Collaboration versus Collectivity

February 9, 2010

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

In previous posts, especially in those related to content mapping, I frequently referred to collective actions and efforts in describing certain concepts, but never elaborated on the exact meaning of these terms. One could think that collectivity and collaboration are identical (they often are mentioned in the same context) as both have something to do with individuals working together. In fact, I find it important to highlight their differences for I expect collectivity to play as vital a role in Web 3.0 as collaboration did in Web 2.0.


As already understood from popular Web 2.0 applications such as Wikipedia, Google Docs, or WordPress, we define collaboration as sharing workload in a group of individuals who engage in a complex task, working towards a common goal in a managed fashion, and are conscious of the process’ details all the way.

As the number of participants grow however, it becomes apparent that collaboration is not scalable beyond a certain level while remaining faithful to the definition outlined above. Although there is such a thing as large-scale collaboration, what that covers is lots of people having the possibility of contribution but in reality only a few doing so. Mass collaboration goes further by blurring the definition of collaboration so much that it practically becomes just another expression for collectivity.

And when I speak of collectivity, I think of a crowd performing a simple, uncoordinated task where participants don’t have to be aware of their involvement in the process while contributing. The outcome of a collective action is merely a statistical aggregation of individual results.

Different realms

Collaboration and collectivity operate in different realms. Collaboration can be thought of as an incremental process (linear) while collectivity is more similar to voting (parallel). On the figure below, arrows represent the timeline of sub-tasks performed by participants.

Suppose a sub-task like that was the creation or modification of a Wikipedia entry. In this case collaboration proves more effective, as it offers a higher chance of eliminating factual errors during the process, while a collective approach would surely preserve all of them (and offer the one with the fewest). The semantic complexity of a document does not fit the more or less hit-and-miss approach of collectivity.

However, if we decrease the complexity of the content, say, to one sentence, the probability of individual solutions being as ‘good’ as products of collaboration is expected to be equal. Collective approaches therefore suit low-complexity content better.

The synaptic web

What content is of lower complexity than connections within a content network? Different relations such as identity, generalization, abstraction, response or ‘part-of’ require no more than a yes-no answer. Collectivity is cut out exactly for this kind of tasks.

As the creators of the synaptic web concept put it,

With the advent of the real-time web, however, increasingly effective publishing, sharing and engagement tools are making it easier to find connections between nodes in near-real time by observing human gestures at scale, rather than relying on machine classification.

Hence the synaptic web calls for collectivity. What we need now is more applications that make use of it.


  • Just one day before my post, @wikinihiltres posted an article comparing the efficiency of collective and collaborative approaches to content production through the examples of Wikipedia and Wikinews, concluding that “the balance that ought to be sought is one that continues to accept the powerful aggregative influence, but that greatly promotes collaboration where possible, since collaboration most reliably produces good results”.

5 Responses to “Collaboration versus Collectivity”

  1. Nihiltres Says:

    This post seems eerily familiar! I wrote a similar post (linked here as my website) just a day earlier. We must be on to something. 🙂

  2. Robert Parks Says:

    Most literature on knowledge sharing/management with folskonomies and ontologies doesn’t acknowledge the importance of the personal thesaurus of terms/concepts and relations, as both a preface to sharing, and as the object to be developed through sharing. A collective thesaurus or ontology may help a company in its organization/management of knowledge. But ultimately knowledge is located in individual minds, where it is creatively seeded with idiographic personal knowledge.

    I think our efforts to develop a personal dictionary, and also a graph analysis of our dictionary may be parallel to your interests. Perhaps we can correspond?

    • Dan Stocker Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Bob! Indeed, formal ontologies are prone to being out of sync with the very knowledge they represent. Possible reasons are: over-generalization (as is the case with a personal thesaurus) and obsoleteness. Content mapping as a collective action addresses the problems posed by this fact, and a collective thesaurus does sound like a possible application for it.

      • Please refer to OntoWiki and similar tools. Two years passed since this thread was active and the tools are already over here.

        Probably, you have some relation to it or even well acquainted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: