Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds?

Recently, Gord Hotchkiss, the President of Enquiro, discussed the Social Fabric of Search and how the Wisdom of Crowds is shaping the future of how we find and access information. Some of the most powerful up-and-comers are cited, including Search Wikia, Stumbleupon, Digg and he focuses on Yahoo Answers giving us possible clues as to Yahoo's strategy for meeting Google and MSN head-on.

I’m a huge believer in the power and knowledge of a team, and there can’t be enough said about the potential of community and social search either. I don’t believe we’ve even scratched the surface there. Amazon had no idea what they were starting when they let users review and rate the products from their site. That was really the crack in the dam that triggered the rest of us into changing our perspective on this one-way internet thing.

But we’ve all seen Frankenstein and the Elephant Man… What is it that makes mob mentality different from the wisdom of crowds? What is it that turns a peaceful protest into tear gas and jail time? It’s likely that some people would say police brutality, while others would say a bit too much passion turning to violence amongst the affected.

As Gord mentions in his post, “the biggest challenge with this variation of social search is that it depends on the engagement of individual members of the community”. But, even though it is social searches biggest challenge, I believe it is also its saving grace.

The big difference that I can see between the Digg or Stumbleupon model and the peaceful protest is that, though these members are part of a larger group, they are contributing to that group individually, equally, without one Alpha member running the show, ensuring that no one member has any more power than another, except through their own trended reputation on the individual portals. Whereas, in the peaceful protest, all it takes is one member in the center of the group to start an immediate fire that, barring a miracle, cannot be controlled through quick and efficient PR.

This is not to say that fires do not happen, because they do, irresponsible businesses have seen their reputation crumble through defamation generating buzz. See, Dell Hell, and the public’s shift in how they viewed Dell’s customer service after a few particular blog posts venting their thoughts caught the attention of the community. Since then, Dell Hell has become part of the global vernacular, describing the level of service offered by Dell.

But, as long as your organization is responsible, has a good head for discussion amongst your communities, and plays a part in constructively using the feedback from your audience in order to give them what they want, there are endless opportunities popping up all the time.

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