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Curtis is wrong

First, he clearly doesn’t understand the concept behind “the wisdom of crowds”. The idea was created specifically to distinguish a certain kind of collective intelligence that’s different from “crowd psychology”, which is largely the source of crowds being “dumb”.

YouTube doesn’t work because of “editors”, the editors are just more people in the crowd. The good stuff gets voted up, mentioned to friends, and generally gets lots of views. The junk languishes. Wikipedia is another example—the editors are the crowd.

The kinds of information aggregation that show the “wisdom of crowds” effect do require some structure (something that filters and combines the individual contributions), but pretending that it’s some secret “power behind the throne” effect is just wrong.

The book that made the idea relatively well-known had several examples where the “wisdom of crowds” was very effective. A crowd of random people at a county fair guessed the weight of an ox. So did several experts. The average of the onlookers guess was closer to the actual weight than any of the experts.

The most powerful example is the futures market, which consistently predicts future prices of goods far more accurately than any other method. The idea has been adapted for use in predicting other sorts of future outcomes, too—elections, discoveries, and so on. Futures markets generally outperform alternative efforts at prediction.

I’ve never spent any time on Fark and I don’t know how it works. On the other hand, sites like Digg and Slashdot seem to do a pretty effective job at harnessing the “wisdom of crowds” for the same purpose.

Pointing out a couple of badly conceived political web sites doesn’t really make the case he’s trying to argue.

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