Wisdom is defined as knowledge combined with judgement that allows us to choose the option that is best. Certain crowds are said to possess wisdom, and given the proper tools this wisdom can be extracted (or created).
Many people inherently believe and trust that crowds can decide better than individuals: judges’ decisions can be appealed to larger & larger panels of judges, celebrities are ranked by how many people are fans, et cetera.
Yet trying to make crowds decide implies that there is a decision engine that can operate the crowd. And we don’t know individually how we decide. But collectively, the decision engine may be one programmed via software, but operated by human contributors.
We typically – or always – use some emotion in our decisions, and the crowd supposedly doesn’t. Or shouldn’t, perhaps.
We could each make the best decisions for ourselves… if we had more time to focus in depth on all options. But we don’t have time, and the crowd does seem to have time to focus on all options in parallel.
And there are those who want to create the illusion of a crowd decision, but to also influence that decision at the same time.
The future promises that, via social networks, we can have a more focused crowd… our personal crowd. This crowd may not be only people we are friends with, but it will be tuned to us as individuals using a collection of inflences. The promise is that your crowd will help and guide you in ways you can’t or don’t have time to.
Some tools that perform this help are available now, but they’re early-stage compared to what will come later. Yet perhaps these tools will have to work around some issues…
A recent study confirmed what I’ve long thought – and assumed – about participation: there is a vocal minority that drives conversation. If one applies the long-assumed 80-20 rule (Pareto Principle) to online social media, the percentages will vary but the result is similar.
Most people (i.e. the 80%) really don’t participate or contribute much, in areas such as rating or voting. And within the group that does constructively contribute their voice (i.e. to 20%), only a very small percent do the bulk of activity. This collection of hyper-contributers allows a very small group to skew the message of the so-called crowd.
Whether or not future studies validate the reported skewing of the crowd’s wisdom, there also is an issue of how the crowd’s decision engine might be constructed. Search for skin care recomendations online and there are sites that are constructed to show apparent crowd opinions, yet these sites are bogus. They are set up to sell a product, using the appearance of being an unconnected third party.
The authenticitiy of the wisdom of crowds may work at times like statistics… statistics are frequently calculated so that they prove the point that is desired (while obscuring other data that may be contrary to what message is to be communicated).
The writeup continues in the next part which will include a look at the four key attributes of what could be called wise crowds, using what the wisdom of crowds concept specified: Diversity, Independence, Decentralization, and Aggregation. In the meantime, as an overview towards crowd wisdom, the first video below is from PBS NOVA ScienceNOW, and the video farther down is from 2007 and highlights some of the wisdom of crowds concepts:
(This is part one of a longer post that needed to be broken into smaller pieces, and is continued here)