Wikipedia Versus Wisdom of Crowds

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Jimmy Wales, Rachael Ray and Stephen Colbert

A great interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales over at 10 Zen Monkeys, by Reason contributor RU Sirius. One semi-surprising highlight: Wales on why he is not enamored with the idea of "the wisdom of crowds":

Jimmy Wales: In general, I'm pretty skeptical of the idea. And I'm very skeptical of it being applied to Wikipedia in particular. But I think you can pick out elements of good sense from ideas in that general neighborhood – like the idea that given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow. That's kind of a wisdom of crowds idea. It says that lots of different people have lots of different contexts and information. And if they can come together in a way that productively aggregates or shares that information, you can end up with a pretty high quality of work that will be far better than what an individual or a small team could produce. But I think, when a lot of people talk about the wisdom of crowds, they're thinking of some kind of mystical collective intelligence. And they're thinking in terms of some sort of trust that somehow the averaging out of lots of ideas will end up being correct. And I'm a lot more skeptical about that.

If you've ever seen the film 12 Angry Men, it's the story of a jury that's trying to decide in a murder case. And there's one guy who disagrees with everyone else. He thinks that the evidence does not prove that the defendant is guilty. He argues for two hours, and one by one he slowly convinces people that there are holes in the evidence. And in the end, they acquit. Well, that's what happens sometimes in a really great Wikipedia debate. You may have eleven people on one side and one on the other. But if that one person is reasonable and thoughtful and deals with the criticisms one-by-one, people will actually change their minds and we end up with a strong product. That can't really be described as the wisdom of crowds, in the way most people use it. So, I'm a little skeptical of that rhetoric.

Read the whole thing.

And enjoy the strange photo above of Jimmy Wales, Rachael Ray and Stephen Colbert, together at last.