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Uploaded on November 22, 2009 by riacale

Even though I had established distributed cognition as a lense through which to study microblogs (see previous entry) and their ability to increase learning and, therefore, performance, I still felt that I was missing something. I felt like I still did not thoroughly capture the “borg brain” phenomenon that I felt microblogs assisted us with and I felt that this was in fact the greatest benefit that microblogs offered: the ability to peer into each other’s minds because this feature allows us to be so much greater than ourselves individually. Therefore, my research led me to explore the notion of collective intelligence.

Is Collaboration Part of Collective Intelligence?

As I explored the definition, I wondered whether the concept meant that groups collaborate and act together, or that individuals belong to a group that they can tap into for assistance but work independently for the  most part. Therefore my question was: how much group interaction does there have to be to consider something as collaborative intelligence? This is an important question because with the use of microblogs, the whole community never really interacts as a collective; instead interactivity is usually between two or more individuals sporadically.

Examples of Collective Intelligence

I learn by examples, so I found some: In one example, collective intelligence was applied to Wikipedia. I can see why Wikipedia would be considered collective intelligence because many contribute to the same topics result in the emergence of the best information–the collective intelligence. However, in this example, the authors of Wikipedia do not directly interact, but they are contributing to the same goal=the creation of Wikipedia. Another example is online games, but in this case participants interact individually and collectively.

Can Microblogs Help with Collective Intelligence?

After much research, I discovered that crowd sourcing is a prime example of collective intelligence. Therefore, my initial reaction was that microblogs can be considered vehicles to assist with collective intelligence because of the way they connect people. Taking advantage of this connectedness can result in collective intelligence. For example, lets say you have a question and ask your Twitter or Yammer followers–many respond, and you have your “collectively” intelligent response. It would be great if it worked this way, and I have read articles online with examples that swear it does, so I tried it.

The Microblog/Twitter, Collective Intelligence / Crowd Sourcing Experiment

I posted a question and waited… and waited… and waited…, so I thought perhaps my questions wasn’t interesting enough so I tried another, and another and waited some more. I tried at different times of the day–still no success. At this point I was feeling like no one was hearing me–like I was shouting into the abyss. Finally, frustrated, I posted a question asking if others felt connected to their twitter communities, and if they interacted with each other. To this question I finally got some responses, and the results were a bit depressing–it wasn’t just me, people told me they hardly ever interacted. Some said answering my question was the most they ever interacted. What was funny and ironic is that I was starting to feel connected, while the people who responded to me were saying they did not.

Microblogs/Twitter Have the Potential for Collective Intelligence, but Need Another Form of Community

What this experiment taught me is that microblogs have the potential to provide collective intelligence, but that we were not there yet. Perhaps it is because you still can’t properly create groups of people who share mutual interests. Sure you can create lists and search by hashmarks but overall you are still viewing one huge system that you are, at best, filtering, which doesn’t bring up groups, it brings up separate streams of conciousness. What I mean by that is: I can search for tweets on collective intelligence, but it is not like what emerges is a community–all I get are separate people’s tweets, some may be following each other but others are not so there is no sense of community. Therefore, community has to be imposed some other way.

Magic Unfolds When You Superimpose Community on Twitter=Yammer

When I had my colleagues all following each other on twitter, we did feel more connected, and it was incredible, but the same does not happen “naturally” on Twitter. So until we can create microblog communities that create connectedness, we won’t get answers to our questions (or most of them anyway), but the minute we enforce another layer of community–such as all people who work together using Twitter/Yammer, we do get answers to our questions. However, once we create a boundary, such as that of employees that work for the same firm, we have excluded the mass community–who, most effectively, can produce the type of collective intelligence, that is truly valuable. After all, crowd sourcing is just that: “crowd” sourcing.

So, my conclusion is that looking at microblogs as a form of collective intelligence is not what I am trying to prove and therefore this is, once again, not part of my research. What I am trying to prove is that microblogs provide a connectedness and a “peering” into each others minds, that allows us to “notice” when there are opportunities to connect and teach/learn and therefore this results in enhanced performance. Ideally, if people ask questions, others would answer, but I posit that even if that never happens, participating in microblogging still has something to offer to each individual participant.

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