Can Strategy Be Crowdsourced?

Business hype over wikis, networks, and crowdsourcing has led to some dangerous misconceptions about the nature of network forms in counterterrorism and irregular warfare. While network forms of organization are superior to hierarchies in many ways, their strength has been substantially exaggerated. Emergent intelligences cannot formulate strategy nor sustain momentum beyond the tactical level of conflict, networks are not as invincible as commonly portrayed, and hierarchies have certain advantages worth preserving. […]

Anonymous was kind of cyber-militia, not a band of cyber-soldiers. Galled by what they saw as the CoS’ heavy-handed censorship, they attacked it for a while before retiring back to their usual activities on the 4Chan IRC channel. Americans, ornery and independent by nature, tend to valorize militias and distrust professional militaries. But we often forget that our own militias lacked the means or motivation to battle the British for extended periods of time during the Revolution. Washington found it difficult to make them battle during harvest season, and could not force them to fight far from their homes and families. He required the likes of Baron Von Steuben to mold them into a disciplined and professional fighting force through the usage of repetitive drills and training. Our tech-hype about crowdsourcing is another form of militia worship that may be admirable and egalitarian in spirit but dangerous when it is used to overestimate the strategic abilities of emergent foes.

Full Story: GroupIntel

(via Zenpundit)


  1. I would argue that Teh Internets has been such a game-changer since that was written that it’s not really a useful map anymore.

    Just the same, I do appreciate the read. You got a brain full of stuff that might as well be martian to me, I always dig your links/recommendations.

  2. In different terms, this sums up my criticism of activist culture.

  3. I think the first paragraph pretty much says it. Networks are good for some things and hierarchies are good for some things. Loose network guerilla tactics will usually beat standing armies if the network is defending their own territory and people, because there’s nothing centralized to bomb. On the other hand, try to move larger amounts of energy/money towards a specific end with a decentralized network and see if you can even figure where it all went afterwards. They don’t call it a “power structure” for nothing. What we need are structures that use decentralized networking to spontaneously form AND DECONSTRUCT local power structures as appropriate, so they have the flexibility and resiliancy, but also the effectiveness. Of course, organizational effectiveness is the holy grail of human history. The groups able to most effectively channel group energies win wars, defeat business competition, and so on. Part of the problem with our civilization in general and the US Federal government in particular is that we are close to the limits of our current organizational effectiveness. Certainly, computer connectivity has the potential to (further) change the equation, but it will take some hard thinking to figure out how to scale up. I rememeber about 15 years ago that the USDA (which, due to their involvement in agriculture, has at least one office in every county) did an audit and was unable to determine how many offices they had.

  4. From reading the comments at the original article, it would seem that perhaps there is quite a bit more information from some of the original writers on the subject that is largely ignored in layman or enthusiast descriptions of the subject.

    From my perspective, the relative wisdom of a crowd will approach the level of wisdom of its smartest members whenever you have the following: free and vigorous communication, smart people who can effectively communicate their ideas to the rest of the group, the time to reach the right conclusion, and a critical mass of people within the group capable of making good assessments of competing ideas and by the virtue of social action compelling those who are either not engaged in the conversation or lack either the critical thinking skills or the information necessary to make independent judgement (hopefully the latter but often the former). Thus, consensus is only achieved when the maximally beneficial idea is clear.

    I think that frame is useful in approaching problems of groups in general. If there is social pressure against presenting information that goes against the established worldview, communication is made ineffective. If the social group that informs consensus is unwilling to engage in or incapable of intellectual honesty, there will be no righteous action by the group except by accident of intersection between ideology and propriety.

  5. The cell-structure can be impossible to defeat by armies and police but ‘can’t be beat’ is not the same as ‘victorious.’

  6. The key to what kind of results you get with a network structure, and make no mistake a network is also a structure, is the protocols that operate that network. How and what communication travels over the network, how the parts interact, etc.

    For example, a cell structured network, or a network with clustering is more action oriented than one fragmented to a mass and individual structure, or a loose crowd. I have no doubt that crowdsourced strategy is possible but we’d have to put some thought into how we organize the crowd before we’ll see intelligent results from it.

  7. God I love this shit. You guys rock. Excellent point, Edward. To see everyone take a complex article on a deep subject and make excellent points on the subject that further the discussion, how sadly rare and really wonderful it is!

    The world is in our hands, folks. It just doesn’t realize it yet.

  8. Edward added some important detail to my earlier comment. If you can create structures with some hierarchy, but that are fluid — that is, deconstruct and reconstruct the hierarchies in response to the need to direct power, you can have the best of both worlds. Obviously not easy due to the human tendency for power to have gravity. Power tends to try to collect more power and not release it, so the trick is not so much to get the hierarchies to form, but to form effective ones that disassemble when they are done.

  9. Just wanted to expand on:

    “Certainly, computer connectivity has the potential to (further) change the equation, but it will take some hard thinking to figure out how to scale up.”

    I think the game-changing comes from the fact it scales up on it’s own. The hard thinking is in anticipating and coping with the social changes this scaling presents. Right now almost half the Earth’s population is connected to the network via a mobile phone. That’s definitely successful scaling — our theories and social structures have not adapted with it, though. That’s where the fun of this century comes in!

    …or something.

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