Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tim O'Reilly on harnessing collective intelligence

Tim O'Reilly just ran a panel here at the Web 2.0 Conference on "Disruption: Harnessing the Collective Intelligence".

Tim's introduction to the panel reminded me of his speech six months ago at UC Berkeley where he said:
A true Web 2.0 application is one that gets better the more people use it ... The real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.

[In] the world of Web 2.0 ... we share our knowledge and insights, filter the news for each other, find out obscure facts, and make each other smarter and more responsive.
At the time, after reading Tim's speech, I wrote:
I like this new definition of Web 2.0, "harnessing collective intelligence." I like the idea we are building on the expertise and information of the vast community of the Web. I like the idea that web applications should automatically learn, adapt, and improve based on needs.

I also like the idea that "Web 2.0" should include many companies that people were trying to classify as "Web 1.0"., with its customer reviews and personalized pages, clearly is harnessing the collective wisdom of Amazon shoppers. Google also is constantly improving based on the behavior of searchers.

Web 2.0 applications get better and better the more people use them. Web 2.0 applications learn from the behavior of their users. Web 2.0 applications harness collective intelligence.
The definition of Web 2.0 remains vague in most people's minds. Some describe it as a new dot com boom. Some say it is about tagging or social networks. Some say it is about fancy AJAX widgets.

I think Tim has helped clarify it with his focus on harnessing collective intelligence. If the application does not improve from the contributions and knowledge of its users, if it does not get better and better as more people use it, it is not a Web 2.0 application.

Update: In response to a question by what Tim meant by "intelligence", Tim cited Sturgeon's Law which he paraphrased as "95% of everything is crap". He said intelligence is surfacing the 5% that is not crap to the right people at the right time.

Update: Tim posted some additional thoughts.