Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wisdom of the Crowds...

Can a large diversified group of people exhibit better knowledge of certain things than so called "experts?"
Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911)
The concept of the wisdom that lies in a crowd is simple.  The accumulated knowledge and judgment in a diversified group of people is more reliable than in a small group of experts.  On the face of it, this idea sounds preposterous, but this principle was first stumbled upon by Francis Galton.  He was many things during this life, explorer, anthropologist, inventor, meteorologist, and statistician.  He conducted a now famous experiment in which he had a crowd of at least 800 people guess the weight of an Ox.  Here is his description of the competition:
A weight-judging competition was carried on at the annual show of the West of England Fat Stock and Poultry Exhibition recently held at Plymouth (England). A fat ox having been selected, competitors bought stamped and numbered cards, for 6d. each, on which to inscribe their respective names, addresses, and estimates of what the ox would weigh after it had been slaughtered and “dressed.” Those who guessed most successfully received prizes. About 800 tickets were issued, which were kindly lent me for examination after they had fulfilled their immediate purpose. These afforded excellent material. The judgements were [unbiassed] by passion and uninfluenced by oratory and the like. The sixpenny fee deterred practical joking, and the hope of a prize and the joy of competition prompted each competitor to do his best. The competitors included butchers and farmers, some of whom were highly expert in judging the weight of cattle; others were probably guided by such information as they might pick up, and by their own fancies. The average competitor was probably as well fitted for making a just estimate of the dressed weight of the ox, as an average voter is of judging the merits of most political issues on which he votes, and the variety among the voters to judge justly was probably much the same in either case.
Obviously, by his words, Galton did not believing that this crowd would be capable of making an accurate judgment.  Having counted the guesses, the mean was 1,197lbs.  When the weighing of the Ox was done it was found to weigh 1,198lbs.  Galton was shocked: "This result is, I think, more creditable to the trustworthiness of a democratic judgement than might have been expected."**

Another case study in this wisdom of the crowds can be found in the example of Goldcorp.  We will quote an article by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams:
A few years back, Toronto-based gold mining company Goldcorp (GG) was in trouble. Besieged by strikes, lingering debts, and an exceedingly high cost of production, the company had terminated mining operations. Conditions in the marketplace were hardly favorable. The gold market was contracting, and most analysts assumed that the company's fifty-year old mine in Red Lake, Ontario, was dying. Without evidence of substantial new gold deposits, Goldcorp was likely to fold.  Chief Executive Officer Rob McEwen needed a miracle. Frustrated that his in-house geologists couldn't reliably estimate the value and location of the gold on his property, McEwen did something unheard of in his industry: He published his geological data on the Web for all to see and challenged the world to do the prospecting. The "Goldcorp Challenge" made a total of $575,000 in prize money available to participants who submitted the best methods and estimates.
The results were astonishing.  "The contestants identified 110 targets on the Red Lake property, more than 80% of which yielded substantial quantities of gold. In fact, since the challenge was initiated, an astounding 8 million ounces of gold have been found—worth well over $3 billion. Not a bad return on a half million dollar investment."***

Wisdom of the Crowds = Crowdsourcing

Wikipedia is an example of crowdsourcing.  There are restraints and checks on it, so it is not a pure example of it.  No matter what individuals may think of wikipedia, all must admit that it is very extensive, and in some areas very authoritative, simply because it covers subjects very few other sites cover.  We do not believe that wikipedia is grossly inaccurate as some might.  This is material for a future post.   Jimmy Wales, the founder of wikipedia, does not like the term crowdsourcing, "I find the term 'crowdsourcing' incredibly irritating," Wales says. "Any company that thinks it's going to build a site by outsourcing all the work to its users not only disrespects the users but completely misunderstands what it should be doing. Your job is to provide a structure for your users to collaborate, and that takes a lot of work."

The term crowdsourcing was first coined by Jeff Howe, in a seminal article named, The Rise of Crowdsourcing, appearing in Wired Magazine in 2006.  Some members of the designer community, do not like crowdsourcing, since they view at non-lucrative.

Democracy Crowdsourcing

Us Now from Banyak Films on Vimeo.
This is the arrival of the digital revolution to politics and the way democratic societies work.  It will also mark a change to dictatorships.  If people around the world can be unified, they are stronger than any army, government or any other force in the world.  The Obama Administration has attempted this, and has encountered problems with it.

Because it is so easy to filter one’s reading online, extreme views dominate the discussion. Moderates are underrepresented, so citizens seeking better health care may seem less numerous than poker fans. The Internet’s image of openness and equality belies its inequities of race, geography and age.  Lies spread like wildfire on the Web; Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, no Luddite, warned last October that if the great brands of trusted journalism died, the Internet would become a “cesspool” of bad information.
 One experiment has been which is a government site which seeks to inform the people of where the stimulus package has gone.  Here, they can report waste or fraud.  We have no doubt that this is the future of government, whether they like it or not.  We agree with some, that any problems we had with this continuing experiment are growing pains.  These new social networks allow people to provide unconventional ideas that the experts could never come up with.  Crowdsourcing is also called an idea jam.

"Idea management is really a three-part process," says Bob Pearson, who as Dell's former chief of communities and conversation rode heard on IdeaStorm. "The first is listening. That's obvious." The second part, Pearson says, was integration, "actually disseminating the best ideas throughout our organization. We had engineers studying IdeaStorm posts and debating how they could be implemented.  The last part is the trickiest and most important: "It involves not just enacting the ideas, but going back into your community and telling them what you've done." Starbucks, which maintains its own version of IdeaStorm, employs 48 full-time moderators whose only job is to engage the online community. In other words, Starbucks is investing the vast share of its resources in the second and third parts of the idea management cycle.**
Crowdsourcing Journalism or Democratic Journalism
Sites like and are places where people can rate news stories and give them importance that way.  They in a sense become the editors deciding what should appear as top news.  This encourages citizen involvement.  Yet it is also seen as biased to the extent that an editor in newspaper might be biased sinking some stories and raising others according to his own outlook.  Some view crowd thinking as similar to Orwell's "groupthink," easily influenceable and manipulated.  Others claim that these websites can be manipulated by a few with the right technical skills, making it appear as if a large number of users were voting the story to the top.  But to us this is an argument not against the idea of the wisdom of crowds but in favor of tweaking the system so it works in truth.  This is the same problem the Obama Administration needs to do.  Either way crowdsourcing is here to stay and marks the road to the future.

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