The failure of the wisdom of crowds

James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds argues that across a large and diverse group, the average response will be better and smarter than individual experts. He illustrates this point with the jellybean answer. In a large room of people, few will get close to guessing the correct number of jellybeans in a jar. But the average of their collective responses will be remarkably close to the true number.

A photography exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum entitled Click experimented with curating through crowd-sourcing.

The exhibition was a critical failure. Crowdsourcing works when there is a quantifiable number. When it is subjective opinion on what makes a good photo, opinion congeals into lowest common denominator crowd-pleasers. (Does Hollywood operate via crowdsourcing?)

To quote the Slate article:

Ultimately, “Click!” demonstrates that people—whether they’re experts or laymen—like pictures that remind them of things they’ve seen before.

Curators need to look forward – to know what’s been done before; to recognize exhausted styles and idioms; and to select art that confounds, surprises, and provokes

Which makes sense. In my experience, design by committee descends into a bureaucratic nightmare – appeasing everyone by pleasing no-one.

Long may the power of the auteur continue.

Hat tip to Mintel Alerts for bringing this to my attention.

sk

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vividbreeze/

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3 Responses

  1. Nice thought. Actually there’s a huge literature on how collective intelligence works, the conditions under which it does and it doesn’t work and what those who want to harness it need to do. As Surowiecki, Shirky, Leadbeater and others readily acknowledge

    The fact that you’ve found on of the failures doesn’t seem to prove all that much, I’m afraid.

    Nice blog, though

  2. Hi Mark – thanks a lot for stopping by and taking the time to comment. You make a valid point about recognising the specific conditions.

    It is currently my (not particularly informed nor well-read) perception that the arts require a coherent, if not singular, vision to challenge/inform/entertain etc. Crowd-sourcing experiments – Click or Penguin’s wiki to take two examples – have, to my knowledge, failed to attain the vision of the director or the conductor.

    However, I shall aim to spend more time with the people you reference (as well as yourself) to see if my perceptions change as my understanding improves.

    Simon

  3. […] Zero to Endless: The Birth of a Community Manager Saved by sun001 on Thu 18-12-2008 The failure of the wisdom of crowds Saved by bookmarksaccount on Mon 08-12-2008 Book Review: The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki […]

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