Cameron McEfee / Github Octodex

GitHub Harnessing Collective Intelligence

What is GitHub?

GitHub is a web 2.0 platform used predominately by developers for hosting source code and collaborating on IT projects. Robert Mcmillan (Mcmillan, 2012) summarised GitHub as

Facebook for geeks… Anyone can comment on your code and add to it and build it into something better.”

GitHub stands out as a collaborative tool due its ability to utilise networking to harness collective intelligence, or as Tim O’Reilly ( O’Reilly, 2012) describes it, the ability to“…harness network effects, so that they become better the more people use them”. Thus the usefulness of a Web 2.0 application such as GitHub increases as more people contribute and interact with it.

How GitHub Harnesses Collective Intelligence

Github harnesses collective intelligence by bringing developers together from any number of disciplines to work on a single project by enabling collaboration in the form of social coding. This enables a project to be exposed to a wider range of knowledge and expertise. It does this via a complex, yet user-friendly revision control system.

Users are able to make a copy or ‘fork’ of a project and add it to their account, then make changes without affecting the original. These changes can be shared back to the original project by sending a “pull request” to the original owner.

The true ‘harnessing of collective intelligence’ comes through review and validation of the quality of work submitted. The original owner can accept or decline revisions, and each submission is open to public scrutiny. If the request is accepted the user receives credit on both the original repository and their user profile. Pollack (as cited in Finley, 2012) explains that this is where the network effect plays a role in GitHub by rating contributions and building reputation. This means that useful contributions are valued more by the community, thus becoming part of the collective intelligence required to develop quality projects.

How does GitHub stack up?

The main competitor to GitHub is Atlassian Bitbucket (formerly two separate services). The function and purpose of both services is near identical with a few exceptions, namely, the version control system and software integration.

At the core of GitHub is the version control system called Git around which the platform is based. At this point, Git and Subversion are the only version control systems supported by GitHub. This is seen by some as a limitation due to the level of difficulty in migrating projects utilising different version control systems.

Atlassian Bitbucket on the other hand, supports a range of different version control systems as well as inbuilt integration for a range of professional software development tools including Jira, Bamboo, Crucible, and Jenkins.

Despite Git’s drawbacks, it still remains a prime platform for the harnessing of collective intelligence through collaboration, particularly for open-source projects. Johnathan Freedman (Freedman , 2003) supports this by stating that “GitHub is the clear winner based on its community and notable projects”. Github CIO Scott Chacon (as cited in Knapp, 2014) believes that a GitHub-like approach could be applied to other industries to improve workflow and revolutionise the way businesses approach projects.


Finley, K. (2012, July 14). What Exactly Is GitHub Anyway? TechCrunch. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from

Freeman, J. (2003, September 18). Bitbucket vs. GitHub: Which project host has the most? InfoWorld. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from,1

Knapp, A. (2012, November 09). Compute Midwest: GitHub CIO Scott Chacon On The Future Of Work. Forbes. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from

McMillan, R. (2012, February 19). Lord of the Files: How GitHub Tamed Free Software (And More). Retrieved March 9, 2014, from

O’Reilly Media Inc. (2006, Fall). Web 2.0 Principles and Best Practices. O’ Reilly Radar. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from

Reilly, T. O. (2010, November 10). Harnessing Collective Intelligence. O’Reilly Radar. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from 

Image credit: Cameron McEfee / Github Octodex