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Collective Wisdom: 'We Are Smarter Than Me'

When Barry Libert and Jon Spector set out to write about how social networking might help businesses, they allowed just about anyone with an idea to help write the book. Thousands of people contributed to We Are Smarter Than Me, which is about the wisdom of the crowd.

Spector, president of The Conference Board research firm, says the book was initially modeled after Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia written and edited by Internet users.

"We've actually stumbled throughout the process on the differences between Wikipedia and writing a book: how do you synthesize the ideas, how do you get a single common voice across?" Spector says.

Spector and Libert, co-chief executive officer of a startup called Mzinga, tried to set guidelines for how people should write, but that proved too restrictive, Spector says.

"Finally we said ... you have to have no guidelines," he says. "And we talked to ourselves about relinquishing control, were we ready to do it? And eventually we said to ourselves, 'Look, if we believe in this concept, we have to implement it.' And we did. And that's really when the contributions from the community began to pick up."

The authors felt that social networking wasn't just about the popular sites like MySpace and Facebook.

"It was really about how businesses might think about crowds," Libert says. "Not just their employees as crowds, but also customers, partners, distributors [and] investors as crowds — and to use those crowds as a way to improve whatever activity they're working on ..."

In one success story that proved the power of the crowd, the gold mining company Goldcorp had essentially run out of places to look for gold. It decided to publish its geological data on the Web and allowed outsiders to contribute suggestions for new locations to mine.

"They found $3 billion of new gold out there," Spector says.

"There's just that knowledge out there and that's the essential premise of the book: We, some of whom are unknown, are smarter than a small group of experts inside a company."

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