitter site because we found the benefits pretty indisputable – better conversations with others in our niche and the industry as a whole, a way to keep abreast of all of the rapid fire daily news – just to name a few.

But when I think about Twitter being a resource to collectively get a better result, what I am starting to see is while Twitter has capabilities being dreamed up in every possible way – the way that it will offer the greatest contribution – will result from what people do with it above and beyond their tweets. In other words, the organizations – or grass roots initiatives – or even just thought leadership with action that will be spurred from it. In my mind, this is where the fruit is.

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Allen Sheaprd

Good article. The use of consensus by the people has been overlooked.
In Project management when trying to figure out how long a project will take they ask everyone to guess. The high and low values are then thrown out and people guess again untill some average is arrived at. Yes this is how its done.

Now that was using professionals – but as your example shows it works for average person as well. Best example is FAA on 9/11 getting all the planes down safely. After several months of study the FAA concluded they can not come up with better procedures.

Recent example – flooding in Fargo ND. Hudreds of volunteers without plans and little provisions are constructing a flood wall. Its amazing to watch. They move like ants.


Al Dominick

I heard a twist on the saying “you only out what you put in” in terms of data modeling: the adage being “garbage in, garbage out.” The same principal applies with social media. The more time, effort, and creativity you put into a post, tweet, or comment, the richer the exchange between members. The flippant, ignorant, or half-baked idea adds little but spam to an otherwise crowded information exchange. I agree with Allen above: Good article!

Wayne Eddy

I think an application that harnesses the power of collective intelligence could be the next big thing, but I don’t think twitter will be that application. If someone can develop an application that responds to a question by referring it to pool of people known to be on-line, averaging their answers & checking the consensus answer against a knowledge base before responding, that will be collective intelligence in action. It might also be the first step along the road to a technological singularity, but that’s another story.

Allen Sheaprd


I agree that twitter would not be the answer as it imparts far too little information.
If the answer could be derived from the facts then the future is fortold. The same facts will always generate the same answer.
If knowledge is ever increasing woulden’t wikipedia be the medium?
If wisdom and invention are the goal then might we become spokes on a hub? Each adding their part to a larger whole?

If this is ever invented I hope it is used to create ethics. Inventing things is not the problem – it is using them. Inventing new finacial derrivitives (sp?) was easy – using them is what got us into the finacial mess. Even Allan Greenspan admits “Though we learn our lesson – others will forget it. Others will have this conversation again.”

BTW Forbes Magazine talks of the new CEO – “Chief Ethics Officers: Who Needs Them?”
Source: http://www.forbes.com/2006/10/23/leadership-ethics-hp-lead-govern-cx_hc_1023ethics.html

The problem is not in invention, the problem is in user – IMO

Allen Sheaprd


“Above and beyond” When you are flying high, above the rest there aren’t many around but you are in good company. Just do not poo on those below but help them find the updrafts.

Managers manage, leaders lead, good leaders inspire creating new good leaders.

I really hope the collective intelligence Lauren posted on can help create collective ethics. Enron was a very smart & powerful company brought down by a few bad apples. Ditto for the housing crisis – in my opinion.

Michael Kutch

Good comment Allen. Updrafts is nice example. It goes along with the idea of flows. I am going to use it in my talks on Wednesday. Thank you.

Allen Sheaprd


Hi. Most welcome and thanks for the feed back. For each bird finds their own updraft. Some agaist the hard rock, some over fire others just before the storm or in the wake of technology.

Michael, please thake these thoughts if they help. I guess its part of the collective intelligence. I hope you get to read “Its your ship” Michael Abrashoff. I think yoy might like it.

Best whishes