Sometimes Crowds Aren’t That Wise

This seems to suggest that all it takes is one rotten apple to ruin the collective’s wisdom, but I don’t know that I agree.

Every online community is different; and if the crowd’s wisdom is strong, and its critical faculties rigourous enough, proposed disinformation can easily be discovered, amended, and collectively put to rest. Not always, perhaps, but often.

What do you think happens when the crowd is let “run wild”? Is it for the best or the worst?

Last week, computer book publisher SitePoint relayed a story about recent experiences with Digg that demonstrates that the Digg system is far from perfect. We’ve written recently on ReadWriteWeb about the decline and fall of quality on Digg, but SitePoint’s anecdote demonstrates that sometimes the wisdom of crowds approach is, well, kind of dumb. Now is probably a good time to revisit the rules for harnessing the wisdom of the crowds we published on this blog a year ago.

SitePoint Marketing Manager Shayne Tilley talked about the company’s efforts to promote a recent book giveaway via Digg on an SP blog. Within an hour after the promotion went live it had been dugg 30 times, but then, just as quickly, it was buried. Was it because SitePoint had submitted their own content to Digg, something that Digg users generally frown upon? No, SitePoint hadn’t done that, they just put a “Digg This” button on the campaign page.

SitePoint’s experience is an example of herd behavior or groupthink, where the Digg group acted blindly on poor information, without rationally thinking it through. This is a problem with the wisdom of crowds concept: if unchecked, rather than coming to the best conclusion based on the wisdom of the group, a crowd can come to the worst conclusion based on dumbness that spreads from a single bad node.

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