Maney on the Wisdom of Crowds

he WOC has been around forever — it’s what democratic elections try to tap into. But the Net takes it to a whole new level. “The Internet provides a mechanism to get lots of diverse opinions and aggregate it in a quick and cost-effective way,” Surowiecki tells me.

So if a company can use the Net to tap the collected intelligence of its employees, the employees will make better decisions than the CEO. IBM, Google and others have tried this. Wikipedia, written and edited by tens of thousands of unpaid contributors, should be better than an encyclopedia written and edited by specialists. News sites such as Digg, which lets users vote stories to the front page, should surface the best stuff more effectively than professional editors.

Except it doesn’t always work that way. Pointing specifically at Wikipedia, Lauren Weinstein of the People for Internet Responsibility says that the Net has propagated a “basic fallacy that a wisdom-of-crowds approach could ever work, even theoretically.”

Which might be extreme. But clearly some of the WOC mechanisms in use today have shortcomings.

Good balanced take on the WOC. Will be useful for class discussion this semester.