Collective Intelligence and the paradigm change of collaboration

Posted: October 26, 2010 in Digital and New Media, Public Relations, Uncategorized

Collective intelligence and the paradigm change of collaboration

“The use of collective intelligence to personalize a site for a user, to aid him in searching and making decisions, and to make the application more sticky are cherished goals that web applications try to fulfill” – Satnam Alag

The network architecture of the World Wide Web enables us to interact globally without being restricted by space and time. In the ether of the web “every form of organization is a network” (Flew, 2008; 80). The obvious benefits of sharing information and communicating with users that become contributors are collective learning, synergy, increased productivity and time savings.

The first one to coin the term Collective Intelligence was Pierre Lévy when he described the potential of the networks to “enhance the collective pool of social knowledge” (Flew, 2008; 21).

The following definitions are useful in understanding the concept:

“A form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills” – Pierre Lévy (1997)

Satnam Alag concludes that “intelligence that’s extracted out from the collective set of interactions and contributions made by your users” forms Collective Intelligence.

Lévy elaborates that there are three ways in which information technologies (and in turn new media) can increase the amount of knowledge in the global networks:

  • By facilitating interaction among people
  • By creating and allowing deep and wide databases
  • By promoting participation

In my opinion an important level that is missing is filtering, but that will be discussed in the last part of this post.

How does it change the way we work?

All types of industries have realized that the biggest value of the world-wide connectivity is not the access to information as such, but the collaboration which is now possible. Whether we look at the use of collective intelligence in research & development and production of industrial companies that push “in-house collaboration” or sales departments that further engage in the dialogue with their customers, virtually every branch of the business world is affected and changing.

Examples range from a to z, virtually any profession is subject to change, if people embrace it and take the opportunities that the new media age has given them. The following scenarios are either already reality or will be in the nearest future:

  • Public Relations and Journalism were the first industries heavily affected by new media. Since the everyday man and woman could start broadcasting and news writing, as well as critiquing. While traditional journalism has taken switched from time-zone based to 24-7 around the clock information, public relations have increased heavily and media release-based stories have overtaken “normal” journalism stories. Public relations feed the otherwise skeptical journalists with the majority of stories because they embrace the new mediums more than traditional journalists can.
  • Marketing and Advertising take collective intelligence to another level in their profession: Not only has the profession once known for the individuality of the agencies offering their services changed into a full-service landscape with a handful of multinational conglomerates controlling the major clients of the world – but now customers are being integrated into the advertising concept process. Obviously customer feedback, generated in social media is not sufficient enough and the next step includes the customer into the actual planning and pitching process. A recent example for this is, or the Benetton campaign ”It´s my time”.
  • Digital Services: McAfee is one of the leading developers of internet security and antivirus software. Since cyber criminality and development of digital threats have increased heavily in recent years, companies have had trouble keeping up with the designers of those threats. McAfee uses an approach of Collective Intelligence, as it combines data from numerous researchers, competitor companies and freelancers, to always be up to date with the most recent threats.  (see image)

To this list we could add multiple examples more, but I think the idea is clear. What is not clear is how all of these new collaborations will be used, further developed or even limited in the future.

Implications for the future

While the information technologies have erased boundaries of time and space, the only thing that is still slowing down productivity and efficiency are locally-bound offices and colleagues in the same building. Not only multi-national companies can increase workflow and productivity around the globe at any time, any person with a decent connectivity can set up a business with colleagues on other continents to collaborate and be extremely efficient.

Rather than excluding people and companies seen as competitors the new collaboration partners help progress together in order to meet the increasing market demands or strong competition all around the world. After keeping knowledge, information and resources to themselves, companies realize the need to share in order to gain access to other resources and so forth.


What I think is missing in all of these notions about collective intelligence or global access to unlimited information is the question of filtering. Who will filter the accumulated information? Who will be the gatekeepers? Or will the crowd self-regulate what is important and what is not? Satnam Alag describes Collective Intelligence and all of its potential but still raised the question of “the use of this intelligence to act as a filter for what’s valuable” (2008;). I think that the biggest challenge in terms of all new media or information technology-related business practices will be the application of laws and regulations to them, since every form of information technology-related business has to be regulated. Global collaboration is one of the biggest achievements of the new media, but the question of ownership, payments, transaction costs etc. have all to be addressed. The problem is that laws which have been created for the non-digital world do not apply and that the jurisdictions have trouble keeping up with the latest developments. And leaving filtering and decision-making on valuable information to the crowd might work in non-commercial or creative environments, but in terms of business – and online business is money more than ever – it has to be addressed in a formal matter, which will always be one step behind, but hopefully not too far.

Related articles:


  • Alag, S. (2008). Collective Intelligence in Action. Manning Publication: USA.
  • Flew, T. (2008). New media. An introduction. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Lévy, P. (1997). Collective Intelligence: Makind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace. Plenum Trade: New York, USA.
  • O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. accessed October 26, 2010 22:10

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