Sunday, January 12, 2003

I just finished rereading Emergence by Steven Johnson. It's partly about how unintelligent things like ants and neurons can form things like ant colonies and brains which display greater intelligence. I say partly because it's also about how people can form things like cities with lives of their own and meaningful patterns which people form without thinking about it - although the people are probably more intelligent than the city itself.

The book was written before blogging was as big as it is now. One of the questions the author addresses is if the web could lead to the formation of a kind of distributed intelligence or global brain. He answers no, because the links are one way without feedback. He proposes a partial solution to this, the use of Alexa.

The ants and cells in his book form greater collective intelligences by the use of simple local rules. If anyone ever tries to formulate a similar set of rules by which bloggers could form themselves into a collective intelligence greater than the individuals composing it, I would suggest the following three part rule for a start. With thanks to Steven Johnson - which doesn't imply that he agrees with the idea below. As far as I know he's never read it.


The Easy Rule, so called because because most serious bloggers tend to do at least some of these things anyway.

A. Download the Alexa toolbar, or at least use the Alexa site. Read the privacy policy carefully.

B. Use a blogger statistics package (like the one near the bottom of my sidebar) which shows which sites refer people to your blog. Visit the sites, think about what the fact that these people like your site says about it. Think about linking to some of them. Consider the existence of these links and the number of people who click through as feedback. These are a big part of your audience.

C. If you think someone might be interested in your blog, link to them and click through your own link if you don't know if anyone else will. The odds are they use some statistics package that will tell them, whether they have a button on their page or not. Your own links are not only suggestions to your visitors, but feedback to the site owners - and links to your site.

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