James Surowiecki on social intelligence

If you have any interest at all in social networking and crowd intelligence I highly recommend reading The Wisdom of the Crowds by James Surowiecki. It’s a great book, and I think it will eventually be regarded as a seminal work in realm of social network intelligence.

Recently, I came across a TED talk that James gave in 2005 following the famous tsunami that hit near Sri Lanka:

What follows is an outline of the thoughts and questions this talk provoked in my mind.

The upside of the social web

  • Blogs and social networks are filling an important role in telling the real story following a disasters.
  • Can social networks be used to assess risk and forecast disaster?
  • Blogs and social networks are accessing a previously untapped form of collective intelligence.
  • Social networks are driven by the power of voluntary cooperation.
  • A striking economic irrationality exists with blogging. Most do it for free. How can the internet do such a good job of distributing information resources without the aid of a conventional currency? Is this a new economic model?
  • What is the value of reputational capital? Can it be priced? Traded? Borrowed against?
  • Groups of people consistently make better guesses than individuals. How can groups be used in forecasting?
  • How useful are blog comments as a crowd intelligence tool?
  • What effect do networks have on the behavior of investors, policyholders, financial institutions?
  • Can the stock market guide us in analyzing social network activity?

The downside to the social web

  • The more tightly linked we become, the harder it is to maintain independence.
  • The meme problem: Networks begin to shape your views by driving attention to things the network values. Memes can drive your personal decisions. Memes create dependence. Groups are only smart when members are highly independent.
  • Don’t be like ants, who sometimes get stuck in a “follow the one in front of me” mode. Don’t march in a circle. Don’t stop diversifying out of your existing network.

Feel free to share your own thoughts and questions in the comments.


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