Harnessing the Collective Intelligence: It just might save your life!

First of all – welcome back to the semester everyone I hope you had a good break. I studied enterprise 2.0 at the end of last year and you can see my previous blog posts by simply scrolling down. I am happy to be back to blogging in web 2.0, as it is an experience I find both enjoyable and empowering, so without further ado… let’s start the semester off on a slightly controversial note.

I am not going to sugar coat this, nor am I going to apologise for posting content that some of you may find confronting. Why? Simply because websites like “Erowid” could very well save your life. Save your life through harnessing collective intelligence.

The harsh reality is that almost half of you have tried illicit substances in one form or another. In fact a new study appearing in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that 42.5 percent of teens have used drugs by age 18. Everyone has different reasons for wanting to try illicit substances, and more often than not cannot go to their parents, and may not necessarily trust their close friends for advice. So what do they do?

Enter Erowid:


What is it you ask?

Erowid is a wiki where users  contribute genuine medical documentation, research case studies, effects, and user experiences of every imaginable drug (both legal & illegal) anti depressants, pharmaceuticals, you name it.

How does it fit this weeks pattern? Like this:

  • Explicit & Implicit user participation

When you are reading user experiences, whatever the drug / medication you will often read about dosage information, body weight, gender and general health and well being of the particular poster.  In addition to this information is often provided about surroundings, ie an abusive family relationship in the case of anti depressants. Or for illicit substances, how, when and where they were ingested and how this may have affected the experience in general.  So you when reading experiences you are able to not only consider the facts, the information that is undeniable, but also consider the surrounding elements. Are you likely to react to a certain substance in the same way as another person? Are you similar person to the poster with a similar personality? Do you really want to begin that course of anti depressants after readings X’s experience?

  • Erowid rewards the user first

Like most other websites that offer huge amounts of collaborative information there is the opportunity to donate but, you don’t have to. You are free to search, read and draw your own conclusions based on legitimate medical findings and user experiences. You do not have to participate, you need not even let anyone know you were doing such research.

  • A meaningful context for creation

Erowid claims to be for “educational” purposes only and in many ways I think that is the truth. You are unlikely to stumble across this website, rather you would have actively sought it out because you had already been thinking about ingesting one substance or another, legal or illegal. Erowid creates a community environment where people can come together and discuss whatever it is that is concerning them about any type of legal / illegal substance without fear of reprimand of any sort.

drug abuse

15 years of drug abuse captured in police mug shots – could the collective intelligence at Erowid help prevent this?

  • Set network effects by default

People visit Erowid because they are either seeking general information, seeking advice or seeking help, so it has become the phenomenon that it is as a side effect of serving self interests.  Often times when it comes to sites like Erowid people forget that they often spawn many support networks for those who have ventured down the wrong paths. Support networks that may otherwise be unattainable due to financial or geographical constraints.

Trust your users: The community has grown into one where people post because they believe in the cause. Hence time, effort, research and genuine heart felt posts resonating throughout the forum

Software that improves as people use it: Erowid is made up entirely of contributions by non profiting parties. The more contributions, they better and more thorough a resource it becomes.

Facilitate emergence: Erowid is now available for android which is further testament to it’s popularity / necessity.

  • People could post anything? What about moderation?

Erowid is closely monitored and often edited by people who have earned respect from others if information does not add up, does not make sense, or is just plain stupid behavior. It is moderated, and treated as an educational resource.

What do you think? Is a site like Erowid a good thing?





4 thoughts on “Harnessing the Collective Intelligence: It just might save your life!

  1. Hi Adam,

    I had never heard of Erowid until now, however, I immediately can see the demand for such an application.
    Often when dealing with illegal substances especially, people are reluctant to talk to family, doctors and sometimes friends about what they have experienced. The anonymity of online allows them to express their concerns, experiences and knowledge without judgement or embarrassment, warning others or being reassured of their experiences.
    When you mention that some users have earned respect from others, is this shown through a user rating of some sort as we see in many other Wikis?

    A great example of Harnessing Collective Intelligence.

    – Matt

  2. Hi Adam,

    erowid.org is something that would on the face of it certainly not come across as a Web2.0 application as it looks like it’s a site that has stepped out of the nineties. And navigates in a similar fashion, which is to say it is awkward and very difficult to find your way around. Do you think that this perhaps is a barrier to adoption and could potentially inhibit users from achieving their primary goals of finding the specific information they’re looking for? Personally I believe this also makes the software harder to use the more content that is created, as navigation gets harder and more confusing if it is not ordered and structured in a user friendly fashion.

    But what a fascinating concept and socially important subject matter, if only more web 2.0 applications dealt with aspects that assisted our communities rather than promoting photos of each other’s lunches 😉 With a bit of tweaking of layout and data structure this could be an even more useful product than it clearly already is for many.

    Great post!

    • Hmmm…

      I think your post raises a good question… is erowid a wiki? Well it is certainly fast growing, it is full of information and all contributions by people who aren’t paid to do it. It is not at the same level as Wikipedia but it is still a similar style information resource. Is it possible that some websites have evolved into wiki style? Maybe that is something you need to consider. What really separates a small wiki and a website where everyone one voluntary contributes for nothing like erowid? I think whether or not people find sites like erowid a hassle to navigate depends on their internet experience generally and what pieces of software they like to use. To be honest I think it is quite well sorted and easy to find what I need.

      I do agree that there needs to be less “filler” and more “Killer” in web 2.0.

      Cheers for your comment.

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