Monday, December 03, 2007

Collectivism on the Web

Collectivism emphasizes on human interdependence and the importance of collective. As probably the greatest collective project of mankind in history, World Wide Web engages enormous practices of collectivism. In this article, we take a brief look at several typical examples of these engagements.

Collective Intelligence

Collective intelligence is the most well-known engagement of collectivism on World Wide Web. In particular, Web 2.0 advocates have declared "harnessing collective intelligence" to be the touchstone of the Web 2.0 revolution. By definition, collective intelligence is a form of intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals. If someone feels a little bit puzzled of this definition, here is an alternative explanation that is imprecise but much easier to be understood. Informally, collective intelligence on the Web is the collections of user generated "intelligence".

A keen reader may immediately find an interesting comparison: are there any differences between user generated "intelligence" and user generated "content" (or user generated "data")? On Web 2.0, we have almost mentioned users generation content (UGC) as many times as collective intelligence. In many people's mind, UGC almost equals to the collective intelligence. But the actual meanings between "intelligence" and "content" or "data" are very much different. The intent of "intelligence" is much richer than "content/data". Tim O'Reilly also had briefly mentioned this distinction in one of his earlier post about harnessing collective intelligence.

Content/data is a type of intelligence but at the low end. Jean Piaget, a Swiss philosopher and pioneer of the constructivist epistemology, had a compact description about intelligence: "Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do." Content/data provides shallow and unrefined information for people to use. Content/data is often too crude to be efficiently used. Keeping the user generation intelligence at the level of content/data is not enough. This is a problem.

I foresee that the degree of complexity (as well as the degree of efficient usage) of the collective intelligence on the Web is going to evolve with the Web. For example, by tagging content with formal labels that are defined by ontologies, the user generated content/data would evolve to be the user generated knowledge. This is exactly what the vision of Semantic Web wants to bring to us. Moreover, by augmenting formally labeled content with external logic routines, the user generated knowledge would evolve to be the user generated wisdom. By encoding the mechanism of proactiveness into machine computation, the user generated wisdom might evolve to be the user generated creativity. By engaging user generated content/data, knowledge, wisdom, creativity together, we might eventually get the user generated personality, through which the human evolution reaches a new stage of being artificially immortal. Is this path a long way? Yes, there is a long way to go. Is this path an impossible dream? No, it is not. The practice of collective intelligence is converting our society into a virtual world simultaneously from the level of individuals and the level of collective groups.

Collective Behavior

Collective intelligence is not the only practice of collectivism on the Web. Another key practice of collectivism on the Web is the implementation of collective behavior.

Collective behavior is very much difference from collective intelligence. All types of collective intelligences are static and thus they can be easily presented in an explicit way. In comparison, collective behaviors are dynamic and it is difficult to present them in an explicit way. As the result, collective behaviors are much harder to be used than collective intelligences on the Web though in fact at the same time the amount of collective behaviors is much greater than the amount of collective intelligences. The reason of this amount difference is indeed trivial. Every piece of collective intelligence on the Web must be related to at least one human behavior (i.e. the one action that post this piece of information online). The majority of the time, any piece of collective intelligence must be associated with many human behaviors such as reading and writing. With such a large pool of collective behaviors, it is surprising to see that so few actions have been made so far to manage and utilize this large pool.

Fortunately, Web researchers have started to pay their attention to the collective behaviors. The recent proposal of the implicit web is a typical example. The implicit web is a network that defragments every piece of implicitness on the explicit web. The majority of the implicitness on the Web actually belongs to the collective behaviors.

Collective Responsibility

The collective intelligence is a popular concept. The discussion of collective behavior is also not rare. But the rest of practices of collectivism on the Web I am going to discuss are indeed uncommonly. Many readers may not even hear of them before. But all these practices are unexceptionally important and valuable for the evolution of World Wide Web. The first one I introduce is the collective responsibility.

Collective responsibility is a concept, or doctrine, according to which individuals are to be held responsible for other people's actions by tolerating, ignoring, or harboring them, without actively collaborating in these actions. This concept is particularly important to the study of Internet security.

On the age of Web 2.0 and afterwards, security is no longer a solo issue with the deeper and wider implementation of collectivism. As a result, being innocent may no longer be simply taken as an individual issue. We must start to consider collective responsibility, i.e., some people may have to be punished not due to their own guilty but because they have not actively prohibited the guilty happened regularly in their participated societies. This issue is going to be very much debatable and exciting.

Collective Identity

A collective identity refers to individuals' sense of belonging to a group.

Identity is a tough issue on the Web. Normally, a web user may have varied identities on different sites. These varied identities, however, cause serious problems when people try to organize their information of interest across the boundaries of web sites. To address this problem, web researchers have issued the project OpenID that allows users to use a single ID over the entire Web.

But OpenID, even if it would be a standard over the Web, is not the end of the Web identity issue. Similar to that individual persons have their particular roles in real life, individual identities on the Web must gain their particular social roles in virtual life. The identification of these roles is particularly important when we would start to manipulate human generated information on the Web, i.e. collective intelligence, collective behaviors, etc. Only until humans or machines may identify the social roles of the information producers or owners, these humans or machines may be able to properly manipulate the information. The research of collective identity will focus on the identification of social roles of individual identities.

The collective identities are identities of identities. The study of this issue is another exciting and unexplored field that may cause much attention in the future.

Collective Consciousness

Collective consciousness refers to the shared beliefs and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society. In the other words, the collective consciousness is about machine morality because human consciousness on the Web is handled by machines. The machine morality is not a sci-fi term; this issue is indeed real. Machine morality is the reflection of human morality onto the virtual world.

The implementation of collective consciousness is very much related to all the previously mentioned collective factors. Human consciousnesses are materialized on the Web as static intelligence and dynamic behaviors. Moreover, the collective identities assign social roles for the materialized consciousnesses. The integrity of these materialized consciousnesses is closely related to the level of collective responsibility that is maintained at the meantime. The combination of all these issues compose the intent of the machine morality.

Collective Effervescence

Collective effervescence is a perceived energy formed by a gathering of people as might be experienced at a sporting event, a carnival, a rave, or a riot. This energy can cause people to act differently than in their everyday life.

Collective effervescence is the emotion web site owners want to bring. Collective effervescence represents one word---hype! Collective effervescence is the ultimate goal of implementing collectivism on the Web. At the same time, how much an implementation of collectivism successfully brings collective effervescence into a web site is the fundamental standard that we can measure the quality of the implementations of collectivism. This concept encloses the entire set of collective factors and upgrades the evaluation of collectivism into the computational realm.


We have discussed several examples of how we may engage practices of collectivism onto the Web. Certainly there could be many other possible practices that are beyond this article. But one thing is certain. Collectivism is a crucial phenomenon on the evolving Web. The study of collectivism on the Web is going to be a critical issue of the Web Science.


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to leave a note of thanks. Your entries are very inspiring. One day, maybe, I will be able to give back some input.



Yihong Ding said...

Thank you, Adrian. I am glad you like these posts. :-)

-- Yihong

Bart Stevens said...


Hi there. Just read your post and wanted to react on your "Collective behavior" paragraph.
... People are working on it already and expect to see things of this nature soon ... ;)

I work with a bunch of people on VRM, where VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management (is 180 degrees CRM). This means that the consumer will claim the spot held by vendors today, namely the center. Consumers are migrating away from: messages vendors push in their space, the need of data to be given to vendors before a transaction can take place, etc etc. This is made possible because consumers can find all the info on the net via Google, blogs, forums etc. They trust each-other much more then they do vendors.

One of the first application in this space is something what is called a personal RFP, where individuals can post request to the market, and even join other requests made by other community members. This is one of the applications we are building @ Feel free to have a look at our blog (, which talks a lot on VRM and the implications for the future of the web.
It will be fun ... ;) !

Yihong Ding said...


Thank you for your input. I have just look at your blog and it is quite interesting.

I agree that VRM and CRM are typical applications about collective behavior and collective intelligence. I am not familiar to these two fields but I would like to explore more about them in the future. Please keep in touch and we may share some ideas later. By the way, what is the status of the ichoosr right now? Is it still at its beta phase or it has already been out of beta?

-- Yihong

Bart Stevens said...


(first of all I'm not to technical, but understand on a higher level things quite well)

Brief one. Two questions:
One - How could your semantic effort be used in VRM type of use cases? Thing is, that VRM is very much integrated with ID management. And my gut feel tells me that semantics can be used here. (as these applications are relatively "close by", this could mean your could "ride" the VRM wave for a bit ...)
Second - I have a post on my blog on PeopleRanking (vrs Pageranking). can you have a look and share your (technical) thoughts?
Cheers again

PS iChoosr will go in beta early Q1, leave your email and will include you as a friend

Yihong Ding said...


Be honest, I need to learn more about VRM to well answer your question about how Semantic Web technologies may apply to your realm. But in general, semantics can be applied anywhere as long as it is a data-focused scenario; and indeed I believe VRM is.

I have briefly replied your question about PeopleRank at your blog. It is an interesting thought but with quite a few technical difficulties.

Glad to have you a friend. You may contact me through


-- Yihong

blue said...


I am much more the artistic, touchy-feely kind of thinker. However, there is enough logic left in me to deeply appreciate your scientific analysis of the topic of collectivism. I am glad to have stumbled across your blog. I will read more.

I will be linking to this in a post in the near future. I am currently exploring the nature of the collective state of being human. Just beginning. the is the ultimate collective of individuals...spawning further collectives of individuals...


Yihong Ding said...

Thank you, blue. I am happy to have more discussion with you on the topic of collectivism in human society.



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psychic predictions said...

Justified true belief is one definition of knowledge that states in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but one must also have justification for doing so

I think that the challenge the world is facing in right now is to help each other in this time where nature pays back on humanity because of the history that proved how our ancestors were very abusive of the earth.

Abraham Lincoln once said that, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds. . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting pea” That thought isn't limited to one aspect of life alone. Through it all, we have each other to help ourselves. That is "true connection." :)