Collective intelligence, though not an exclusively modern idea, is more tenable due to the globalizing potential of the internet. The internet transcends physical boundaries to allow more diverse groups of people to interact and collaborate. Wikipedia is maybe the most well known online application of collective intelligence, and it proves both the capacity for information sharing through digital media and the accompanying pitfalls of it.
Henry Jenkins explores Wikipedia’s unique place within digital media in his essay “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies” (Part One and Two). Jenkins makes the distinction that though Wikipedia compares itself to an encyclopedia, it is not one. Wikipedia’s existence in a fluctuating digital medium rather than on a static, printed piece of paper allows for flexibility that conventional encyclopedias could never match. Wikipedia is not a product, but rather and “ongoing process by which its community pools information, debates what knowledge matters, and vets competing truth claims” (Jenkins).
This characteristic obviously acknowledges that there must be people contributing to the page in order for the collaborative process to work. Spaces like Wikipedia rely entirely on people to bring it into existence. Collective intelligence, by definition, is the “ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others” (Jenkins) in order to work towards a shared goal. This not only encourages but also requires a diverse set of opinions. In order to explore the concept of collective intelligence on Wikipedia, I studied the page of the stand-up comedian Mike Birbiglia. I expected to find a page that showcased the collaborative possibilities of Wikipedia, but instead his page proved the necessity of participation on a site like Wikipedia. Though he is a very popular comedian, his Wikipedia page is extremely bare. Over half of the page is just a list of his body of work, with very little explanation or discussion about what those works are. Only a few paragraphs explained his personal life and the effects of his success on his career. Wikipedia even acknowledges that it is trying to improve its coverage of those involved with comedy.
There is also not much activity going on to improve the quality of his page. The largest debate in the “talk” section of his page was over whether or not he was Italian, and the original question was not answered until almost a year later.
There was also a fair gap in the amount and frequency of edits. The two top editors made 40 and 37 edits each, while the third editor made only 13. The edits also have spikes of activity during 2008 and 2009, which is when Birbiglia’s very popular standup show “Sleepwalk with Me” was running on off-Broadway. There was another spike of activity in 2010. This seems to be when almost all of the references for the page were added, which makes me wonder how exactly the sources were credited previously…
Mike Birbiglia’s Wikipedia page proves the vital aspect of collective intelligence: people. In order for collective intelligence to be a fair and comprehensive collection of information, people must actually participate. They must actually pool their knowledge and take full advantage of Wikipedia’s fluidity by continuing to question what is true.
Jenkins, H. (2007, June 26). “What Wikipedia Can Teach US About the New Media Literacies”. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Retrieved from: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/06/what_wikipedia_can_teach_us_ab.html
Jenkins, H. (2007, June 26). “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About the New Media Literacies (Part Two)”. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Retrieved from: http://henryjenkins.org/2007/06/what_wikipedia_can_teach_us_ab_1.html