Yahoo bets on the group mind

Why the purchase of by the search giant is part of the narrative of globalization

By Andrew Leonard
Published December 9, 2005 11:15PM (EST)

On Friday, Yahoo announced the purchase of, a kind of distributed bookmark site that Katharine Mieszkowski wrote about in Salon in February. describes itself as a "collection of favorites -- yours and everyone else's." Perhaps the simplest way to explain it is as a way for people to share their online bookmarks with each other. And maybe the most complicated way to describe it is to say that it is an example of the collective intelligence, the group mind, of the Internet in action. Yahoo's purchase of the site is an intriguing sign that tapping the grass-roots-driven power of online "communities" is a key strategy for the search giant's future growth.

Why, you may be wondering, am I mentioning this in a blog ostensibly about globalization? I'm so glad you asked! Much has been made of the fact that the emergence of the Internet has brought the nations and peoples of the world "closer" together. Information crosses borders at the speed of light, facilitating all kinds of things, from the spread of news and gossip to the offshoring and outsourcing of labor and far beyond. Whether you are pro- or anti-globalization or somewhere in between, it's hard to deny that the Internet is one of the foundation stones of the contemporary global economy.

The question is, what can we expect to see built on top of that foundation? Globalization is a fearsome force, if only because of the obvious way in which it is weakening the power of organized labor in the industrialized world. But the creation of a global community of minds via the Internet, the burgeoning of conversations mediated by social networking sites and blogs and mailing lists and e-mail and instant messaging is also a fantastically potent and positive force for the expression of ideas and the creation of community that kowtows to no authority. Part of the story of globalization, then, is the story of the Internet, and how people are using it to organize themselves in new and powerful ways. So when you see posts here about hackers and geeks twisting the Net to their own purposes -- and being co-opted by Yahoo and Google and Microsoft as soon as their creations gain traction -- that's what's going on. It's the narrative of interconnection, and we're all part of it every time we log on.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works