Thursday, April 27, 2006

Seeking the talent in the crowd

A great post by Nicholas Carr rips into the surprisingly popular idea that diamonds will appear if you simply mash enough steaming piles of user-generated content together.

Some selected excerpts:
Although wikis and other Web 2.0 platforms for the creation of content are often described in purely egalitarian terms - as the products of communities of equals - that's just a utopian fantasy.

Quality ... hinges not just, or even primarily ... on the number of contributors ... [but] on the talent of the contributors.

When you look deeply into Wikipedia, beyond the shiny surface of "community," you see that [it] is actually ... more a product of conflict than of collaboration: It's an endless struggle by a few talented contributors to clean up the mess left by the numbskull horde.
As I have said before, summing collective ignorance isn't going to create wisdom. Take a majority vote from people who don't know the answer, and you're not going to get the right answer.

There may be wisdom in that crowd. There is also a lot of noise. Separating the wisdom from the noise is the real challenge.

See also my previous post, "Getting the crap out of user-generated content".


anonymous said...

Wisdom fighting with noise - sounds like my mind a lot of times! :)

Thanks for this post, Greg. I've been thinking about this principle a lot lately as I've pondered starting my own wiki. I think it's important to remember that the "wisdom of crowds" depends on who's in the crowds!

Anonymous said...

Good post. Wisdom does come from the experts. Then, the question, who determines who the experts are? If we could figure that out, someone would hire 100 experts and start a new better quality wikipedia. The problem is that it's impossible to determine who the expert is ahead of time. The other problem is motivating the experts. I don't think the experts would work as hard or as passionately for a public company. The advantage of wikipedia, or the stock market, or any other group wisdom activity, is that no one tries to predetermine the experts. The experts just naturally rise to the top.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Greg I find your post very old school 'heritage media' and snobbish. The tools for creating high quality video, audio and textual narrative are available to more people than in the history of mankind.

To lump that bewildering array of voices under one umbrella of 'user generated crap' is a nonsense. Whoever you regard as talented, Speilberg? Burnett? Soderburg? Lucas? whoever, were once 'users generating stuff' - they had to learn their craft, some self taught, some through education, either way they were once unknowns and probably struggling to get heard.

Now there are routes for true talent to emerge from the noise and like any industry there will be good and bad and indifferent - I personally believe as we are seeing already, that talent will rise regardless of the historical constraints of record labels, movie studios, TV broadcasters - from the ranks of this 'crap'. This is not a utopian fantasy it is the best opportunity the human race has to democratically allow media innovation through - not dependent on the bottom line. I only need to check out my local movie house or a dull evening on TV to see what 'the bottom line' results in! Give the people (you and me) a chance.
Thanks for provoking ;-)

Greg Linden said...

Gary and Anonymous, I think we are agreeing more than disagreeing.

I said that "separating the wisdom from the noise is the real challenge."

So, I mean that the important thing in these systems is to, as you said, make "the experts just naturally rise to the top", enable "true talent to emerge from the noise", and make it so "talent will rise" consistently to the top.

I am saying that it is not sufficient to merely collate user-generated content and expect people to plow through all the crap to find the gems. People need help finding the signal in the noise.

For more on this, see the post I linked to at the bottom, "Getting the crap out of user-generated content".