Building a collective intelligence with Twitter

I posted my first experiences with Twitter quite a while ago in May 2009. Since then it was difficult for me to actually participate in an effective way. Reading all the posts I was interested in and posting useful information myself. I still kept spending so much time on the platform, forgetting about all those other things I needed to do. Twitter became one of the tools, I loved to use for input, but I got overwhelmed by all the information, just like my google reader, which was stuffed with subscribtions of so many interesting blogs, that the “1000+” – sign is something I got used to an eternity ago.

Collective intelligence on the other hand was a term I stumbled upon in the beginning of this year, so while I was already using twitter. That there might be a connection between those two didn’t occur to me until month later. But how did I get to know collective intelligence? If I remember correctly did I watch a video from a German professor (Prof. Dr. Peter Kruse), who is engaged in research about collective intelligence.

In this video he explains what the term means (Wikipedia tells us: Collective intelligence is a shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals.) and why it will be very important in the future, when information is free for everyone in the internet and only how good a person is able to  sort and evaluate this mass of information will determine how high someone climbs in a company’s hierarchy.

So when you think about it, social media, the internet and all of it finally offers tools to nurture the formation of collective intelligence. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) even has a center of collective intelligence. They mention Google, Wikipedia and Innocentive as the most important examples of collective intelligence on the internet.

A good article about the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Expo mentioning collective intelligence is from Heather Havenstein at Computerworld. She wrote: “While Web 2.0 technologies may have struggled in the past against criticism that they are self-indulgent time-wasters, Web 2.0 is now being touted as a collection of ground-breaking applications that can harness the collective intelligence of a multitude of users.”

So how exactly can Twitter help us sort / evaluate information?

Twitter is a way to spread information, which is useful to oneself to friends, colleagues or business partners. If the information is crap you either get called on it or nothing happens. But if the information is actually considered good in any way it will be shared = retweeted. Each person who shares this information read it and evaluated it before sharing, so you can say that a post, which got shared a certain amount of times contains valuable information.

BUT it is hard to say if 2 times is good or 10 times is already enough. I believe that information, which gets retweeted by a rather small group of people is likely to just be useful to them. For example the information, that you should add salt to water only when it is boiling and not in the beginning or the water will take more time to boil, might only be useful to hobby chefs, but not too a vast majority of internet users. As a consequence, information, which gets shared a really high number of times is information, useful to the majority of users. Objections?

So to see if an article is good. I could post it and count the clicks on my tiny URL or the RT (Bit.ly shows you both). Or I read a tweet form a person then copy the link or information and search it using Twitter Search. A problem is that people sometimes change the text of the message they want to retweet, even the link, so they can monitor it themselves. That makes it more difficult to know how often information got shared.

Some Applications can help you organize twitter, among others there are Twitturly (ranks most tweeted URLs), Tweettronics (monitoring tool, e.g. for brands), Tweetvolume and many more. But still leaves a lot to be desired.