Saturday, June 7, 2008

Crowd Wisdom

Last week a co-worker and I were discussing how the "wisdom of the crowds" burbling around "social media" is so much bunk. "After all," I teased, "how can a million lemmings all be wrong?"

The fun with touting a folksonomy is that its practitioners are both the observers and the performers, which means hyping "crowd wisdom" as the penultimate "next-gen Web" success story has the two-fold benefit of justifying the
flattery of one's self while courting a like-minded audience (for whatever reason: business, politicking, fund-raising, etc.). Rather than reward initiative or innovation, it conditions users to think and perform in desired ways: say or post or blog what (the royal) We like, and you too can leave your digital mark in virtual space. It is a descendent of the promise embodied by the "I am somebody -- just read my branded t-shirt!" phenomenon.

In its defense, taking a people-praising message to the virtual masses has a demonstrated ability to accomplish what it is intended to accomplish (c.f. the online fund-raising success stories of Ron Paul and Barack Obama).

The emotional draw of lauding "crowd wisdom" works best when users curtail higher brain functions and allow the promoter to stroke their egos. Naturally, the "crowd wisdom" champs recognize that.

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