The Internet is a network of a decentralized set of networks composed of interconnected nodes. From its nature as a network comes the power, but also the weakness of the Internet.
The operation of the Internet is the result of the aggregation of four factors:
- The number of nodes in the network: the nodes are the elements from which information is propagated.
- The number of connections between nodes.
- The strength of connections: referring to the volume and frequency of data traffic between two nodes.
- Information: In the Internet context, information are the bits transmitted from one node to another one. The bit is the smallest unit of information, which includes graphics, images, data, sound, etc…
The Internet provides the infrastructure necessary for all nodes can collaborate with each other by exchanging information. The structure of the Internet is such that this exchange is not expensive (in terms of effort), is free, open, and not subject to hierarchies.
This structure has led to the emergence of intrinsic rules of collaboration, based on a meritocracy of reputation. The reputation is obtained from the value of the contributions offered to the rest of the community.
From the collaboration and exchange of information comes what is called “collective intelligence”, i.e. the combination of pieces of information that leads to higher complex information. Pierre Lévy describes it beautifully when he says that “no one knows everything, but everyone knows something.”
An example of collective intelligence on the Internet would be Wikipedia or open source programs. Some companies, like Google, take advantage of collective intelligence to improve its products, releasing them in beta so that the community informs them of possible failures or improvements. The so-called open innovation also uses the collective intelligence phenomenon.
The “wisdom” of the network depends on the number of nodes that exchange information, the number of connections between nodes and the strength of these connections. Collective intelligence is a phenomenon that arises from the aggregation of these factors.
The increase of the potential of collective intelligence is exponential. This means that in a hypothetical initial situation with few nodes and few connections, the increase is very slow and almost flat. At the time it reaches a critical mass of nodes and links, the increase of potential is triggered and the value of combining the pieces of information is much greater than the sum of these.
*Exponential function of the “wisdom” of a network
The value of the Internet lies, therefore, on the accumulation of nodes and links. A network with few nodes with few connections and few exchanges of information will be dysfunctional.
Forums are very useful for finding solutions to problems. In the case of Office, for example, the Office user’s forums are much more efficient resolving doubts than the official Windows support.
This is because the number of users of Office is very high and, therefore, the probability that someone had the same problem as us, found the solution and published it on the forum is very high.
Instead, the support forums for Mac version of Office are useless. The reason is that since there is much less people who have the Office for Mac, the accumulated wisdom is much lower.
In conclusion, the weakness of the Internet lies in the need for a large number of nodes and connections in order to generate its more valuable asset: collective intelligence. One possible solution in a situation of few nodes and connections could be to use “expert” nodes, that is, each node accumulates a lot of information. However, a small network of experts will always be less efficient than a large network consisting of nodes with different levels and sources of information.