Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Madness of Crowds

"The wisdom of crowds" was never a wise saying, really it referred to how if you have a big enough group of people, a few of them will know something about the problem at hand. It's just statistics.

Sadly we have reminders about the madness, and thus lack of wisdom, of crowds all the time. There was just one recently at a music festival in Germany, where 19 people died and over 340 were injured.

I just came across this new Cocktail Party Physics post about the inanity of Amazon user reviews (that's the crowd at work, remember). I think part of the problem is explained, of course, by the Penny Arcade Internet F***-wad theory. I know that's not polite terminology, but they did name it first, and deserve credit for proposing it. Not that all Amazon reviews are anonymous, but many are only tied to an account name. The "audience" in the theory is also called a "crowd" just to be clear. Not that crowds are all wisdom, or all madness, we know people behave differently in crowds (or, as a crowd), and that you will some diversity of people in the crowd, but that depends on the makeup of the crowd of course. Nothing new to see here, oh the waste of ink and bandwidth is unfortunate.