The Internet Hive Mind at Work

Several bloggers, most notably Steve Denbeste, have written about the concept of a hive mind. In a nutshell, a hive mind can be described as a self-organizing group/team where the collective brain power of the individuals combine to create a “superbeing” whose knowledge is greater than the sum of its parts. To the best of my knowledge, the term was originally associated with certain species of insects and their ability to self-organize and demostrate remarkable intelligence for insects. The internet hive mind describes a similar phenomenon where groups of people, frequently with no formal ties and no personal relationships with each other, cooperate together to accomplish a task and then separate just as quickly.

The internet hive mind has demonstrated its power on occassion, but never, in my opinion, like it has in the last 24+ hours. As you are probably well aware, on Wednesday September 8th, CBS aired a report on 60 Minutes II that raised new questions on Bush guard servce. Key pieces of evidence presented were memos written by one Col. Jerry Killian that supposedly showed George W. Bush trying to get out of his National Guard drills. One particular memo (PDF) caught the attention of several people online, which began a blurringly fast chain of events as the internet mind hive organized itself.

At issue is the font used in the memo, which was supposedly written in the early 1970’s. Many people identified the font as the standard Times New Roman font used in Microsoft Word, which wouldn’t be created for another 10 years. Others took issue with the superscript “th” in 187th, which wasn’t even possible on the model of IBM Selectric typewriter the National Guard was using in the early seventies, or the fact that the type is kerned, which is impossible for any typewriter to physically do (typewriters don’t have the ability to know which letters are next to each other, so they don’t have the ability to kern text). Hundreds or thousands of people, each with their own area of expertise, contributed their knowledge to the investigation, which primarily took place on the Power Line Blog, the breakers of this story. Forensic document experts chimed in, as did former military personnel and font experts. Even regular bloggers participated, creating exact replicas of the memo in Microsoft Word using the default settings.

The fact that this happened at all is amazing to me, but the really fascinating thing to me is how fast it occured. I was fortunate enough to be reading Power Line, Instapundit, and Little Green Footballs as people were contributing, and it was truly an awesome sight. Within a matter of hours, average people contributing to web blogs were able to do what CBS and the Main Stream Media couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do in 6 months. If this doesn’t get the attention of the Media, nothing will.