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The wisdom of clouds

May 2, 2008

cumulus clouds in blue sky, seen from Whernside summit

Two heads are obviously better than one – but how much better? Certainly a lot more than x2. All the evidence suggests that in general groups of people are much, much better at solving problems than individuals, and that really big, diverse groups are the best problem solvers of all. As James Surowiecki put it, “groups are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” (Surowiecki, 2004).

The problem of how to organise and classify all the world’s knowledge, for example, is one that many very clever individuals – from Liebnitz and Wilkins to Otlet and Bush – have tried and failed to solve. The problem is arguably in the process of being cracked today by a combination of Google plus the collaborative efforts of hundreds of thousands of ordinary web users and the user-generated taxonomy, or folksonomy, of social bookmarking.

Online bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us and Connotea are much more than just convenient places to store and organise every link you might need again – though they are that. Because they’re social, they help eLearners to be cleverer in three separate ways.

1. Plugging in to the global brain
You can use the clouds of tags created by other users to sample what thousands of people all over the world wide web are reading or saying about any topic that interests you. It’s like plugging into a vast collective intelligence and is a great way of running into things that you on your own would never have run into.

2. Harnessing the power of We Think
By thoughtfully applying tags of your own to your bookmarked items, you begin to share bookmarks with all the other users who’ve applied the same tags and are therefore thinking about similar stuff to you. This enables you to tap into a rich communal reservoir of knowledge and ideas, and harness what Charles Leadbeater calls We Think or “the power of shared intelligence to sort wheat from chaff”(Leadbeater, 2008 ).

3. Joining a community of practice
By hooking up with other learners who share your area of study to form a kind bookmarking circle (networks in Del.icio.us, groups in Connotea) you can enter into a highly efficient community of learning practitioners, reading what they’re reading, sharing comments as well as bookmarks, sparking ideas – and all simply as a by-product of saving and tagging your links.

Social bookmarking is such a great eLearning tool, because eLearning is a social practice.

For the record, my H806 bookmarks – shared with my fellow students via the H806 tag – are at http://delicious.com/johnmill.

Surowiecki, James, 2004. The Wisdom of Crowds: why the many are smarter than the few. Little, Brown. London

Leadbeater, Charles, 2008. We Think. Profile Books. London.

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From → H806

13 Comments
  1. Nice summary 🙂

  2. sevans59 permalink

    Hi John,

    I see what you mean about the blog referrence appearing appearing here as a comment, as it has for someone else above. I can only think that this must happen by default with WordPress blogs, as a sort of cross-referencing system. Interesting.

    Steve

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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