The Google Crowd (has hierarchy)

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2006 at 1:06 am

For the context of this article, please see:

Unwisdom of Crowds

Last updated: 12/07/2008

Please see Ian Delaney’s well-written set of counter arguments at TwoPointTouch and the discussion that emerged under his comments section.

My reply to Ian’s argument re: Google’s PageRank being an implementation of the ‘wisdom of crowds’ model is that Google does not let the crowd judge the worthiness of a given link. It let’s the writers, bloggers like Ian, myself, e-zines, news publishers, organizations, etc, i.e. the tastemakers in society (or the producers), who are linked to by many others, judge what is good and what is not. This is distinctly different from letting those who simply consume make the judgment. In the food chain, the producer or tastemaker comes before the consumer. That represents a non-arbitrary hierarchy on the level of the society that does not exist within a crowd. Thus, on the level of the society, the Google model does not rely on the wisdom of the ‘crowd’ but the wisdom of tastemakers and producers.

One important thing to note about the precdeding argument is that it’s not any arbitrary producers that make up the ‘tastemakers’ layer (or crowd) within the hierarchy of society. The producers whose links to sites representing a given field (e.g. arts, music, science, etc) get valued higher by Google are those producers who have many people linking to them (i.e. other producers), which, if you follow the chain of links, leads us eventually to the first producers that appeared on the Web to write about that field, who had the time and leverage to build credibility among other tastemakers. So it’s the early adopters (for each given field), who tend to be the real tastemakers and leaders, who are the highest value producers, that determine who the high-value producers are. Having said that, high-value producers could appear out of nowhere. Such newcomers would get recognized as being high-value producers by receiving many incoming links from their peers.

Obviously, Google’s algorithm is more complex and robust than described above, but the purpose here is to show how Google’s PageRank is based on the averaged or lower-common-denominator judgment of the tastemakers layer of society (which itself is a crowd) rather than the averaged or lower-common-denominator judgment of an arbitrary crowd.

The wisdom of a crowd (or lack thereof), in the case of the tastemakers layer of society, is going to result in lowest-common-denominator only if their indivdiual judgments are lumped together (as digg does with the judgment of its users.)

In a mixed ‘hierarchical + crowd’ system the individual judgments of the taste-makers can be seen by members of the crowd. The lumping together of individual judgments is what creates a crowd.

Thus, in a mixed ‘hierarchical + crowd’ system the taste makers are bound to exist as both unwise crowds as well as wise individuals.

A crowd can never be as wise as its wisest member or as foolish as its most foolish member.


  1. Unwisdom of Crowds
  2. For Great Justice, Take Off Every Digg
  3. Digg This! 55,500 hits in ~4 Days
  4. Web 2.0: Back to the Hunter Gatherer Society

Trends, wisdom of crowds, tagging, Startup, mass psychology, Google, cult psychology, Web 2.0, Web 2.0, digg, censorship

  1. My first memory of the phrase “Lowest Common Denominator” came in public elementary school, and that specter of mediocrity, that collective tide of idiocy carried in by “crowds” of all sorts, has haunted me ever since. Its dark tentacled grasp extends to the Internets as sure as any other place, of course…

    However! This all imagines that the crowds of the internet cannot organize themself into something mildly more intelligent. There was a case earlier on Digg, even, where people began trying to organize “digging cliques” where a block of diggers would support each other stories to ensure they weren’t buried until the swarm of new stories digg++ experiences so frequently. That’s obviously just an instance of one crowd manipulating the logic of the system to its own, expectedly mediocre taste, even if it that of individuals uniquely expressed through the groups’ efforts… pointedly, an individual can still work within this group-oriented framework and–be it by subversion or charisma–carve out enough of an intellectual sway to establish a hierarchy within these non-hierarchical systems.

    or so it would appear.

  2. But that doesn’t prevent us from debasing the argument some people have that the future is here and you can have it through this seriously flawed notion of the ‘wisdom’ of crowds.

    Counter-culture and diversity are necessary ideas (under any circumstances) and the wisdom of crowds is seriously flawed in that it’s designed to promote mainstream culture at the expense of diversity and counter-culture.

  3. […] Marc Fawzi at Evolving Trends attacks the whole notion of the wisdom of crowds. It’s a development of the disappointing experience he had when digg suddenly made him the number one site on WordPress for a short period, apparently on the basis that he had come up with a catchy headline. More on that story below. He concludes that “while a crowd can be a decent calculator of subjective measurable value, it will always produce a dumb choice when it comes to subjective quality” and calls for a return to the old order whereby experienced editors and qualified professionals decided what’s important. […]

  4. The digging crowds. I think that there is a clear majority of people who do not digg stories anymore. That is the reason why the digg cliques have the influence on digg as they do right now. If everybody dugg the stories that they liked and disliked, it would be more balanced. But users can’t be obliged to do this.

    It’s the difference between lurkers and commenters. It’s a similar comparison to the people who digg and those who don’t.

    I am a totally infrequent digger. Sometimes, I just can’t be bothered to digg stories. I find it more rewarding to peruse the different blogs that interest me and discover new ones through the blogroll than waste time digging some stories on tech.

  5. “I just can’t be bothered to digg stories.”

    Yes, just like mindful voters don’t care to vote anymore only the lunatics keep trying to up their score.
    That may explain a few problems…

    P.S. The Belgians have a mandatory voting system.
    You get fined if you don’t vote, you have to expressly issue a blank vote if you disagree with every option.
    Can’t do that on Internet!

  6. […] Well, the wisdom of crowds debate rages on. As Marc quite rightly points out in the comments to my last post, Google rankings depending on in-bound links means that the crowd in question has already qualified itself as a content producer rather than a consumer: it isn’t “the masses”. In the meantime, David points to the rather unwise hierarchy that exists in many crowds such as your class at school. […]

  7. […] Does this cross the line into traditional business rather than Web 2.0 business? Maybe. But if I owned one of these companies, that really wouldn’t keep me up at night. Being a Web 2.0 business doesn’t give you a license to run at a loss, I’m afraid to say, so get over it. In any case, as Anthony Mayfield has recently pointed out, many of these ‘wisdom of crowds’ services obey a 1% rule. That is to say, one percent of us make a video, vote for the news, create a blog, while the remainder either comment on it, or digest it as they always did. As Marc Fawzi recently argued against a naive post I made, even Google operates a hierarchy, since only the producers and taste-makers actually produce any links to anything – again, it’s the 1% that are creating PageRanks, not the 99%. When clever web applications harness the intelligence of their users, they’ll only be effective when the intelligence they’re harnessing is up to the job. Everyone has a right to musical taste, so last.fm will work by including everyone. On the other hand, digg voters are, by-and-large, technology enthusiasts, so they’ll produce a front page appealing to tech fans. Fewer people, but the right interests and enthusiasms to work for large numbers of bystanders. […]

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