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The Evolution of the Wisdom of Crowds

Be sure to read Kevin Maney’s technology article in USAToday. He talks about Digg and some of the recent complaints about how Digg’s top stories are often the result of a small number of voters stuffing the ballot boxes, if you will. Digg is doing their best to address this though by changing the underlying algorithms that drive the rankings.

Next read Rick Reilly’s 9/4 column entitled “The People’s Choices” (subscription required). If Digg is an example of how the wisdom of crowds can work, Reilly’s column is Exhibit A in the case against this so-called wisdom. If you don’t subscribe to SI, let me just say that Reilly’s column is all about stupidity in Schaumburg. The owners of the Schaumburg Flyers baseball team thought it would be cool to let anyone with an Internet connection vote on starting lineups, positions, etc. The result: They went from a first place team at the midpoint of the season to something much less, and are quickly circling the drain…

Why link both examples? Well, I thought it was interesting that I happened to read both articles on a two-hour flight today. More importantly, once you dismiss the idiotic experiment from Schaumburg, Maney’s column shows that the wisdom of crowds is only as good as the tools used to leverage it. In the case of Digg, the algorithms needed to evolve and will likely have to continue evolving in the future, just like Google’s algorithms have to evolve from time to time in order to reduce manipulation of the search results. (Notice that I didn’t say “…in order to eliminate manipulation…”, which is probably impossible.)

We’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible with the wisdom of crowds. I’m excited to see what Digg looks like in 5 years. I’m even more excited to see what other completely new crowd wisdom tools will be developed between now and then.


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