How to avoid the unwisdom of crowds

Peer to peer like structures are not always better, and the quality of peer to peer processes often depend on the precise mix of leadership and democracy. A wrong mixture gives rise to the kind of wrongheaded processes recently decried by Jaron Lanier.

So the following reblogged entry is extremely important to understand this. Thanks to Marc Fawzi of the Evolving Trends blog for this very clear piece. It’s called ‘Digg Killer’:”

Thanks to Mark Dilley and Sam Rose for alerting me to it.

A hierarchy that doesn’t listen to the crowd (or that forces and manipulates the crowd to listen to it) is a dictatorship (e.g. North Korea, Iran, the 3rd Reich, etc.)

Note that the designations given below of ‘condensed’ and ‘dispersed’ for crowds are relative to the ability of the members of a given crowd to communicate with each other and affect each other’s judgment.

A dispersed crowd without a non-arbitrary hierarchy will produce averaged judgment.

A condensed crowd without a non-arbitrary hierarchy may produce lowest-common-denominator judgment or averaged judgment, depending on whether or not its judgment is rationally or psychologically driven. In case the judgment to be made is about a measurable value it would most likely be rationally driven. In case the judgment to be made is about a quality it would most likely be psychologically driven.

However, a typical crowd is a mix of the dispersed and condensed crowds. Thus, its range of judgments includes both averaged as well as lowest-common-denominator judgments.

A mixed ‘hierarchical + crowd’ system, which ideally allows the crowd to adjusts the judgment (of the system), is a democracy.

Electing Leaders in a Democracy: Building the System

In an application like digg (or the digg killer to be exact) taste makers (writers, content producers, social figures, business figures, and others who are higher in the food chain than the consumer, collectively referred to as the ‘taste makers’) are allowed to start their own channel (or pages where they list links they think are cool.) If enough people ‘bookmark’ a given page then that means that the taste-maker in question is worthy of being positioned into the system’s hierachy at a higher level than that of the consumer. The taste-makers can then rally their followers (those who use them as taste-makers) to digg the links the taste maker has chosen to put on his/her page.

This is similar to parliamentary democracy where members of the parliament have to get enough votes on a given issue from their district in order to pass it into law.

The key here is that the ‘trusted’ taste-makers get to decide which links to promote for votes from their followers.

At the same time, people in the crowd should be able to vote the taste-makers in or out of the system’s hierarchical structure by bookmarking or un-bookmarking their page.

Anyone who has followers can become a taste-maker, but they would have to replace an existing taste-maker as the system has a finite hierarchy with finite number of taste-maker positions (e.g. in the thousands.) And once someone is elected as a taste-maker they would stay in the role for a certain period before they can be voted in or out of the position by their followers (assuming another contender has nominated himself/herself for the position.)

This is a very simple ‘hierarchical + crowd’ system that implements a very simple form of leader-follower democratic process.

The perils of letting the crowd decide without giving them a democratic structure and process is to let lowest-common-denominator and averaged judgments become the norm.

Leaders and Crowds need to work together within a democratic structure and process to assure the best judgment possible.

BTW, this is not much different than the process whereby the crowd selects its taste-makers (e.g. Radio DJs, Wise men, etc.) except this provides a structure to formalize the process, which would be too costly and time-consuming in the real world. So may be this would also apply to how society elects its taste makers (outside of social bookmarking.)

The reason this system would kill digg is because it will have an aggregate quality of judgment so much better than digg.

4 Comments How to avoid the unwisdom of crowds

  1. AvatarMarc

    Thanks for linking to this.

    It’s “Marc” not “Mark” 🙂

    Marc / Evolving Trends

    p.s. I’m trying to get this point made clear to founders of social bookmarking sites, but I suppose it applies in general P2P context.

  2. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Going beyond the unwisdom of crowds, part two: a critique of the Web 2.0 paradigm and its Web 2.5 alternative

  3. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » The unwisdom of crowds, part three: questions and critique of the digg killer manifesto

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