Unwisdom of Crowds

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The Unwisdom of Crowds = a critique of the Wisdom of Crowds theory and Web 2.0 paradigm


The concept comes from Marc Fawzi in the Evolving Trends blog, who makes 3 sets of arguments.

The last version of his arguments can be found in this blog entry at http://evolvingtrends.wordpress.com/2006/07/06/digg-killer-detailed/

Argument 1: Crows can only make average or mediocre judgments

"A hierarchy that doesn’t listen to the crowd (or that forces and manipulates the crowd to listen to it) is a dictatorship (e.g. North Korea, Iran, the 3rd Reich, etc.)

Note that the designations of ‘condensed’ and ‘dispersed’ given below for crowds are relative to the ability of the members of the crowd to communicate with each other and affect each other’s judgment.

A dispersed crowd without a non-arbitrary hierarchy will produce averaged judgment.

A condensed crowd without a non-arbitrary hierarchy may produce averaged or lowest-common-denominator judgment, depending on whether or not its judgment is rationally or psychologically driven. In case the judgment is about a measurable value it would most likely be rationally driven. In case the judgment is about a quality it would most likely be psychologically driven.

However, a typical crowd is a mix of the dispersed and condensed crowds. Thus, its range of judgment includes both averaged as well as lowest-common-denominator judgments." (http://evolvingtrends.wordpress.com/2006/07/06/digg-killer-detailed/)

Argument 2: Web 2.0 practices resemble hunter-gathering practices and are regressive

"Observe: trusted individuals are once again the source of news in a society (i.e. bloggers)

Observe: word of mouth is once again how news spreads (i.e. viral marketing)

Observe: people once again hunt and gather in a crowd (e.g. digg)

Observe: people once again group things using words like small, big, happy, sad, funny, food rather than detailed hierarchical structures (i.e. tags)

Observe: once again, sharing between people cannot be explained with the strict concept of economic reciprocity and is being explained by the egalitarian and optimistic notion that what is good for all is good for one (YouTube, del.icio.us, etc.)

These are all traits of a hunter-gatherer society, i.e. a pre-agricultural society.

But is going back to a society with no formally defined social, economic and political hierarchies a good thing or a bad thing?

I content that it’s a bad thing and that Web 2.0 has got it all wrong by throwing away tens of thousands of years of adaptation and evolution of human society (on the behavioral and structural levels.)

This regression is being covered up by the false notion of the ‘wisdom of crowds.’" (http://evolvingtrends.wordpress.com/2006/07/06/digg-killer-detailed/)

Argument 3: Therefore, we need a democratic hierarchy/crowd mix

"A mixed ‘hierarchical + crowd’ system, which ideally allows the crowd to adjusts the judgment (of the system), is a democracy.

Electing Leaders in a Democracy: Building the System

In an application like digg (or the digg killer to be exact) taste makers (writers, content producers, social figures, business figures, and others who are higher in the food chain than the consumer, collectively referred to as the ‘taste makers’) should be allowed to start their own channel (or pages where they list links they think are cool.) If enough people ‘bookmark’ a given page then that means that the taste-maker in question is worthy of being positioned into the system’s hierachy at a higher level than that of the consumer. The taste-makers can then rally their followers (those who use them as taste-makers) to digg the links the taste maker has chosen to put on his/her page.

This is similar to parliamentary democracy where members of the parliament have to get enough votes on a given issue from their district in order to pass it into law.

The key here is that the ‘trusted’ taste-makers get to decide which links to promote for votes from their followers.

At the same time, people in the crowd should be able to vote the taste-makers in or out of the system’s hierarchical structure by bookmarking or un-bookmarking their page.

Anyone who has followers can become a taste-maker, but they would have to replace an existing taste-maker as the system has a finite hierarchy with finite number of taste-maker positions (e.g. in the thousands.) And once someone is elected as a taste-maker they would stay in the role for a certain period before they can be voted in or out of the position by their followers (assuming another contender has nominated himself/herself for the position.)

This is a very simple ‘hierarchical + crowd’ system that implements a very simple form of leader-follower democratic process.

The perils of letting the crowd decide without giving them a democratic structure and process is to let lowest-common-denominator and averaged judgments become the norm.

Leaders and Crowds need to work together within a democratic structure and process to assure the best judgment possible." (http://evolvingtrends.wordpress.com/2006/07/06/digg-killer-detailed/)