...or "Why Social Media and Wisdom of Crowds Don't Mix"
I'm taking a detour from Newsodrome and niche news to discuss social media... -
A couple of months ago I was watching a short lecture by James Surowiecki, the man who coined the term "Wisdom of Crowds". Two concepts caught my attention: "Under the right conditions, groups can be remarkably intelligent" and "Groups are only smart when the people in them are as independent as possible.".
I heard a coin drop... what I realized is that "Social voting" and "Wisdom of Crowds" just don't naturally mix!
In a way, it makes perfect sense. If we all vote as a group, we actually vote as a single person and the wisdom is gone with the crowd.
How to Become a Social News Power User
Yesterday, I ran across a "how to become a digg power user" post, the latest in a repeating theme of stories about how to become a digg/StumbleUpon/reddit/Mixx/propeller power user.
They all have the same basic idea: add as many friends as you can, vote for everything your friends are submitting and IM your friends to vote for your own submitted stories.
But what I now realized, is that following the "power user" advices can ruin the best aspects of the wisdom of crowds!
Deterioration of Quality?
There is a lot of talk about the deterioration of the quality of digg's front page stories and I can attest to it in a way. While I read digg daily, I was much happier with its quality at the very early days of digg when it was a small technology news-site, fighting head-to-head with Slashdot (I confess that I might be just a little nostalgic here...). A possible reason for this decline is that as digg got larger and as more social engagement tools were added, the mediocrity of the groups overpowered the wisdom of crowds.
The elements required for a crowd to be wise include diversity of opinion, independence and decentralization. Factors that can break the wisdom of the crowd include being too homogeneous, too centralized and too imitative... Surely we have a problem here.
Kevin Rose and the rest of the digg folks are trying to solve this problem by penalizing group votes. However, this hasn't significantly changed the top diggers chart as it was before the changes.
Enough With the Rant and Off to a Solution (?)
Our principles of a social news website that revives the "Wisdom of Crowds" -
- Social and voting aspects of the news service are decoupled.
- Users can vote only on a selected portion of the submitted stories, selected by the service.
- Submission and voting is anonymous.
Everyone can submit new stories BUT you can't vote on just any story, but rather on a subset of the stories, randomly chosen by the system.
Let's look at a scenario: Blonde58 wants a story to reach the front page. She sends an IM to all her friends, but when they reach the upcoming stories section, the only place where you can vote, they only have a slim chance of seeing blonde58's particular story and vote for it.
Add some standard anti-group-voting algorithms and this may just be the solution we've been looking for.
We described what we believe is a service that can bring the wisdom of crowds back into social news.
Improving the social news is quite a divergence from "Newsodrome", our niche news website and our main focus (tune in next week to read why social news and niche news don't mix...). But for the interest of the community, we are more than willing to make this idea a reality and test it out in the wild. Please follow this link [Updated: voting ended] if you are interested and want us to implement this solution.
Love to hear your thoughts.