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Does wisdom of crowds work?

The Wisdom of Crowds describes what is known as collaborative production exemplified by the wiki.  My goal in writing about "the wisdom of crowds" is to provoke thought about this innovative new way to create mass intelligence and to determine what you (the crowd) might think.  After all, 300 million US brains out there are better than one. 
The growth of Wikipedia hasn't come without controversy.  Are we as a society ready to embrace large scale collaboration?  Do the "bad apples" destroy the rest of the bunch?  Or does crowd sourcing really work?

Clearly Defined Goals

I think with clearly defined goals and contributions, crowd sourcing works.  With Wikipedia it was known that the goal was to create the best source of the world's knowledge.  With self controlling and self policing, the crowd ensures that it locks out the bad apples of the bunch.  With a big enough sample size, which is very achievable online, entries should always revert to the mean (or in this case, the correct definition).  However, the key to this is the clearly defined goals of the project.  For example, Digg's premise is for users to "digg" the most interesting news stories in an effort to create a crowd sourced "front page."  That's what you do on Digg.  It's difficult to organize any type of malicious behavior here because it is difficult to communicate with such a massive audience, unless a crowd riot occurs....  Users continually posted an HD/BluRay encryption key over and over again on Digg even after Digg officials took it down.  Here we see how the herd mentality nearly dug Digg a shallow grave.  Regardless of this anomaly, I still believe in the collective intelligence of many as opposed to just one. 


Crowdstorming gives a quick and dirty list of incentives for participation: academia, charity, money, fun, community participation, forced participation, self-benefit from the product, and interest in the content.  Eric Goldman once posted that lack of incentives will kill Wikipedia.   However contrast this with the "W" effect described here, which essentially states that with high fines and high rewards like jail and say a brand new car, respectively, people will work very hard to either stay out of jail or to win a brand new car.  Makes sense.  However, everyone that edits Wikipedia doesn't get a new car....The argument becomes, what is it worth to give incentives out to Wikipedia entry makers?  IBM gives a $25 gift card for contributing to its Lotus Notes wiki.  In my opinion (just like the W effect), cash doesn't work.  Small rewards don't work.  I think people will create something because they want to and if you offer cash rewards it will "cheapen" their work.  I put my videos on YouTube.  I don't make them (each video maybe takes upwards of 20+ hours of writing, production, editing) because I get paid (disclaimer: I did win a viral video contest and won a MacBookPro, but that's it) but because my name is associated with it.  I think that's the beauty of MySpace, YouTube, and Wikipedia, pride in collective ownership.  And pride is something that you can't attribute any dollar amount too. 

Collaboration is everywhere; even today as I was watching Olympic woman's cycling - one athlete had sprinted ahead and the newscasters did their calculations and said that the chase pack of four would eventually catch the loan cyclist even though at one point she had a 20 second lead.  And they were right.  Strength in numbers whether in sports or in creating collective intelligence.  Thoughts?

Posted: August 10, 2008

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