For the context of this article, please see:
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.
- Unwisdom of Crowds
- For Great Justice, Take Off Every Digg
- Digg This! 55,500 hits in ~4 Days
- Web 2.0: Back to the Hunter Gatherer Society