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Modern Day Examples of Collective Intelligence

written by: George Garza•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 7/21/2010

Collective intelligence is the ability and capacity of a group of individuals to use collaboration in a way that yields outcomes that surprise even the group members. A team, by leveraging the combined wisdom of its group, can generate novel solutions that are not traceable back to anyone.

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    Example 1: Social Networking - Twitter and Facebook

    Dating was an early form of social networking. However, now you can get to know someone without even meeting them. You can learnWikimedia, Social Networking by Koreshky  their likes and dislikes, even how they even spend their day.

    Twitter and Facebook, two commonly used programs, allow people to have and share an experience. When these programs were first put together, they were to keep up with friends' current daily occurrences. It turned out that even strangers could be drawn in and share their own pieces of their life as well. This was a "surprise" to even the inventors of the programs. Are people nosy, or curious, or enthralled? Collectively, the experiences shared from reviewing a book, or movie, or restaurant can influence others in a personal way that is not expected.

    See Also: Social Networking: Balancing Business Benefits Against Business Risks

    Image Credit: Wikimedia, Social Networking by Koreshky

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    Example 2: Google and Yahoo - Search Engines

    Google takes the collective knowledge created by millions of people who are separately making websites for other purposes. It then harnesses that collective knowledge to produce intelligent answers to the questions you seek. Google is the ultimate mentor.

    When Google and Yahoo first began to search the Web, they were producing results based only on what websites had the names listed in the search query. Later their algorithms changed to look for the words within the context of the web page. So collectively, they were able to trace the answer, not to the topic of the website, but to the content.

    See also: Software & Online Tools for Virtual Team Collaboration

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    Example 3: Wikipedia

    Years ago, encyclopedias were weighty objects written by scholars in their fields. However, Wikipedia came along and had volunteers write articles online that could not fit into the mold of the traditional encyclopedia. It would be difficult to produce a timely encyclopedia article on CPUs and motherboards, since even if included in an encyclopedia, that article might have to wait ten years to be printed.

    Encyclopedias are not reprinted as new editions very frequently. However, new articles can appear daily on Wikipedia. They are reviewed for accuracy, timeliness, and objectivity. The collective knowledge of random readers can contribute to the article and produce a valued piece of work.

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    Example 4: The Eradication of Smallpox

    One of the most salient pieces of collective intelligence was the eradication of smallpox. A campaign to eradicate the disease in Africa and Asia began in 1967 by the World Health Organization (WHO). When an outbreak would occur, usually 20-40% of the infected persons would die. WHO set out to vaccinate as many of the people in those countries as possible.

    In one episode, Nigeria had a breakout and the WHO workers did not have enough vaccines to treat all the population. Their new plan was to contain the disease to the villages and treat the people there with the vaccination. This worked. Instead of trying to vaccinate all, they chose selective and containment vaccination. This type of cooperation worked because the field workers knew what type of exposure could be handled with even a lack of vaccination supplies.

    Source: Collective Intelligence: The Eradication of Smallpox

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    To have collective intelligence, several features must be present. There must be openness; this is exemplified by Twitter and Facebook, where the participants learn about one another. There must be peering, where users are free to modify and change documents, as done with Wikipedia. There must be sharing of information, which is what Google and Yahoo have allowed. Finally, there must be the ability to act globally, as in the case of the World Health Organization's efforts to end smallpox. We have seen four examples of collective intelligence: Twitter and Facebook, Wikipedia, Google and Yahoo, and the World Health Organization.

    Source: Wapedia at

    Source: Handbook of Collective Intelligence