The Wisdom of Wikis

    June 19, 2007

Julian distinguishes between Wisdom of Crowds and what you could call the Wisdom of Wikis:

I had the great privilege of hosting the London Wiki Wednesday last week (June 6) and in amongst the animated conversation I made the mistake of associating the Wisdom of Crowds with wikis. Andrew Hardie, a fellow attendee, set me straight by saying:

The basic tenets of the Wisdom of Crowds are:

  • Diversity of opinion: Each person should have private information even if it’s just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
  • Independence: People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.
  • Decentralization: People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
  • Aggregation: Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

The point being that with wikis participants are collaborating.  The intelligence that emerges is different from people providing opinions aside from each other.  I tried to illustrate this in the Power Law of Participation, as the difference between Collective Intelligence and Collaborative Intelligence:

Power Law of Participation

I view Collaborative Intelligence, or the Wisdom of Wikis, as a higher order.  Similar to the difference between an opinion poll on if we should withdraw from Iraq and deliberative polling on the same question.  When people face each other with their opinions, in moderation, the result that emerges is more often than not different from the opinion they came with.  I first encountered deliberative polling via Joi:

Had dinner tonight with Lawrence Lessig to talk about emergent democracy and other things. Larry pointed out some interesting work called deliberative polling being done by Professor James S. Fishkin. Since polling forces people to vote on something they don’t really know too much, the data may be statistically accurate, but is not necessarily the best way to promote a democratic system. Deliberative polling takes a diverse group of people, forces them to discuss the issues in small group, in large groups, small groups, over and over again for a fairly lengthy process until everyone has a pretty good idea of the issues and a balanced and educated position. Polls are conducted through the process to track how people’s opinions change. Afterwards, many of the people who have participated become much more active citizens. I think that this is similar to the emergent democracy idea that we have. Maybe we can try to do this deliberative polling using the online tools that we have.

Right now we are fascinated by the Wisdom of Crowds that emerges from low threshold participation in Digg-like tools.  Maybe that’s all we have time for.  But there is far more opportunity over the long term for new tools that serve the core of a social network, and scaled laboratories such as Wikipedia to explore the Wisdom of Wikis.  Wikis themselves, to answer a question from Julian, could use more threshold activities, such as Favoriting in Socialtext, but there is more we could do to turn weak signals into strong signposts.