digital rhetoric

collective intellegence, the Horizon Report, and authorship

The Horizon Report from the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE came out last week. I’ve been following this report for the past couple years. This year they identify the following emerging technologies:

One year or less

  • Grassroots Video
  • Collaboration Webs

Two to three years

  • Mobile Broadband
  • Data Mashups

Four to five years

  • Collective Intelligence
  • Social Operating Systems

I think these are mostly self-explanatory but check out the report itself. In any case I want to talk about two of these: collaboration webs and collective intelligence.

These two concepts overlap a fair amount, the difference being the collective intelligence represents a broader concept that includes the compilation of data that goes beyond the more active collaboration of the first term. For example, a wiki would be an obvious example of a "collaboration web" with multiple authors contributing and editing together. The obvious example of collective intelligence is Google’s page-ranking algorithm. Sure, search engine optimizing goes on, but for the most part, this "intelligence" is derived for user activities that are not intentionally working toward this end. Another example is Amazon’s "people who viewed this item ended up buying the following." And so on.

The Horizon report talks about trends over the last five years. And I see two oddly contradictory trends.

  1. The rise of personalization and personal viewpoint/expression. There are personal blogs, podcasts, flickr accounts, YouTube channels, feeds, etc. There are also personalized news feeds and portals. In some ways, the individual author has never had so much opportunity–for good or bad.
  2. The move toward networked composition. Wikis and google docs, the carnival that is Second Life, mashups of all kinds, social networks.

Networked composition would appear to have more scholarly and pedagogic merit in its potential to allow students and faculty to work together to build knowledge. On the other hand, the individual author is so firmly entrenched, especially in the humanities, that the personal is easier to accomplish, despite the complaints made of blogs. While it is certainly possible to view the blogger as a networked composer, ideologically we end up being more comfortable with the individual-in-the-network here than we do in the wiki. And really this just comes down to issues of ownership and getting credit for work–otherwise we would probably get over the discomfort of having others edit our work.

Ultimately, we are all evaluated as individuals. We are graded, hired, and paid as such. The work we do as individuals must be measurable, and it must be evaluated. There’s no reason why this isn’t possible in collaborative webs, and there are all different types of reputation systems that might be devised. What’s different is that one cannot look simply at the end product to make that evaluation. In addition, the ability to work with others becomes part of the evaluation. In any case, it would seem to me that collective intelligence, mining data from collaborative webs, will make the evaluation of community members easier.

This will suggest a very different way of evaluating writing. I wonder if we are up to the task.

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