Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Wisdom of the Crowd or The Crowd is Untruth

I recently read Soren Kierkegaard's "On the Dedication to That Single Individual" in which he discusses whether the crowd has truth on their side. Here is a short excerpt:

There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side. There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that "the crowd" received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.
This struck me as an interesting contrast to our Web 2.0 thinking on the "wisdom of the crowd" made popular through articles and books like "Wikinomics" and "The Global Brain." Not that Soren today would argue against collaborative crowd sourcing but he has some important points for us to ponder as we think about proper crowd sourcing.

First is the distinction between a community and a crowd. A community is knit together with common purposes and established interdependent relationships between the members. A crowd has none of that. A community is active. A crowd is passive. A community serves the members. A crowd can degenerate into a mob.

The second is the responsibility of the single individual. Again Kierkegaard states "For a crowd is an abstraction, which does not have hands; each single individual, normally has two hands." There is a passive nature to participation in the crowd which can not only take away personal responsibility but also personal creativity and innovation. In a crowd it is way too easy to follow along.

Proper crowd-sourcing is done by individuals maximizing their own individual creativity and sharing that through a community with a common purpose.

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