Wisdom of the Mob – Session 7


The mere title of this session piqued my interest.  I currently have Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody and James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds on my Amazon to-be-read-soon list, so this session should be a good fit.  Web 2.0 tools including YouTube, Second Life, blogging, podcasting, and social bookmarking are quickly changing the American global sense of community and news.  Is it genius or junk?  Are amateurs or professionals better at “reporting” news and events?

I know these questions are fodder for regular discussions in my school and home.  Just this weekend we had friends visiting from Chicago.  One works in online media, the other works in traditional print media.  Their conversations alone demonstrate the tug of war going on between these two formats.  The print person is reluctant to join Twitter or Facebook, while the online media person uses these tools regularly to collect information.  Which one is “better” and which one will be our future?

To start off the session the presenter discussed examples of Web 2.0 tools.  Here’s a smattering to give you some perspective.

  1. Online Videos – YouTube and Hulu are just two examples.  People are learning and sharing through YouTube and more people have watched Tina Fey’s impression of Sara Palin online than on television.
  2. Digg – Digg is an other social bookmarking too (like Delicious from yesterday), but when people “Digg” something they not only bookmark it, but vote and discuss its content.
  3. Second Life – An online virtual world where students can interact with people all over the world.
  4. Facebook & MySpace – Both of these have wildly taken off by pretty much anyone under 35.  MySpace tends to be used more by middle and high school students.  Facebook tends to be used more by college students and adults.  Facebook has some nifty features where students can form groups (such as this Southern Oregon University film group), use applications (such as Flair) and post resources (like YouTube movies).  I am curious if the presenter knows there are actually a few of us on Facebook during his presentation.  I’m updating my status now…and so is John! :-)
  5. Wikipedia – Teachers (university and K-12) initially tended to look down upon this resource.  Its an online encyclopedia anyone can edit.  YIKES!  However, “anyone” is becoming a little tighter and users are fact checking each other.  The site has about 1.8 million articles and nearly 130,000 edits per day.  Only about 1% of users are actually contributors.

Is the group smarter than the individual?  This is actually not a new 21st century question.  We already had examples of this in society long before the Internet appeared.  Here are a few examples.

  1. Jury System
  2. Stock Market
  3. Horse Racing

Now on the web we have the same phenomenon helping us make decisions.

  1. Amazon Customer Reviews
  2. iTunes Scales
  3. Google Page Views – How Google figures out which page to show you at the top of the list when you do a search.
  4. Trip Advisor Reviews
  5. YouTube Most Viewed vs. Most Starred

Getting back to the original question – “Is the mob smarter than the individual?”  I would say “yes.”  However, there are moments when no-so-smart or ill-informed group leaders can lead the rest of the members in the wrong direction – think of lynch mobs.  This highlights the need to teach students critical thinking, information literacy, and positive group dynamics.  This also brings me back to something I’ve been harping on all week if you’ve seen me in person – accountability models based on high stakes multiple choice tests won’t take us in that direction.


Photo: Columbus Flickr Meet Group Photo on Flickr

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