I’ve been speaking against the idea of “Wisdom of the Crowd” in many tweets, but it might be good to explain why this is.
As usual, it starts with bad definitions of a good concept.
That idea has led to so many bad assumptions it’s just strange we can’t seem to get away from it.
Whole generations of apps have been created with exactly this idea as their basis. “The Crowd” will somehow magically infuse Wisdom into our world.
Surowiecki didn’t publish a one page pamflet with the sentence “The crowd is wise, so there.”
That’s what unwise crowds seem to have made out of it, in a supreme twist of irony.
Characteristics of “Wise Crowds”
1. Diversity of opinion
2. Independence of members from one another
4. Effective ways to aggregate opinions
Without these, it is an unwise crowd, and at worst a mob.
Let’s go over them:
Each person needs to have his or her OWN opinion. It can be informed or uninformed. As a group however, it needs to have at least SOME accurate information available.
People’s opinions need to be independent from the ones around them. They must not have a conflict of interest, so to say, of whatever form.
People should be able to specialise and have access to “local” knowledge.
I would take “local” here in the broader sense, not geographically. To a biologist, knowledge of biology is “local”, too.
The group needs to have a way to turn their private opinions into a common one.
There is definitely wisdom in crowds, but sadly the term “Wisdom of the Crowd” has become a stale buzz word that proposes easy fixes.
“Just ask the crowd” is the worst way to conduct your business.
Any business owner knows that blindly asking customers “what they want” is ludicrous. Most customers cannot articulate what they want.
If Apple had polled “the crowd” it would never have produced the iPhone.
If Ford had polled “the crowd” it would have stopped producing cars and never implemented the assembly line.
Crowds can be very wise indeed, but not ALL crowds.
Our crypto sector suffers from this disease, too.
Twitter polls, voting on the blockchain, “decentralised communities”: useless unless the above is taken into account.
- Crowds that are uninformed are mobs: they do not add, they break things down.
- Crowds that don’t want to aggregate opinions but just push one agenda are lobby groups: horrible things.
- Crowds that are dominated by their adoration for or dependence of a leader figure are armies.
- Crowds that cannot form or are not allowed to form their own opinions are harassment groups.
I am all for the wisdom of crowds, but not if the concept is just another filler word.
It is certainly possible to get them. But as long as influencers keep using them the uninformed way, I will keep ridiculing them for it.