One of the contrarian voices in enterprise use of Web 2.0 technologies has often been doubt of the value of the “Wisdom of Crowds.” That is, an apprehension that the input from widespread collaboration may have only marginal value toward the development of the product or initiative, or even worse- will be a waste of time and a distraction.The contrarian voice always has value, as I’ve said before, but recently I’ve come across a very interesting instance of an advocate for the “Wisdom of Crowds” from a very unlikely place- the government of Communist China!
Of course there’s much to be said about government control of the Internet in China, the national firewall, and so on.¬† This post is not meant to debate any of that.¬† It is interesting though, that the government of China at the very highest levels seems to recognize the power in leveraging the Internet internal to the nation and recognizes the capabilities of Web 2.0 technologies.
Earlier this month, China’s President Hu Jintao joined an online chat forum to answer questions from connected citizens.¬† In the brief chat, President Hu mentioned that he uses the Internet often, and considers it a good source for understanding the concerns of citizens and to gather their opinions.¬† To quote (a translation), he “hopes to see what opinions and comments our Netizen friends have about the work of the Party and the State.”¬† He also mentioned the importance of “collecting the wisdom of the masses” as “an important channel” as a component of decision making in a ‚Äòpeople-based’ government.
Now we do understand that China’s experience with the Internet is a complicated one, and many have posited about the internet being a balance between a potential threat to China’s political system and a powerful tool for propaganda, monitoring, and surveillance.¬† In fact, foretelling which way that balance will tilt is made difficult because of that country’s contradictory attitude and behavior.¬† The same can be said for the behavior of China’s online population.¬† This is a complicated matter.
However, and returning to the very simple point to be made by this post, the statements made by President Hu himself in terms of “collecting the wisdom of the masses” for decision making,… and the very high profile use of Internet chat as a dialogue between government and its citizens, is a pretty striking demonstration of recognition of Web 2.0 technologies.¬† It’s been reported that Chinese officials at many levels are using the Internet to solicit public opinion at the grass roots level as a part of their bureaucratic process.¬† To whatever degree one feels about the “openness” of the process, it’s certainly interesting to observe the recognition of the value in collaboration from the masses.