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NYT Discovers WIsdom of Crowds, Feels "Queasy"

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The New York Times isn't sure about this whole "wisdom of crowds" business–Digg and Media Predict in particular. Don't the people need op-ed pages to be told what to think? Roger Cohen, of the IHT "feel[s] queasy about the wisdom of the masses."

Give me a serious food critic any day over the agglomerated diners' gibberish of the Zagat guides.

I am no doubt in a minority on that. Zagat has proved a global winner, as has American Idol. We live in an age when people love to know what everyone else thinks and the means exist to convey those thoughts instantaneously online.

He's trying to be even-handed, and he's quite open about what he has at stake on a personal level ("A life spent in newspapering does not endear me to outfits that consign editors to the Paleolithic age" and "I have published three books and was grossly overpaid for all of them"). But as the NYT tears down its subscription wall, Cohen's article reads like little more than a feeble protest against the inevitable.

More on wise crowds, such as they are, here.

NEXT: Congress Guarantees a Bumper Crop

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  1. To continue reading this article, you must be a subscriber to TimesSelect.

    Screw that noise.

    I too prefer a food critics over the agglomerated diners’ gibberish of the Zagat guides. But I think of American Idol differently. While I never watch and couldn’t care less who gets voted off, the people who do, don’t necessarily vote for who they think has the most talent, or even care about talent at all. It’s a TV show and doesn’t mean anything. I don’t think knowing that someone watches the show every week without fail tells you anything about what’s in their iPod. OTOH no one reads Zagat for entertainment purposes.

  2. This shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. I want to know what experts think, and I want to know what the great unwashed think.

  3. Yeah, anybody who listened to the so-called experts wouldn’t know that Ron Paul is going to get the Republican nomination, be elected President, sweep away all the evil government bureaucracy, and restore the U.S.A. to the status of robust Christian nation that the founding fathers envisioned. The Libertarian crowd is small, but it’s on the ball!

  4. Ah, typical elitist BS. The wisdom of the crowd is in each person choosing their own food critic to follow, rather then having some effette nincompoop TELL them which one to follow.

    I would no more trust simple popularity (e.g. Idol) then I would a random selection of critic from the deeper end of the gene pool.

  5. It’s also a lot of people reading the food critic, going to the restaurant, then paraphrase-lagarizing the review to their friends so that they seem more saavy than they really are.

  6. I much prefer the reviews on Yelp/Zagat than I do the opinion of one single snob who goes to a restaurant once and subsequently bases their opinion on that one visit. With Yelp, the reviews are “dynamic”, giving the review readers a chance to see opinions across a broad spectrum of dates/times, meals eaten, etc.

    And when it comes to food, beer, cigars, scotch, wine, etc, I don’t give a flying fark what some “expert” says. Who the fark died and made them an “expert?” Sure, I might read Michael Jackson’s books on whisky or beer (for example) as an educational thing, but I won’t worry about their opinion. Either I like it or I don’t.

  7. From my short time in the magazine field, I seem to recall a bit of nepotism involved in choosing which restaurant to review.

    So we get unprofessional opinions vs. reviews of the editor’s buddy’s new burger joint.

    Blah

    I’d rather cook at home anyway. It’s not too hard to make much of that fancy-schmancy crap, and it costs about 25% as much.

  8. Let’s see if the Reason commenters can resist the temptation to respond to the troll. I’m watching you….

    (yes, this is a response to the troll, let it be the only one)

  9. Can we respond to the response to the response to the troll?

  10. THE URKOBOLD FORMALLY RESPONDS TO EDWARD THUSLY.

  11. I doubt that restaurant guides will be abandoned any time soon.

  12. I’ll have to agree with Mr. Syloson – the critic industry is part of division of labor. Sure, you could listen to hobo joe’s ideas about fine cuisine, but I’d rather hear from someone whose job it is to judge the quality of food. Much in the same way I’d rather have a doctor look at my head trauma than a crowd look at my head trauma.

  13. There is a segment of the population which wants to know which way the crowd is headed so they can sprint on the diagonal to the forefront in order to “lead” it.
    There is a segment of the population pathologically frightened by crowds.
    There is a small segment of the population that actually is the “crowd.”
    There is a minuscule segment of the population curious to see where the crowd is headed so they can cheer them on over the cliff.
    Last is the H&R segment.
    Or, at least, I like to think.

  14. “I’ll have to agree with Mr. Syloson – the critic industry is part of division of labor. Sure, you could listen to hobo joe’s ideas about fine cuisine, but I’d rather hear from someone whose job it is to judge the quality of food. Much in the same way I’d rather have a doctor look at my head trauma than a crowd look at my head trauma.”

    You learn something new every day. I just learned that food critics must go to school for years and acquire a high degree of expertise to give their extremely subjective opinion on which steak tastes better. At least I am assuming they do, or else the analogy quoted above would be totally ludicrous.

  15. It’s something of an open secret, but TimesSelect is free with a college e-mail address. So it’s not quite the nuisance it’s reputed to be.

  16. Goldwaith – do roofers and plumbers go to school for years? nope, but they do have years of on the job experience that (generally) makes them more qualified to do the job. I’m not saying people should be slavishly devoted to the opinions of critics, just that the volk’s collective opinion isn’t always reflective of what’s really good. Mostly because what’s “really good” is a personal preference.

  17. The last time we had enlightened people questioning the wisdom of the masses we wound up with the electoral college.

    That’s an institution that took a while to be questioned; why is it innappropriate to question the critical hegemony now?

    Oh, because it makes you nervous? Carry on then!

  18. I dislike snobs as much as anyone else, but have any of you looked at Digg, like ever? It is a fucking cesspool.

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