Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Does the 'hive mind' still need editors?

Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of Wired and übergeek author, blogger and commentator, has been thinking about the power of bottom-up, crowdsourced, "hive mind" operations, and there's some encouraging news for us in his observations: While the power of many is intense and immense, it works a lot better with some filtering and control.

I'd urge you to go read the longish post at The Technium. He's a clear thinker and fine writer, and you'll find much to think about even if you don't buy every thesis.

Here's a taste:

It is important to remember how dumb the bottom is in essence. In biological natural selection, the prime architect is death. Death powers evolutionary selection. Death is one binary bit. Either off or on. What's dumber than that? So the hive-mind of evolution is powered by one-bit intelligence. That's why it takes millions of years to do much.

We are too much in a hurry to wait around for a pure hive mind. Our best technological systems are marked by the fact that we have introduced intelligent design into them. This is the top-down control we insert to speed and direct a system toward our goals. Every successful technological system, including Wikipedia, has design wired into it.


  1. "Hive mind" operations only work well if there's a consistent critical mass of participation. This seems like a "duh" observation, but it's often overlooked.

    For example, the concept of relying on the community to police itself in regard to comments on stories not only depends on robust site traffic -- it also depends on consistently robust traffic to every story. Perhaps the important and somewhat unintuitive lesson for site operators is that the discussion threads on quiet stories need more oversight than the threads on hot stories.

  2. I don't doubt it's true that quiet threads can conceal awful comments, but it's also true that the damage they cause is far less -- for the simple reason that they ARE seen less often. I think we need to concentrate on hunting where the ducks are; we can't be as comprehensive in our attention as in print. Fortunately they emerging idiom of online communication recognizes this.