Thoughts on the Hive Mind

Last weekend, Jordan Schwartz posted his extended thoughts on the intelligence and activities of the Hive Mind, “a property of intelligence, behavior and/or memory that emerges from behaviors of a colony of individuals acting according to simple rules”. He’s been studying hive mind behavior by bee-keeping for the past decade. Originally inspired by Kevin Kelly, he’s been turning his observations about bees towards the web. In his post, Jordan compares the behavior patterns of bees:

Bees have varied means of communication, including wing beatings and smell, but the primary method of communicating the location of a nectar source or a potential new home is through the waggle dance, a highly structured combination of movements that indicate distance and direction relative to the sun. When a bee finds a potential food source or new home, she returns to the hive and performs this dance for her sisters. Some of the sisters may use that information to go check out potential location. If they like it, they’ll come back and do the same dance, if they don’t they may not. Over time, particular locations will gain momentum as more and more bees are doing the same dance, leading to a hive consensus.

To the behaviors of social web sites:

You can see these same processes at work in social bookmarking and ranking services like Digg and Individual users rate a site as being interesting, causing other users to visit it and, in turn, assess whether the site is interesting enough to rate it as interesting. Over time, certain sites gain momentum and rise to the top of the heap, even though most individuals only ever see a small fraction of the options.

Unsurprisingly enough, this post got him several thousand hits from Digg users. It is impressive how the most successful pieces of social software are able to take advantage of the hive mind mentality. It doesn’t just describe Digg or Delicious users, but also how Flickr learns interestingness, Google learns pagerank, and bloggers find stories (this is most apparent when you look at Techmeme).

In one of two follow-up posts, Jordan ruminates on whether or not Google engineers being allowed to select their own projects is a form of prediction market. In the second he wonders whether MS could have learned from its line workers that WinFS was going to weigh Vista down.

Jordan has spoken about bee-keeping and the hive-mind at both Ignite Seattle and Ignite Expo. Here is a video from Seattle. It doesn’t reference the web as much as the second (not yet posted) video, but you’ll learn a lot about bee-keeping from it.

You can see the rest of the videos from Ignite 3 on The video was shot by Allegra Searle-LeBel and produced by Bryan Zug and Paolo Tosolini. I’ll be sharing more over the next weeks.