Today I want to talk to you about the Wisdom of the Crowd. While the name of the term speaks for itself, as I found out, there is more to it than meets the eye.
According to Wikipedia, Wisdom of the Crowd is “the collective opinion of a group of individuals rather than that of a single expert”. But what is this “crowd”, how come it has wisdom and how I, a mere single neuron in theMind of this crowd, can reach it?
Trying to capture the essence of this ethereal or illusive “crowd” or “mind” has been a challenge since way before social media. James Surowiecki, a journalist and a writer, in his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, talks about a statistician named Francis Galton. Now, for those of us mere mortal neurons, not familiar with celebrity statisticians, he was a super famous statistician, who wrote bunch of books and papers. Some of his discoveries we take for granted and even use every day….
So, back to our story…. In the beginning of 1900s Francis Galton observed an interesting Ox weight competition in the market square, where the crowd (something like 800 people ) correctly guessed the weight of an ox, without having any real expert knowledge. Well, they didn’t really guessed it correctly, but when Galton averaged all of their answers — he got to an answer that was like 99.99% correct. In other words, complete strangers, without any expert knowledge provided correct answer as a group.
So in our day and age did we learn to use this Wisdom of the Crowd? Well, partially…. We learned to use the Wisdom of the Crowd to crowdsource facts. Some of the great examples include Waze, which aggregates people’s reports on road conditions and traffic information, or Wikipedia, where facts about various subjects are assembled in an online encyclopedia.
Coming back to James Surowiecki’s book, it looks like 4 things are needed for Wisdom of the Crowd to work:
Diversity of opinion — means that people should not be “like minded”.
Independence — People’s opinions aren’t determined by the opinions of those around them.
Decentralization — People are able to draw on local knowledge.
And finally, Aggregation — which simply means that all this info is somehow put together into a useful tool — like Waze or Wikipedia, where you see the final result.
So, as we saw, in most cases, we learned to use the Wisdom of the Crowd to crowdsource FACTS. And don’t get me wrong — this is super cool, but what I wonder — could we do the same for OPINIONS? Is it possible to crowdsource something as elusive as this? Since I promised you will not need more than 2 minutes to read this — we will tackle this question some other time.