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Fark Creator Slams 'the Wisdom of Crowds' 507

Posted by timothy
from the respond-below-with-wit-and-vigor dept.
GovTechGuy writes with some harsh words from Fark.com founder Drew Curtis, speaking at a conference Tuesday in Washington, DC: "'The "wisdom of the crowds" is the most ridiculous statement I've heard in my life. Crowds are dumb,' Curtis said. 'It takes people to move crowds in the right direction, crowds by themselves just stand around and mutter.' Curtis pointed to his own experience moderating comments on Fark, which allows users to give their often humorous take on the news of the day. He said only one percent of Web comments have any value and called the rest 'garbage.' Another example Curtis pointed to is the America Speaking Out website recently launched by House Republicans to allow the public to weigh in on the issues and vote for policy positions they support. Curtis called the site an 'absolute train wreck.' 'It's an absolute disaster. It's impossible to tell who was kidding and who wasn't,' Curtis said."
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Fark Creator Slams 'the Wisdom of Crowds'

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  • Wisdom of the crowd. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tacarat (696339)
    Wow. I hear a best selling demotivator poster in the works.
    • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:38PM (#32750464) Journal

      What do you mean new [despair.com]?

      • Well, duh. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by msauve (701917)
        How is this article's claim any different than the criticism that Obama's "oil spill" speech was too intellectual for most US citizens, because it was written at a 10th grade level? There's a reason that Homer Simpson is the US Everyman.
    • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:38PM (#32750476) Journal

      I believe a soon to be classic movie explained it best.

      Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.

      Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by derGoldstein (1494129)
        This same "theory" has been made countless times before, and it's BS. It's just "funny 'cuz it's 'kinda' true" (before you really think about it).
        The truth is that one-on-one, if you explained a comparatively difficult concept to an individual, you have a higher chance of getting the idea across, because you're giving that person your attention and answering any specific questions they might have. If you did the same thing to a room full of people (sound familiar?), and just stopped talking after you *thou
        • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:46PM (#32751142) Journal

          This same "theory" has been made countless times before, and it's BS.
          [...]
          "well, I don't get it now, but I'm not going to be the idiot who raises his hand and asks questions..."

          You just put forth the perfect evidence to SUPPORT that theory. The fact that a bunch of people getting together makes a person seperate from the logical process of asking for more information.

        • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @08:26PM (#32751850) Homepage Journal

          The truth is that one-on-one, if you explained a comparatively difficult concept to an individual, you have a higher chance of getting the idea across, because you're giving that person your attention and answering any specific questions they might have.

          There's more to it than that. I've observed many times that stupidity is contagious. People who are smart tend not to be loud and obnoxious, but idiots love to holler. It's hard not to notice someone who's hollering, and as we can all attest, it seems the stupider you are, the louder you're going to holler. Talk radio has become a huge business on this principle alone. So now you've got a bunch of people who are at the fat part of the bell curve, who are all paying attention to the idiot hollering, and after a while, they start to think: "Well, he's pretty loud so he must know what he's talking about". And if the idiot is not only loud, but plays upon most peoples' preference for standing behind the bully instead of in front of him, then you've got a recipe for a stupid stampede. Finally, because a lot of people like to be in the biggest, loudest group just because it seems safest there, you've got a group that's inoculated against the incursion of information. Game over, stupidity becomes the new norm.

          No, I'm inclined to believe the article, that crowds are indeed stupid, perhaps dangerously so.

        • by Xyrus (755017) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @12:39AM (#32753312) Journal

          Counter example: The recent democratic primary in South Carolina. An unemployed person with no campaign, no money, practically no anything living in his parents basement won. How did he win? Why did he win?

          Because his name was placed first on the ballot.

          People are only as smart as they want to be, and unfortunately as a country we are intellectually lazy. Look no further than any of the 24 hour news networks for proof. Everything is a soundbite, designed to cause as little original thought and critical thinking as possible. Look at congress, and how campaigns are run. Soundbites that pander to their base, telling people what they want to hear instead of what needs to be heard. Everything is spin and distortion, wrapped in colorful glitz and glamor packages for the masses to make sure they keep the ratings up. Divide and conquer.

          Yes, there are enough smart people to relay information to less informed. That isn't the problem. The problem is that people don't want to listen. Thinking is hard. Changing or questioning your perceptions and beliefs is too unsettling. People like being lied to as long as it is the lies they want to hear. Many people are so wrapped up in their own reality distortion field that it takes an act of $DIETY to shake them out of it.

          Ignorance really is bliss.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Deadstick (535032)
        Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat

        Which reveals the screenwriter as one of the dumb ones...

        rj

      • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @09:22PM (#32752206)

        Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat

        Argh! No, they didn't.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth_myth [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PK Tech Guy (1310715)
      They can just rename the "Meetings" poster [despair.com] to "crowds"
      "None of us is as dumb as all of us!"
  • Fark.com (Score:5, Insightful)

    by longhairedgnome (610579) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:35PM (#32750436)
    I have never frequented fark.com, only clicking through on occasion the last X? number of years it's been running, but TFS makes me appreciate the founder's own wisdom....
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jedidiah (1196)

      Strangely enough, Fark links to genuine news that should be more prominent than it actually is.

      Weird news is still news.

    • Re:Fark.com (Score:4, Insightful)

      by starling (26204) <strayling20@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @07:28PM (#32751492)

      The links can be interesting, but the moderators are pillow-biting nancies who will shadowban you at the drop of a hat.

  • It cuts both ways (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ironchew (1069966) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:36PM (#32750442)

    He said only one percent of Web comments have any value and called the rest 'garbage.'

    Funny, that also seems to be the case with most articles. Garbage in, garbage out.

    • by Joe U (443617) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:37PM (#32750454) Homepage Journal

      Funny, that also seems to be the case with most articles. Garbage in, garbage out.

      It's not news, it's Fark.com.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      It seems to be a universal rule: 99% of anything is crap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rolfwind (528248)

      The 1% rule applies to nearly everything (actually, I seen estimates vary from 1%-10% and everything in between). Books, music, movies, art, etcetera.

      I think something higher than 1% but not quite 10% is a better estimate for garbage, however, that doesn't mean the remainder are automatically masterpieces or anything, just higher than garbage.

  • by Scareduck (177470) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:37PM (#32750456) Homepage Journal
    Fark Creator Anoints Self Emperor, Declares Martial Law
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PitaBred (632671)

      I'd rather have him in charge than a lot of the jackasses who have been over the last 30-40+ years.

  • Charles Mackay (Score:5, Informative)

    by rlp (11898) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:37PM (#32750458)

    Read "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay (first published in 1841). His book discusses Tulip-mania in the Netherlands and witch persecutions (and many more incidents) to illustrate the distinct LACK of wisdom of crowds.

    • Re:Charles Mackay (Score:5, Informative)

      by john83 (923470) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:53PM (#32750630)
      Interestingly, there are four copies on Google books, and every one of them has pages omitted as they're from recent editions. What the hell, Google? Thankfully, Project Gutenberg has a few versions, e.g. this one [gutenberg.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Kevin Rose used to use the "wisdom of crowds" phrase constantly when promoting Digg. I think that's enough evidence right there...

    • Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

      by medv4380 (1604309) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:28PM (#32751000)
      How About "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nation" [wikipedia.org] It is a nice counter to Charles Mackay. It's funny how people like to say crowds are morons and then try to prove it Scientifically like Francis Galton did with his Ox Experiment [wikipedia.org]. If a crowd is so stupid why is the Mean of Francis' experiment within 1 pound of the weight of the Ox? From what Fark is ranting about he seems more irked about his crowd not self organizing when he wants it to. Wikipedia and Youtube self organize not just because of leadership but because the crowd wants to organize. If you have a meaningless concept that doesn't have the interest of the crowd then it wont self organize. And just because a group of people can be tricked like in the many witch burnings doesn't mean they have more or less wisdom then the individual since I've seen individuals go far more mad than that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Threni (635302)

        I think there's a basic problem with talking about the sort of small minded fuckwits who post the same tired cliches to *every single story* on Fark and then extrapolating that to whatever the fuck a `crowd` is.

      • Re:Irony (Score:5, Funny)

        by lgw (121541) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:50PM (#32751180) Journal

        Wait, did you just use "Youtube comments" as an example of intelligence? You're off your meds, man.

      • Re:Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

        by osu-neko (2604) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:59PM (#32751238)
        The problem is, if you want to argue for the wisdom of crowds, there are plenty of examples to point to. And if you want to argue for the stupidity of crowds, there are plenty of examples to point to. And some people on either side will use the same examples (e.g. Youtube -- I lolled). I suspect that people who believe there's inherently a tendency either one way or the other are using (or are unconscious victims of) selection bias. I don't see much in the way of evidence for one or the other.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        What people don't realize is that there is a moronic leader (or malevolence) at the heart of all witch burnings. It isn't the crowd calling for the witch to be burned, it is the moron who rally's the crowd to his cause. It just takes a crowd to make witch burnings palatable for most people.

        The Emperor Has No Clothes is another classic about thoughts of crowds. There is a moral to the story, which is lost here, sometimes it takes innocence (or bravery) to say what everyone else is thinking.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by DriedClexler (814907)

          Some people hear the Emperor's New Story and think, "Well of course a *kid* isn't gonna see the emperor's clothes ... only refined folk see them, right?"

          Of course, they don't say it outright, but they have analogous reactions to e.g. when renowned violinist Joshua Bell played The Best Violin Music In The World on The Best Violin In The World while posing as a bum on the subway, no one gave a shit ... because they weren't pre-conditioned in the received common wisdom that, "Oh, you have to recognize this as

      • Re:Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sarkeizen (106737) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @07:51PM (#32751662) Journal
        It is a nice counter to Charles Mackay. It's funny how people like to say crowds are morons and then try to prove it Scientifically like Francis Galton did with his Ox Experiment

        Considering both are anecdotal it's hard to say what is a "counter" of what. However as an argument I found that book pretty lame - it's a lot of anecdote. Not to mention that I think people extend the title beyond what Surowiecki intended he doesn't even assert that all or even MOST crowds are smart. Rather that crowds which have some attributes are smart. However most of those attributes are far more vague than the questions posed which makes the problem of determining a smart crowd from a dumb crowd a harder problem than asking the question. I'd add that even given his assumptions are true for some crowd the kind of question is crucially important. It must be limited in scope. i.e. multiple choice or have some generally understood bounds (that is if we asked a bunch of people what the weight of something nobody knew what it was you wouldn't get good answers). You can't "average" the cure for cancer, or the proof for P=NP, etc...

        So, to me anyway even if James is correct in his assertions that some crowds are smarter than all of their constituents this information isn't very useful.

        Oh and the ox experiment isn't even close to useful since it wasn't repeated and unless the results were recorded somewhere it's lesson might not even be true. Perhaps there was someone with the same guess as the crowd or within one pound of the crowd - a variance you might be able to attribute to chance. Which would mean that the crowd isn't appreciably more intelligent than it's smartest person. This wasn't repeated multiple times so it's difficult to figure out if the crowd vs. constituents is simply a random occurrence. Not to mention that it's possible there was some bias in the crowd (it sure wasn't a random sample), etc... So again it's at best unclear if this is a useful trait.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I imagine there are certain classes of problems that "crowd sourcing" will work with, and a much larger class where it does not work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RapmasterT (787426)

      Read "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay (first published in 1841). His book discusses Tulip-mania in the Netherlands and witch persecutions (and many more incidents) to illustrate the distinct LACK of wisdom of crowds.

      The best part is to read it and mentally substitute the words "tulip bulb" with "dot com stock" and you'll never again believe people are wise, or will ever learn from history

  • Keep in mind that Drew is running Fark as a business, and certain comments that might rail against his corporate superiors will get modded or banned. Drew and his modmins are know to ban people based on petty rivalries and personality conflicts. Fark is no bastion of "free speech", and what would he know about "wisdom" from a site that is dedicated to goofball headlines and accelerated political trolling.

    • by starling (26204) <strayling20@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @07:43PM (#32751610)

      You'll get over it.

  • by selven (1556643) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:39PM (#32750486)

    Is like resistance in a parallel circuit.

  • Missing the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pudge (3605) * Works for Slashdot <slashdot@NOspam.pudge.net> on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:40PM (#32750490) Homepage Journal

    Come on. "America Speaking Out" is not about getting wisdom from people, any more than the White House's solicitation of ideas for the oil spill was. It's about allowing people to feel like they have a voice. Don't spoil the illusion!

    As to the "wisdom of crowds" in general, it depends entirely on the context. We know for a fact that when crowds have significant enough motivation (like money), they do an excellent job of predicting things, for example. But if your motivation is to have people point at your comment and emote somehow (laugh, get angry, friend you, whatever), then obviously, truth and wisdom are not your goals, so you don't often find truth and wisdom there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Come on. "America Speaking Out" is not about getting wisdom from people, any more than the White House's solicitation of ideas for the oil spill was. It's about allowing people to feel like they have a voice. Don't spoil the illusion!

      I'd take that a half step further: it's also about the illusion that that voice matters, and that when the entity soliciting feedback takes actions in some way in line with that voice, that it's because the entity is obedient to the will of the masses.

      Really, this kind of phen

    • by Tom (822) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:08PM (#32750802) Homepage Journal

      We know for a fact that when crowds have significant enough motivation (like money), they do an excellent job of predicting things, for example.

      Actually, no. We need more research in this area. What we do know is that groups judge better than individuals. Large groups, if there is some selection involves, appear to share that. Don't forget that almost all of the prediction markets used so far have a strong self-selection involved.

      If you want to study large-scale crowd predictions, take horse racing or other sports bets.

      What crowds are excellent at is predicting the obvious and filtering out the personal bias we all have - you one way, I the other, in a crowd that cancels out and we all together arrive at a pretty good mean estimate. But as soon as the judgement requires any expert knowledge whatsoever, you have strong selection at work (most people don't "bet" on things they don't understand), which kind of violates your core assumption of having a crowd, not just a group of experts.

  • by eexaa (1252378) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:41PM (#32750502) Homepage

    ..is he, like, new to the Internet?

  • by eihab (823648) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:41PM (#32750506)

    Slashdot is not so different, there are some pretty useless comment here. Hell, I make a lot of them on occasion myself.

    But if you read between the lines and "cherry pick", there are usually hidden gems about a software package, a piece of advice or something truly fascinating.

    The noise to signal ratio is what matters, and on Slashdot it is better some days than others but in general it's a lot better than a lot of other sites. Some sites like YouTube or even to some extent Digg have almost no added value in their comments and the "noise" is pretty high.

    It's not just about the freshest content (which is why I think a lot of people frequent Digg or Hacker News), the comments are what makes a user-generated-content site work... at least for me.

    That's why I keep coming back here.

    • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:51PM (#32750618) Journal

      That's why I keep coming back here.

      You mean its not for the endless jokes about living in the basement, not having a girlfriend, no social life, or the strong usage of the soviet russia meme?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nadaka (224565)

      If you have ever read the comments sections of the yahoo news posts you will realize that half of all people are dumber than average, and they all have a yahoo account.

      I feel "more stupider" after reading those comments for 5 minutes than I did after having my finger sewn back on after a tragic sandwich making accident.

      I find slashdot to be remarkably good in the value of the content. 1% of comments ere may be all that have "value", but they tend to float to the top.

      Along the way I find some frivolous humor

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Xarius (691264)

        If you have ever read the comments sections of the yahoo news posts you will realize that half of all people are dumber than average, and they all have a yahoo account.

        Yes. Yes they are.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fishexe (168879)

      But if you read between the lines and "cherry pick", there are usually hidden gems about a software package, a piece of advice or something truly fascinating.

      ...but when I talk to the evangelists on the street corners, they tell me all cherry-picking can get me is eternal damnation!

  • by grahamsz (150076) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:42PM (#32750516) Homepage Journal

    I run a site that targets the same demographic as Curtis and while I concur that the vast majority of posts provide little value, there are a subset that are well reasoned and very helpful.

    Any crowd is going to eventually devolve into a set of leaders and a set of followers and I think the problem that we see online is that the leaders are often not the most informed, but the most controversial.

    However, i'm not sure that's much different from anywhere in the real world

  • I believe his name is "Drew Curtis" - note the terminal "S".

  • by xmas2003 (739875) * on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:43PM (#32750522) Homepage
    Perhaps less that "wisdom of the crowds" are dumb, but more that the vocal minority tend to drown out the quieter majority ... and the percentage of nutcases is much higher in the former group.
  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:43PM (#32750524)

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/plus2sd/200809/the-stupidity-crowds [psychologytoday.com]

    "What can you do? I gained some insight into this problem several years ago when my research group performed an fMRI study of social conformity. We recreated a version of the famous Asch experiment of the 1950s and used fMRI to determine how a group changes an individual's perception of the world. Two things emerged from the study. First, when individuals conform to a group's opinion, even when the group is wrong, we observe changes in perceptual circuits in the brain, suggesting that groups change the way we see the world. Second, when an individual stands up against the group, we observed strong activation in the amygdala, a structure closely associated with fear. All this tells me that not only are our brains not wired for truly independent thought, but it takes a huge amount of effort to overcome the fear of standing up for one's own beliefs and speaking out".

    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:05PM (#32750776) Homepage Journal

      Interesting. The thing is that people like to believe that crowds are smart.
      A good example for me was in a class I took in college.
      It was the classic you are on the far side moon and put this list in order from the most important to the least.
      The point of the exercise was to show that one person could make choices faster but as a group you made better choices.

      Well when we put our scores together I scored higher than my group did.
      They really had a hard time understanding that a compass wouldn't work on the moon or that the radio would be limited to line of sight. The decided they knew better than I did.
      The professor was really kind of upset with that result because it sort of messed up her point since I had gotten the best answers correctly and quickly on my own.
      The professor asked me why I thought that was. The only thing I could come up with was that once you have an optimal solution bringing more people in only increases the chances that you will end up with a sub optimal solution.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TubeSteak (669689)

        The only thing I could come up with was that once you have an optimal solution bringing more people in only increases the chances that you will end up with a sub optimal solution.

        What I took away from your experiment is that one knowledgeable person is better than a group of nimrods.
        Even if you couldn't come up with the optimal solution, adding uninformed opinions to even a semi-informed opinion will only degrade the outcome.

        I only believe in the wisdom of the crowds, in the sense that with a crowd, you're most likely to find at least one expert to supply relevant information/answers.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:45PM (#32750536) Journal
    America Speaking Out is not, arguably, the best example.

    Only the nuttiest of cyber-utopians would suggest that the "wisdom of crowds" holds up particularly well when part of the crowd is engaged in deliberate sabotage. Worse; because of the, er... exceptional quality of political discourse in America, you ran into the "Poe's Law" problem.

    If your mods are remotely on the ball, or your wiki editors are up to snuff, or whatever, it is pretty trivial to resist obvious and unsubtle attacks. Worthless posts get modded down, somebody spends 20 minutes sprinkling obscenities into a wiki article and somebody else spends 20 seconds reverting it, those sorts of attacks are survivable enough. If, though, a fair part of your "crowd" is utterly batshit crazy, you run into a real problem: your most committed users will produce output almost exactly like your most vicious, cynical parodists(the same thing happened to Conservapedia. Because the true believers and the mocking liberal cynics were indistinguishable, the site got bogged down in a series of purges based almost entirely on personality and loyalty to Dear Leader, rather than actual helpfulness to the "crowd"; because it simply wasn't possible to tell the "crowd" and any but its stupidest enemies apart).

    Similarly, with America Speaking Out, the problem isn't going to be with trivial vandalism, which is annoying but quick to clean up, the problem will be that it is impossible to distinguish between people ranting about how Barrack Hussein is a communist fascist muslim sleeper agent because they believe that, and the ones doing exactly the same thing because it amuses them to associate such views with the RNC. Conversation is doomed when signal and noise can be distinguished only by intent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by grahamsz (150076)

      I'm stunned by the effort that people will take to subvert stuff - from the admin side i've seen a couple of users maintain totally distinct persona that I don't think any of my actual users would connect together. The difficulty in battling against noise is that the side with more time will win, and for most small internet sites that's not going to be the server admin. I'm pretty much convinced that the only real way to deal with trouble makers is to just ignore them and hope that the signal drowns out the

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by idontgno (624372)

      Only the nuttiest of cyber-utopians would suggest that the "wisdom of crowds" holds up particularly well when part of the crowd is engaged in deliberate sabotage.

      Yes. To paraphrase Tolkien, "It does not do to leave a live troll out of your calculations, if you post near him."

      Never mind the tribes of trolls overrunning teh Intarwebs 2.0.

  • America Speaking Out website recently launched by House Republicans to allow the public to weigh in on the issues and vote for policy positions they support. Curtis called the site an 'absolute train wreck.' 'It's an absolute disaster. It's impossible to tell who was kidding and who wasn't,' Curtis said."

    Really now? You expect that a site where people can make policy decisions via the internet wouldn't be trolled to hell by 4chan or the like?

    Really, you can't take anything on the internet to be 100% seriously this is true from news articles (look at how many people use The Onion as a "reliable" source) to voting.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:56PM (#32750662) Journal
    I've always felt the rest of the world was stupider than me, too. Of course, in my case, I'm obviously smarter than this Fark creator.
  • "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it."

  • Misapplication (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaveGod (703167) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:59PM (#32750692)

    It was noted in the original paper that the wisdom of crowds applies when comprised of aggregate decisions of individuals making decisions as individuals. On most websites this is not what you get.

    Drew goes so far as to imply (by my reading) that crowds act more stupidly than individuals. These crowd failures are identified and discussed even on the Wiki page [wikimedia.org], most notably relevant to Fark.com and Americans Speaking Out:

    Where choices are visible and made in sequence, an "information cascade"[2] can form in which only the first few decision makers gain anything by contemplating the choices available: once past decisions have become sufficiently informative, it pays for later decision makers to simply copy those around them. This can lead to fragile social outcomes.

    Emotional factors, such as a feeling of belonging, can lead to peer pressure, herd instinct, and in extreme cases collective hysteria.

    Due to the nature of the websites various factors come into play which ruin contra to requirements for "the wisdom of crowds". Not forgetting that if it's on the internet, it's probably not being taken seriously and therefore is hardly a gauge of anything.

    (I'm not wanting to be seen as endorsing the "wisdom of crowds", I'll take the wisdom of a few experts instead thank you very much, but the argument presented here is extremely flawed).

  • by udoschuermann (158146) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @05:59PM (#32750696) Homepage

    I suspect that the anonymity granted by a mere handle online gives many people license to compete for "points" on any ground that can get a laugh or comparable reaction from their online peers. The few who may have actually something to contribute to society will either find their attempts drowned out by that crowd, or won't bother to frequent Fark towards that end.

    By comparison, I find that Slashdot's peer-based moderation system fares quite well in filtering the noise. It's not perfect, but the Slashdot crowd seems also a good bit less driven to cash in on quick, cheap thrills.

    On the whole, though, I trust far more in the thoughtfully conducted discourse of the considerate few, than the multidirectional pull of large crowds. I wonder if that says something, too, about the effectiveness of our democracy.

  • Processing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:04PM (#32750764) Homepage Journal
    Not to put forth pyschobable, but such things such as websites, preceded by talk shows, preceded by letters to the editor, give the public a means to process information. Much of it is just people being angry or irrationally dogmatic but that has value as well. Giving angry people a venue will often calm them down, and we must hope that an open communication in which dogmatic people are allowed to speak can only help society overall. Eventually the people who hold to superstitions in the face of overwhelming practical evidence will be worn down. All things we consider previously moral change through this process. Just look at how marriage has decayed in the face of practicalities. Ronald Reagan abandoned his wife for no apparent reason, and he was deemed one of the greatest moral and conservative men who lived. Newt Gringrich abondoned his wife and children, and claimed he could not pay child support, he then cheated on his second wife. Again, the man is promoted as the as the man who brought values back to America. The same goes for McCain who left his wife for someone who made more money. The fact that christian conservatives would sanctify these men who consider marriage to be worthless just shows how the process crates an evolution of values.

    One of the main things that one might say about the crowd is that it leads to groupthink, in which false statements are allowed to be pushed as true because no one has the ethical or moral ability to deny them as true. No matter one's political persuasion, one cannot say this of America Speaking Out. On the healthcare page, the listing show that people are overwhelming against limiting abortions, though not so much for the absolute legalization of abortion. This shows that people are thinking for themselves. The idea to make english the official language is also way down. When I first say the site I thought it would be a joke, but it has been kind of interesting to review. One of the first ideas to make it to the top was the taxing of churches.

    I think if we did do what the people wanted, the crowd, we might be ok. The problem is that what the people wants tend to be a weighted average in which the amount of money one has plays a significant role. This is not necessarily bad, but if we want to do what the people want, then it should be all people, not just the rich. Look at the oil spill. It was said that we all want cheap oil at any cost, but it turns out people want fresh seafood as well. People make more money off oil, so that is priority of the rich. The common person though likes affordable food as well.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:08PM (#32750800) Homepage

    I hadn't heard that site mentioned in years.

    If Politico or the New Republic or the Huffington Post said that, they might have a point. Any anonymous site is going to have low-quality comments.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by grahamsz (150076)

      What makes fark "anonymous" but something like HuffPo not? Perhaps there's a market for a real-name-only, must post your address discussions site, but it'll be largely unused in this world.

  • Obligatory xkcd (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nixish (1390127) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:12PM (#32750838)
    http://xkcd.com/756/ [xkcd.com] Mildly related to the summary (the secret hovering remark from this particular comic): "News networks giving a greater voice to viewers because the social web is so popular are like a chef on the Titanic who, seeing the looming iceberg and fleeing customers, figures ice is the future and starts making snow cones."
  • the problem is, his feelings lead one to think this dangerous thought: "99% of the crowd is dumb... therefore, we need some more trustworthy entity for wisdom"

    when you say that, you've committed a worse stupidity than the aggregate stupidity of the crowd

    what he says is essentially true, the crowd is stupid in aggregate. getting wisdom from the crowd is a process of gleaning the nuggets from the bullshit. the problem comes when the process of separating the wheat from the chaff gets so tedious that you wish there were a shortcut, that you wish there were some special class of people who are better than the average man, and trust them for wisdom instead. which is a FAR more dangerous thought than simply recognizing the plainly obvious stupidity of crowds. there's no shortcuts: placing your trust in some sort of clique or aristocratic division is when the REAL trouble starts

    so yes, people are dumb. but yet it is even dumber to trust some small segment of people according to some ill-defined parameters of what wisdom is instead

    i think drew has just been modding too much. if i were a proctologist, i would be sick of looking at assholes too. if i were modding comments all day, and i was constantly exposing myself to the kind of mental diarrhea you see when browsing slashdot at -1, then i would hate people and crowds as well

    i think reading the shallow end of the comment pool constantly will turn you into a misanthrope, a hater of mankind

    limit your exposure to the idiot area of comment boards, or it will give you brain damage

  • by mevets (322601) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:50PM (#32751184)

    It is too bad Drew finds it difficult to detect {sarcasm, parody, irony, ...} without some lame ASCII-art version of a laugh track tacked on. Being dull and slow must be quite terrible, but recognizing your limitations must help somewhat. At many points in time you can look at democratic choice as being awful; pretty much every country can point to repeated elections of imbeciles and thugs. Overall, though, democracy has done a pretty good job of filtering out the wannabe Caesars, Napoleons and their ilk. Ron Paul, I'm talking about you.

    While democracy ( or crowds ) don't seem to offer much in star appeal, there is a long term stability in mass decisions which are likely more right than wrong.

    In contrast, dictatorships, monarchies and brilliant individuals don't really pan out in the long term, other than how their gross failures help foster new democracies.

  • Nothing New (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyFirstNameIsPaul (1552283) * <myfirstnameispaul@gmail.com> on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @06:58PM (#32751226) Homepage Journal

    This is not a new concept. David W. Moore discusses something very similar in his book, The Opinion Makers [amazon.com]

    Basically, Moore argues that the purpose of polling is to measure the opinions of those who have considered an issue, not to measure 'top of mind' opinions.

    One of the most interesting examples discussed in the book was a poll done leading up to the invasion of Iraq. The poll asked respondents if they felt the U.S. Government should invade Iraq, then depending on how the respondent answered, the pollster followed up with a second question that basically asked if the respondent would be disappointed if the Government performed the opposite action. I don't recall the exact breakdown, but basically if you evaluated only the first question, it appeared that around 60% of those polled wanted us to invade Iraq, but after evaluating the second question, only 28% desired us to go to war and 30% desired us not to go to war. A plurality were indifferent to the actions of the Government.

  • religion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @07:26PM (#32751474) Journal

    No single person could ever believe the idea that god had a head of an elephant or jackal, or that god created woman from man's rib. But somehow, when a billion people believe it, it's easier to fall in line.

  • funny source (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @07:35PM (#32751554)

    Do people often associate the word 'wisdom' along with the word 'Fark'? From HIS point of view, I'm sure he's absolutely correct. Depends on the crowd, though. If you go to a TED conference, the crowd is going to be substantially more wise than the crowd on Fark.

    It also depends on the subject. Religion and politics can overwhelm even the most wise person. (see also: the 'Conservative Right' in the U.S.)

  • Selection (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pseudonymus Bosch (3479) on Wednesday June 30, 2010 @07:40PM (#32751586) Homepage

    I understood that the difference between wise crowds and stupid mobs is the processes of selection of good results that have become feasible with modern technologies.
    For example, asking random people is not the best way to know about encyclopedic subjects. Wikipedia works because it has crowds and a process (easy edition, easy correction, talk pages, contributions history,...) that preserves good contributions and rejects bad ones.
    Same about the Linux kernel, Torvalds' role filters good and bad contributions.
    In Slashdot, we have moderation that allows me to read the cream of the comments avoiding hundreds of trolls, redundant comments and not very enlightened sentences.

  • by Cyberllama (113628) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:47AM (#32753640)

    He's clearly missing the point behind the concept, but I can't tell if he's doing it on purpose to try to make a joke out of it, or if he simply doesn't understand the term. Since this is the internet, and it's traditional, I'll respond under the assumption that all his comments were intended to be taken at literal face value.

    The idea is that the crowd, as a whole, is smarter than the smartest individual within it. If you attract a dumb crowd, you're not necessarily setting a high bar. And, even with a smart crowd, you get a lot of noise. You need a way to filter out all the noise, you can have just one "editor" do it, but that's not really the best way. When the information you want the crowd to process for you can be broken down completely into mathematics, you're in luck because the noise will simply drop out naturally -- as is the case when you, for instance, have everyone guess the weight of an Ox and then simply average the guesses or when you write a search engine that uses links as "votes". Back in the days when Google was new and link farms didn't exist, it was orders of magnitude more effective at returning relevant results (even if you only got a relevant result say 85% of the time, other serach engines could only deliver them maybe 10-20% of the time) simply because it harnessed the "wisdom" of the crowd. It put every other search engine at the time to absolute shame, and that's why it became dominant practically over night. Clearly there is something there.

    On the other hand,when its written text like Slashdot or even Fark comments, then you need a good system in place to do it. Yes, you need something akin to editing, but as Wikipedia and Slashdot show us, you can crowd source the editing as well. When you look at the collected moderated-up analysis on Slashdot on any given article, you end up with content that is overall more thoughtful, comprehensive and thorough than any given individual within the crowd could have produced.

    Yes, Slashdot could have a single editor in place moderating all the forums, but that would neither be realistic or as effective. Once again, a crowd can do the job better than an individual.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DaveV1.0 (203135)

      No, he is absolutely correct. There is no such thing as "wisdom of crowds".

      The idea is that the crowd, as a whole, is smarter than the smartest individual within it.

      That idea is false. A person, an individual, is smart. A crowd is stupid. A crowd is subject to peer pressure and mob mentality. A person in a crowd will do things he would never do alone, such as flipping cars and lynching people.

      You mention, indirectly, one of the major problems with crowds: defection. Your example is link farms that skew the

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