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Wikipedia Versus Wisdom of Crowds

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.

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  • ||

    This brings to mind one of my favorite phrases
    "pooling our collective ignorance"

  • ||

    This guy clearly doesn't understand the 21st Century. We have settled this issue. Thought and experimentation no longer matters. What matters is the consensus. We have a scientific consensus on global warming therefore everyone who dissents, no matter how serious they are no matter what their data, is on the same level of the holocaust denier. Once a consensus is reached on something that is the truth until the consensus changes.

    Seriously though, he is right up to a point. I think when you are talking about facts and history there is a wisdom of crowds. That is the genius of wikipedia. Repeatedly, it has been found that wikipedia is very accurate when it comes to known facts. The collective not only corrects errors but cancels out biases. If you want to read an bland unbiased recounting of the facts surrounding a well known event like say the Battle of Gettysburg or the 1960 Presidential Election wikipedia is great. Granted its uses are limited in some ways, but it is useful.

  • ||

    Well since Wales is an Objectivist it doesn't surprise me that he's less than totally in love with the Surowiecki/Gladwell 'wisdom of crowds and thinking without thinking' stuff.

  • ||

    I had an experience in the corporate world of getting in on a project that started with 15 people and grew to 600. I coined (or maybe stole from somewhere) the phrase "emergent stupidity" to describe the experience. That's the phenomenon where the bigger an organization gets, the less intelligent it becomes.

  • ||

    Whoa, synchronicity, man!
    I just listened to the Philosophy podcast of Kierkegaard's The Crowd is Untruth.
    So true, brothers and sisters, so true.

  • ||

    This guy clearly doesn't understand the 21st Century. We have settled this issue. Thought and experimentation no longer matters. What matters is the consensus.

    So, you think thought and experimentation had nothing to do with arriving at that consensus?

    If you want to read an bland unbiased recounting of the facts surrounding a well known event like say the Battle of Gettysburg or the 1960 Presidential Election wikipedia is great. Granted its uses are limited in some ways, but it is useful.

    There was another thread on this recently, but I think this is largely correct. As I said in that thread, I wouldn't want to cite Wikipedia as a source if I were writing a term paper, but it's great place to start if one wants to education oneself on a wide array of subjects. I think that's it's real value.

  • ||

    "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."

    The ideas that are most likely to be correct are the ones that withstand the most scrutiny.

    The more we're scrutinized the wiser we are. That's one of the big reasons I comment here at Hit & Run. That's why the place wouldn't be the same without joe. ...that's why there's still hope for John.

  • ||

    "This guy clearly doesn't understand the 21st Century. We have settled this issue. Thought and experimentation no longer matters. What matters is the consensus."

    Don't worry, John, people have learned their lesson from the WMD debacle, and have actually started to pay attention to who has reality on their side.

  • ||

    people have learned their lesson

    I call bullshit. Just in general, I mean.

  • thoreau||

    joe, how can you talk about having reality on your side in a thread with a picture of Colbert? It's not about truth, it's about truthiness!

    :)

  • ||

    Rachael Ray.
    Oompa, loompa, oompa, loompa.

  • ||

    so the wikipedia guys doesn't trust markets....wow, am i surprised at that.

    Hey look the sky is blue...who would have ever thought that would happen...oh look its incredible grass is green!!

  • ||

    Interesting to see Wales with Colbert. I wonder what he thinks of Colbert's open sabotage of Wikipedia entries (notably by having viewers change the entry on African elephants to note that their population doubled thanks to Colbert).

  • ||

    Colbert's grinning like that 'cuz Rachel Ray just copped a feel.

  • ||

    I always thought the controversial topics were the worst on wikipedia. I remember reading some civil war related article once and it was basically filled with "the south sucks" "no the north sucks" type comments. As a reference for say a math equation though it works quite well.

  • grylliade||

    so the wikipedia guys doesn't trust markets....wow, am i surprised at that.

    Hey look the sky is blue...who would have ever thought that would happen...oh look its incredible grass is green!!



    Wow, way to completely misread what people say. Jimmy Wales is an objectivist, and classifies himself as a libertarian. Not exactly the kind of person who doesn't believe in markets.

    And markets aren't exactly the "wisdom of the crowd." Markets display their "wisdom" when there's something on the line - usually money. If participating is costless (as it generally is on Wikipedia), then the wisdom generated has nothing to do with markets. I'll trust the wisdom of a market in election futures, because the people involved have to put their money where their mouth is. I won't trust as much the wisdom of a poll, because the people involved have nothing to lose by making dumb decisions.

    Whatever wisdom Wikipedia has has nothing to do with markets or "the wisdom of the crowd." As Mr. Wales said, it's more related to the open-source version of wisdom.

  • ||

    And markets aren't exactly the "wisdom of the crowd." Markets display their "wisdom" when there's something on the line - usually money. If participating is costless (as it generally is on Wikipedia), then the wisdom generated has nothing to do with markets.

    Perhaps rather then vacillating you might consider reading the fucking book....not just the wikipedia article on the subject.

  • ||

    and classifies himself as a libertarian.

    So does Joe and Kos...your point?

  • ||

    emergent stupidity

    Love it!

    One of my favorite posters from Despair.com ==> none of us is as stupid as all of us.

  • ||

    Perhaps rather then vacillating you might consider reading the fucking book....not just the wikipedia article on the subject.


    Book? There's a book on Wikipedia? Or are you talking about a book on The Markets? Are you talking about crowd collectivism or the wisdom of the crowd? Mob Rules was a good album, but I didn't know there was a book. Please, oh enlightend Joshua Corning, tell us what book we should all read!

    Mob Markets, now there's a band name for you.

  • ||

    Emergent Stupidity...I love it!

    Actually, , I think that (ES) is a necessary transitional state in a crowd defining its wisdom...in other words, you have to start out being wrong to figure out what's right...I actually read the book 'The Wisdom of Crowds' and it discussed in some detail the notions of groupthink and certainty bias...and how time and cognitive diversity among individuals in the group enable wisdom to emerge from ignorance.

    A good example in the book includes the groupthink surrounding risk assessment of the foam on External Fuel tank of the space shuttle...

  • ||

    "The Left's religion often comes dressed up as science. Marxism is one example. The eugenics movement of the early twentieth century is another. The Global Warming crusade is probably another."

    Arnold Kling in what is perhaps the quote of the year.

    "So, you think thought and experimentation had nothing to do with arriving at that consensus?"

    Sure there was and if they want to present those experiments and evidence that is fine, but the mere fact that it is a consensus means nothing. The consensus thirty years ago was that industry caused global cooling and stress caused ulcers. The consensus discredits itself by the hyperbole and tactics it uses. If they are so sure, why do they feel the need to equate honest scientists who disagree with them with holocaust deniers? Oh right, no one who is honest disagrees with them. Yeah, that certainly reassures me and makes me feel better about the whole thing.

  • ||

    Marriage turned Rachel into a manatee. How disappointing.

  • grylliade||

    Perhaps rather then vacillating you might consider reading the fucking book....not just the wikipedia article on the subject.



    Actually, I'd never read either the book or the Wikipedia article. I was doing something called "analyzing." It's this thing where you take your own knowledge and apply it to a situation, rather than parroting back what someone else said about it. You should try it sometime; it's fun. You're more likely to be wrong (as I might be in this case), but it's really freeing to think for yourself.

  • My Wikipedia experiment||

    1. The "bugs are shallow" doesn't apply because software is supposed to have a certain set of functionality and failures in that functionality can be noted and then debugged. One of the problems with WP is that "you don't know what you don't know". If material facts of which you aren't aware are missing from a WP entry, and most other people don't know that fact, it will be hard to find a true and complete picture and the WP entry is misleading.

    2. Many people aren't tenacious enough to keep something in WP. I've given up in a few attempts to keep important information in WP entries, and those who are more tenacious (most likely college students) won the debate. The WP model favors those who have a lot of time to engage in edit wars; it doesn't favor those who have information but aren't willing to keep refreshing a page throughout the day.

    Fun assignment that Mangu-Ward won't do: find out which links at WP *don't* have the nofollow tag. I've seen two: one going to their foundation, and another going to the far-left sourcewatch.org. That last is quite interesting, no? What other non-nofollow links are there?

  • ||

    joshua corning,

    1. I don't classify myself as a libertarian, but as a liberal.

    2. You're really being a dick today. Even more than usual.

  • ||

    "the mere fact that it is a consensus means nothing." It means that the overwhelming majority of scientists came independently to the same conclusion.

    "The consensus thirty years ago was that industry caused global cooling..." Not even remotely close to accurate. A small number of scientists proposed an ideosynchratic theory, and it caught the attention of the popular press.

    BTW, we're at the point now of knowing which side is faith-based on this, and it's you.

  • ||

    "The Left's religion often comes dressed up as science. Marxism is one example. The eugenics movement of the early twentieth century is another. The Global Warming crusade is probably another."

    Hmm, yeah, we don't agree on much of anything, but in a bizarre twist of fate, lefties view of science and marxism parallels the right's view of religion. Brilliant. Whenever righties try to explain the "religion" of the left, they show just how vindictive they are. The religion of the left? Turns out, it's religion. When right wingers say the religion of the left is clone-baby-raping, they are trying to rile you up so that you hate left-wingers personally. That's not very Christian.

  • ||

    Marriage turned Rachel into a manatee. How disappointing.

    Funky trivia:

    1) Manatees are members of the order Sirenia -- so-called because manatees and their Old World relatives the dugongs were mistaken by early (and possibly nearsighted and unbelievably horny) for sexy mermaid-like creatures, known in Greek legend as Sirens.

    2) "Siren," also as a result of the Greek legend, is also a term for "an irresistably seductive woman."

    3) I'd do Rachel Ray.

    4) I also happen to be nearsighted and unbelievably horny. However, my vision is corrected by contacts and I'm in phenomenal control of myself, so that shouldn't be seen as greatly affecting my assessment of the attractiveness of Ms. Ray.

  • ||

    EDIT: were mistaken by early (and possibly nearsighted and unbelievably horny) sailors for sexy mermaid-like creatures, known in Greek legend as Sirens.

    PS: There is something wrong with the "Preview" function -- even if I preview, my mistakes aren't visible to me until after I post.

  • Grotius||

    So, like, what is the general libertarian opinion of Edward Bernays?

  • ||

    We don't like Bernays when he gets all saucy.

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