Community Intelligence

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by: Jennifer Rice

I've been thinking a lot on community intelligence and co-creation, and a number of stories have caught my eye recently:

A couple days ago,  Reveries had a great article on the 3 stages of evolution in search.

"You can look at the evolution of search as a play in three acts," says Jeff Weiner, Yahoo’s vp of search and marketing, as quoted by James Fallows in The New York Times (11/6/05).

  1. Act One is the ‘public’ web, where if different people type the same query they’ll get the same results.
  2. Act Two is searching for whatever you’ve filed in your own hard drive.
  3. Act Three  is “social” or “community” searching, where the results are improved based on the successes of other people’s searches for the same information.

It's basically search + human intelligence. Cool stuff. Perhaps Yahoo will start giving Google a run for its money. Then this morning I came across an old but very interesting post on IFTF's Future Now blog that discusses

"whether peer-to-peer networks and other tools that facilitate "peer production" (to use Benkler's term) could help create a new role for amateurs as active contributors to science.  

The great example is NASA Clickworkers (no longer active, but described in articles in American Scientist,, BBC Tech, and elsewhere) a system that allowed volunteers to do routine analysis of Martian landscapes. The results were pretty good, and as Benkler put it, showed "how complex professional tasks that required budgeting the full time salaries of a number of highly trained individuals can be reorganized so as to be performed by tens of thousands of volunteers." (Benkler, "Coase's Penguin," 16)"

Businesses of all sizes are beginning to apply the power of community intelligence. @Last Software, a new client of mine, has incredibly active forums on their web site that enable users to showcase their designs using @Last's 3D design software, solicit feedback, get tips and tricks from other users, submit Ruby scripts for enhanced functionality, share custom-designed components and more. This loyal community of 'volunteer employees' adds value and reduces the workload for customer service and product development. LegoFactory is another great exampleof community intelligence and co-creation that I've talked about before.

I think there's a certain amount of fear among executives about this idea. I once recommended The Wisdom of Crowds to an investor client of mine, and he had such a hard time with the core premise that he put down the book in the second chapter. How could thousands or millions of untrained people come up with a solution that's equal to (or better than) the experts? But it happens every day.  The most recent data point is the finding that Wikipedia is as accurate as Encyclopedia Brittanica on science topics. (from

Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three.

Of eight "serious errors" the reviewers found — including misinterpretations of important concepts — four came from each source, the journal reported.

Unlike Britannica, which charges for its content and pays a staff of experts to research and write its articles, Wikipedia gives away its content for free and allows anyone — amateur or professional, expert or novice — to submit and edit entries.

If millions of unpaid volunteers can create  accurate content, provide tech support, write programs that improve the value of a product, enable cost-efficient scientific analysis and improve web search… where does that leave companies? You might consider thinking of your business as a facilitator instead of an all-knowing entity that must retain control over every aspect of the business.

Just a thought.

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