Ming the Mechanic:
The Dumbness of Crowds

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 The Dumbness of Crowds2007-01-10 20:15
3 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

Very nice article at Passionate about when crowds become smart and when they become dumb.
"Collective intelligence" is a pile of people writing Amazon book reviews.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is a pile of people collaborating on a wiki to collectively author a book...

"Collective Intelligence" is all the photos on Flickr, taken by individuals on their own, and the new ideas created from that pool of photos (and the API).

"Dumbness of Crowds" is expecting a group of people to create and edit a photo together.

"Collective Intelligence" is about getting input and ideas from many different people and perspectives.

"Dumbness of Crowds" is blindly averaging the input of many different people, and expecting a breakthrough.
(It's not always the averaging that's the problem it's the blindly part)

"Collective Intelligence" is about the community on Threadless, voting and discussing t-shirts designed by individuals.

"Dumbness of Crowds" would be expecting the Threadless community to actually design the t-shirts together as a group.

Art isn't made by committee.

Great design isn't made by consensus.

True wisdom isn't captured from a crowd.
And the main point here:
It's the sharp edges, gaps, and differences in individual knowledge that make the wisdom of crowds work, yet the trendy (and misinterpreted) vision of Web 2.0 is just the opposite--get us all collaborating and communicating and conversing all together as one big happy collaborating, communicating, conversing thing until our individual differences become superficial.
I agree. A crowd can become smart mainly because it is a collection of individuals, who're different, who have different knowledge, different resources, different viewpoints, and somehow a synergy emerges in what they do. Their different pieces complement each other, and something bigger becomes possible. It isn't that there's any great wisdom in averaging what a lot of people think. A vote by majority is pretty dumb. Lots of people applying their unique skills to working together - that can be really big.


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3 comments

11 Jan 2007 @ 08:51 by Tim @80.1.224.14 : Yes ...
I read this the other day and thought some good points were made. I have to confess, I was quite fired up by the 'wisdom of crowds' idea. (Not conscioulsy trying to be trendy - maybe influenced by 'the crowd'though!)  


14 Jan 2007 @ 18:13 by Hanae @68.164.233.147 : Karass and Granfalloon

The notion of Karass and granfalloon from Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind.

In social structures, the granfalloon is a group of people united or organized by decree and official hierarchies, a bureacratic structure. A granfalloon within a corporation may often be constrained and ineffective. On the other hand, the karass are those social networks that actually get the work done. Outside a company, a karass is a spontaneously forming group, joined by unpredictable or informal links.  



14 Jan 2007 @ 21:38 by ming : Granfalloon
Ah, cool, I didn't know that. A quote from the Wikipedia page there:

"A granfalloon, in the fictional religion of Bokononism (invented by Kurt Vonnegut in his 1963 novel Cat's Cradle), is defined as a "false karass" (imagined communities). That is, it is a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless in terms of fulfilling God's design. The most common granfalloons are associations and societies based on a shared but ultimately fabricated premise. As examples, Vonnegut cites: "the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows—and any nation, anytime, anywhere." A more general and oft-cited quote defines a granfalloon as "a proud and meaningless association of human beings." Another granfalloon example illustrated in the book was Hoosiers, of which the narrator (and Vonnegut himself) was a member (albeit grudgingly)."  



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