Crowd surfing….No I mean Crowdsourcing. Is that the same as Collective Intelligence?

Resorting to YouTube and Wikipedia for definitions of both Crowdsourcing and Collective Intelligence, I quickly realised that I was actually using Web 2.0 applications that were utilising these techniques to understand the two definitions as both YouTube and Wikipedia are examples of Web 2.0 applications.

I found watching Jeff Howe describe Crowdsourcing (BrightSightGroup, 2008) and a video on the corporate vision of Collective Intelligence (psbobj, 2007) helped in simplifying both of these phrases to:

A web 2.0 application that has harnessed collective intelligence is an application which encourages user participation and has the ability to leverage the participants to improve the product or content.

Viewing interesting medical imaging cases is my passion, I am fortunate to work at a large teaching hospital that has a large number of interesting cases available. Teaching hospitals throughout the world use a variety of recording devices to ensure appropriate cases are available for teaching at anytime. In the Web 1.0 environment, only studies performed in the particular hospital are available to be stored and recorded in the hospital’s library. Health professionals working in small hospitals are not exposed to this number of cases and education has to be sourced elsewhere. Welcome Web 2.0.

As the definition of a collective intelligence states, a good Web 2.0 application should encourage worldwide participation and continually improve the application’s content. When focussing on Web 2.0 medical imaging teaching libraries, (McKesson Medical Imaging Group, 2008) is a perfect example.  The application enables over 50 thousand users from over 60 countries to upload interesting cases to one central location. The site has over 25 thousand cases that are freely available to anyone across the world, far more than any single library could ever provide its users. Furthermore, if a user has an account, they can set case quizzes or rank cases and leave comments for other authors, increasing the quality of the content. 

Legally, there is a question over who owes the medical images and whether permission needs to be obtained from the patient to publish the images to the world. has a terms of service and a privacy policy  that state clearly that patient authorization has to be obtained prior to submission of information that may identify a patient or if in violation of any applicable law.

Are users aware they may be breaking the law if they have not obtained the patient’s consent? There is also a question about whether a patient can be identified by a phenomenon called ‘inference’ where information from deduction of non-sensitive data has been made (Tinazzi, 2011).

Interestingly, the Australian privacy act dictates the images are owned by the health service provider (Office of Australian Information Commissioner, 2011).


BrightSightGroup. (2008). Jeff Howe – Crowdsourcing.   Retrieved 3rd March, 2012, from

McKesson Medical Imaging Group. (2008). – Reference Case Manager.   Retrieved 10th March, 2012, from

Office of Australian Information Commissioner. (2011). Who owns my medical records?   Retrieved 12th March, 2012, from

psbobj. (2007). Collective Intelligence – The Vision.   Retrieved 3rd March, 2012, from

Tinazzi, A. (2011). Social networking in healthcare – security and privacy implications. Pulse IT magazine,40-41 from


9 thoughts on “Crowd surfing….No I mean Crowdsourcing. Is that the same as Collective Intelligence?

  1. I found your title very interesting, because I thought of the same as at did research for the first blog post. What I understood from what I read, was that crowd sourcing is a way of harnessing collective intelligence, and is something thats starting to become quite common in businesses as a new way of resolving issues or problems. Would you say you agree?

      • Wow, thats very cool! Have you read the book? Maybe its possible to find a summary somewhere. Would have been interesting to see his main thought about this, and how he explains the phenomenon. I reckon he mentions web 2.0.. Crowdsourcing is such an obvious result of this new attitude.

  2. Hi Nicole,

    I like your post. It is very insightful. I am a master student majoring in library science and previously work as a medical librarian. My first blog post is also about harnessing collective intelligence in libraries. Therefore your post is just click to me 😉

    I found a good article by Pugh, Majella (2010). Wiki-connections: creating synergies within an academic library’s virtual health hub. It explored the use of Wiki amongst medical librarians at UQ Library. You might wanna take a look on it.

    I am just curious, what is your opinion on using information from wikipedia, as online encyclopedia which depends on the collective intelligence, in medical science? Do you think it is acceptable? Considering people from any backgrounds and any purposes can edit and vandalise the content.

    • Thanks for the comments bmulatiningsih.
      I think there is a place for wikipedia in health. If the content is referenced from well cited articles, I think it is fine. The only problem is users who do not understand how wikipedia uses the collective intelligence, will take the information given as gospel. This could end badly.
      I often hear my patients say I have learnt all about my disease from Google and not through my doctor…. The information that used to be only available to health professionals is available to the world. So patients can now go armed with questions from what they have read to their next health appointment.
      I think this is the way forward with health – patients need to make educated decisions on their own health.

      Let me know what you think?

      • Hi Nicole,

        I did literature search for this issue and found two interesting articles. The first article is from Cobb stated that only a small portion (~20%) of articles in Wikipedia, one of the most successful collaborative wiki projects, was being vandalised, and the median time of the vandalised article correction was much less than half an hour (Cobb, 2009).

        In regards of the use of wiki in medical science, another study showed that even web 2.0 and Wikipedia are suitable enough as sources for medical and health practitioner and students (Haigh, 2010).

        Here is the reference from those articles if you want to look in more detail:

        Cobb, L (2009) Study of vandalism survival times, The Wikipedia Signpost, 22 June,
        viewed 18 August 2010,, Wikipedia_Signpost/2009-06-22/Vandalism

        Haigh,C. A.(2010). Wikipedia as an evidence source for nursing and healthcare students. Nurse Education Today, In Press. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2010.05.004

  3. Thanks for the very interesting blog post, I wasn’t aware that such sites even exist! I guess nowadays the general rule is that if you can think of it, chances are you can also find it on the internet… 🙂 I think you have raised a very interesting issue in your last paragraph, namely that even if sensitive personal data is “sanitized” before a user posts an image to the site (which is rather trivial to do, technically speaking), where do you actually draw the line for “inference”? This is an area where the rules are getting quite fuzzy and it raises certain ethical and moral dilemmas… It reminds me of what I read the other day that by only collecting data on one’s browsing habits, it is possible to identify the individual fairly accurately…

    • In our profession, we are thinking about ‘inference’ all the time. Every time someone other than the patient requests a copy of medical images there has to be serious consideration about whether the patient’s pathology will be so rare that they will be identified simply from the images without any reference to the hospital location, age,sex or any other patient detail that may remain on the image.
      I find it interesting that some post photos of their xrays on Facebook not thinking that it is there for the world to see anyway! Again the boundaries between what should be private or not are quite fuzzy……

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