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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ignorance of Crowds, too

Murray and I are in an ongoing tug of war about the Wisdom/Ignorance of Crowds. Found this interesting counterpoint (Murray's side) at Strategy+Business magazine about the limits of peer production and some case examples. And to the question of rightful "creators" in a participatory/UGC environment, the conclusions drawn in this article helps guide us.

Some excerpts:

The bottom line is that peer production has valuable but limited applications. It can be a powerful tool, but it is no panacea. It’s a great way to find and fix problems, to collect and categorize information, or to perform any other time-consuming task that can be sped up by having lots of people with diverse perspectives working in parallel. It can also have the important added benefit of engaging customers in your innovation process, which not only allows their insights to be harnessed but also may increase their loyalty to your company.

-First, peer production works best with routine or narrowly defined tasks that can be pursued simultaneously by a big crowd of people. It is not well suited to a job that requires a lot of coordination among the participants. If members of a large, informal group had to coordinate their efforts closely, their work would quickly bog down in complexity. The crowd’s size and diversity would turn from a strength to a weakness, and the speed advantage would be lost.

-Second, because it requires so many “eyeballs,” open source works best when the labor is donated or partially subsidized. If Linus Torvalds had had to compensate all his “eyeballs,” he would have gone broke long ago.

-Third, and most important, the open source model — when it works effectively — is not as egalitarian or democratic as it is often made out to be. Linux has been successful not just because so many people have been involved, but because the crowd’s work has been filtered through a central authority who holds supreme power as a synthesizer and decision maker.

But if peer production is a good way to mine the raw material for innovation, it doesn’t seem well suited to shaping that material into a final product. That’s a task that is still best done in the closed quarters of a cathedral, where a relatively small and formally organized group of talented professionals can collaborate closely in perfecting the fit and finish of a product. Involving a crowd in this work won’t speed it up; it will just bring delays and confusion.

via Strategy+Business Magazine


Lachlan said...

Wisdom of crowds:

Bradley Peacock said...

I hear what you are saying, but are you getting the "Wisdom of Crowds" confused with "Crowdsourcing"? Strategy+Business makes great points regarding the limitations of Crowdsourcing. Well done.
However, the concept of the "Wisdom of Crowds" is far more difficult to dispute. I am a believer and we see the merits of the concept proven by the work that we do everyday at Peacock Nine.