The Wisdom of Crowds

While Wikipedia isn’t exactly a social network, it does have a behind the scenes community of people interacting with each other. There are actually discussion boards on Wikipedia. Along with this, in Chapter 7, Van Dijck describes Wikipedia as “a community of many minds collaborating, distributing collaboration, and crowdsourcing.” Crowdsourcing is very powerful and is the main reason that Wikipedia is the internet force that it is.

In order to show this concept, our class held a crowdsourcing experiment. In this experiment, 10 people were asked what they thought the Annville, PA population is. These guesses ranged from 3,500 to 8,000. The outliers, the lowest and highest guesses, were ignored and after averaging the other 8 guesses, we were only a couple of hundred people off of the actual population of Annville. This showed that the knowledge of a crowd of people, even only 10 people, is very powerful. This is how Wikipedia is such an extensive database- millions of users collectively contribute to the millions of pages and topics.

In order to show the power of crowdsourcing in another way, I found another example that goes all the way back to 1906. At a country fair in Plymouth, England, 800 people took part in a contest to guess the weight of a slaughtered and dressed ox. Statistician Francis Galton observed that the median guess, 1207 pounds, was accurate within 1% of the actual weight of the ox, at 1198 pounds. This median guess was not only better than the actual winner of the contest, but better than all of the cattle experts’ guesses. You can read more about the Plymouth ox contest here.

As these two examples show,  the wisdom of the crowds in indeed legitimate and real. From now on, I’ll trust the collective knowledge of a group before I trust the knowledge of a single expert.

 

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