The Two Dimensions Of Collective Intelligence

Last Updated Mar 24, 2008 2:12 PM EDT

Web users generate two kinds of information, explicit and implicit. Explicit is what you set out to create: blog posts, tags, wikis.

But it's the information you create without thinking as you make your way across the Web that may be far more important in the long run.

As defined by Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee:

Implicit user-generated information is information that people unknowingly generate as they work online. It's the digital fingerprints or traces that people leave as they follow links, look at content, consider one product then buy another, etc. This data can be aggregated to show what's popular, what's related, who has a good reputation, etc.
McAfee ruminates on the differences between explicit and implict user content in a recent blog post.

Does it matter if content is explicit or implicit? Web 2.0 pioneer Tim O'Reilly tells McAfee that implicit will turn out to be far more valuable. McAfee encourages the safe play. By fostering explicit content you'll also be encouraging implicit content as a byproduct.

McAfee is interested in hearing from readers about what they and their organizations learned from explicit and/or implicit information that wouldn't have been known otherwise.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.