In his book, Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins writes that, "None of us can know everything; each of us knows something; and we we can put the pieces together if we pool our resouces and combine our skills." (Jenkins 4) By pooling together knowledge from several different sources we achieve so-called collective intelligence. Wikipedia, as well as our own MiddMediawiki, are examples of products of collective intelligence. Collective intelligence occurs in our Convergence Culture where information is transferred between multiple media forms, between different people and across multiple industries. Collective intelligence often entails an interactive, participatory rather than a passive media culture, where users are engaging actively with each other and the material.
One example of collective intelligence is the Survivor spoiler  sites that fans developed around the popular television show. Together, they collaberated by drawing from each individual contributor's expertise until they were ultimately able to gather an astonishing amount of top-secret information about the show. As Jenkins notes, spoiler communities "are held together through the mutual production and reciprocal exchange of knowledge." (Jenkins 27)
Another example is 42 Entertainment's Why I love Bees project. Why I love bees is a "web-based interactive fiction that used websites, blogs, emails, jpegs, Mp3 recordings, and other digital artifacts to create an immersive back-story for Microsoft’s sci-fi shooter videogame Halo 2." This project is an excellent example of collective intelligence because it allowed for the construction of a hive mentality among the project's widely varied participants. Virtually all participants, from the mathematician and the computer geek to the guy who just happened to live near the designated phone booth, were able to make valued contributions to the construction of the fragmented narrative. As the project lead writer Sean Stewart stated “instead of telling a story, we would present the evidence of that story, and let the players tell it to themselves.”
The term,collective intelligence, originated with prominent scholar, Pierre Lévy. He proposed that “we are passing from the Cartesian cogito”—I think, therefore I am—“to cogitamus”—we think, therefore we are." He also discussed the notion of collective intelligence as exercised through the Internet. Lévy called on-line communities using collective intelligence "knowledge communities" and he argued that the big business fear that such communities will interfere with commerce are failing to see the long-term positive effects of this development, arguing that as we begin to share more and more information we will also inevitably share ideas of what commodities to circulate/purchase etc (Jenkins 27).
Collective Intelligence Beyond Entertainment
It is possible to understand collective intelligence as the closest that our society is getting to democracy. People are able to have a voice as individuals while forming part of a broader community that challenges established systems. But if this is the most revolutionary phenomena happening around our political system, why does collective intelligence tend to work in the service of TV shows, games and movies and less around politics, wars, and topics of such sort?
The internet is changing the relationship between the individual and media from one of passivity to one of interactivity. Through the internet, consumers have acquired a medium to actively voice their concerns, which can potentially affect the way entertainment and laws are made. It is a vehicle for the citizens and the consumers to express themselves and affect the policies of the makers, whether they are politicians or entertainment industries.
The drawback of collective intelligence is that it is a model being used more actively to criticize and have a say in the entertainment industry than in politics. Politicians continue to play the role they always have and we can’t say yet that citizens play an active role in the way politics are made. Politics have always been greatly influenced by media. Thus, it is through media that the individuals can express their voice and have an active role within their governments.
Jenkins talks about how advertisers and industries care about what their committed consumers have to say about their products. Will politicians care about what citizens have to say about their decisions? They care about news on them, but what about when people will use collective intelligence to unfold the truth behind laws being passed in the senate? Will politicians listen or shuttered?
An individual alone can’t do much in the internet or standing with a sign in the street. But the internet helps the individual connect with people who share similar points of views and interests, it is easier for people to communicate and gather through the Internet. Now, we have to encourage the use of collective intelligence for ends beyond entertainment which affect our society and the way we live.
- Jenkins, Henry, Convergence Culture, New York University Press: New York, 2006.
McGonigal, Jane. "Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming." www.avantgame.com/McGonigal_WhyILoveBees_Feb2007.pdf