Web 2.0 Blog – Discovering Innovation Opportunities using Social Media

Posts Tagged ‘Wisdom of the crowds

In James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds he argues that for a collaboration to be successful it must have 6 elements:

Knowledge must exist in the audience
Independence of contributors
Diversity of opinion
Focused on compatible goal
Aggregation of information
Decentralized Process/Local Knowledge

I thought KIDFAD is a good way to remember since there are still people who think that is what social media is.
Not sure if he mentioned the focus on the compatible goal explicitly but I thought it was implicit in his argument. What I mean by compatible is that the individual goal must line up with the purpose of the aggregation. So in prediction markets, the win of the individual is compatible with the market obtaining an accurate prediction, because the determinant of the win is the same as the goal of the market (accurate prediction).

In the case of google mining the behavior of searches, it is reasonable to presume that individual searches want to find what they are looking for quickly and the purpose of the search engine is to provide it.

Anyway it helps me remember, hope it helps you.


The wikipedia entry has been updated since I wrote this post and now clearly seems define social media as content. So what about the technology? Can we call it social technology?

Is the technology used to post, read, sharecontent, improve navigation and relevance by making use of user behavior and input, the same as the content generated content itself? Are both of those the same as the interaction of users with that technology?

I looked at the wikipedia entry for social media and it seems to mix these three items (technology,content and interaction). It says:

“Social Media are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings. The term most often refers to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories and experiences. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).”
Then later it gives examples of “social media applications.”

So based on this, social media is a tool used by consumers to create content, an activity that integrates technology and social interaction AND it is the content generated by the interaction.

I feel it can’t be all three and that this should be clarified to help people understand the evolution of the internet and the new technologies and software. Also it would be useful to distinction those of us who create technology solutions vs those of us who create user interaction strategies for organizations.

I think we should start using the term social technology as:

1. Technology which makes use of input and behavior of the users of the technology to enhance its relevance, usability, content, navigation or function. Often this refers to tools which are used in web 2.0 or social media efforts.

Of course where does that leave the definition of social media? When people talk about social media they seem to be referring to the general methods to display user generated content. For instance “Blogs are social media.” But a blog is a general method to publish and invoke discussion. It is not a specific technology. Let’s do a quick thought experiment to illustrate this. We can imagine a large classroom blackboard being used as the host for a blog whose audience is only meant to be those in the class. An article could be published, comments put up, tags manually updated, and even a separate board if you like to match tags to content. Any blogger would recognize this as an internal blog. We also now have video blogs which users very different technology than text based. Let’s also imagine a pure video blog which uses no text and its tags and searches are audio based.

A text blog, a pure video blog and our blackboard blog share the same methodology to solicit feedback from a community but do not share common technology. So a blog is really a social media method, not a specific piece of technology.

Social media seems to be a collection of methodologies for sharing and discussing information as well as navigating and searching for information. This raises another question which is not covered in the current wikipedia article. Should mining of social media data to improve media experiences such as shopping, searching and giving related information? I think the answer is yes even though this is a substantial bifurcation of social media into its seen and unseen elements. Most people do not realize that google uses the behavior of its users to improve its search but I think google results are a form of social media. Here is the test: If you didn’t have the social input, would you have the results? In google’s case: No. Not the same results at any rate and these results are the reason it has won out in the search engine competition. So in plainer terms, crowdsourced content or ranking of content would also be social media. (I would argue ranking of content is content btw.)

Since I first posted this, Deb Lavoy challenged me that social media is actually what happens when technology enables collaboration. And conversations are simple collaborations. I think she is right, but still in the vernacular most people still refer to the actual methods as social media. We comprised on a slide which gives both. The technology enable collaboration definition seems the most powerful yet the more I think about it.

As for social technology, I really didn’t just make it up. (Well I did but then I found I wasn’t the first by any means.) There seems to be ample precedent both in published books and popular blogs to start use of the term more commonly. Below is a list of references I found which use the phrase:

In the news: A degree in Social Technology See also the school’s site.

Reference Web site
Forrestor Research: The Growth Of Social Technology Adoption

Blogs using social technology as a term:
Social Technology Innovation by Alex Vorbau
The impossible dream – Social Technology
Social Technology
The Pattern of Social Technology Evolution
Leveraging the Future of Social Technology

Books using social technology as a term:
Perverse Incentives: The Neglect of Social Technology in the Public Sector
By Theodore Caplow
Published by Praeger, 1994
Item notes: pbk. : alk. paper
Original from the University of Michigan
Digitized Aug 24, 2007
ISBN 0275949338, 9780275949334

Innovation and Social Process: A National Experiment in Implementing Social Technology
By Louis G. Tornatzky
Contributor Louis G. Tornatzky
Published by Pergamon Press, 1980
ISBN 0080263038, 9780080263038
225 pages

The Social Technology of Organization Development
By Wyatt Warner Burke, Harvey A. Hornstein
Compiled by Wyatt Warner Burke, Harvey A. Hornstein
Published by University Associates, 1972
Original from the University of Michigan
Digitized Mar 21, 2007
ISBN 0883901269, 9780883901267
340 pages

The Social Technology of Applied Research
By Alexander J. Matejko
Published by Sadhna Prakashan, 1975
Original from the University of Michigan
Digitized Feb 6, 2008
194 pages

There does seem to be a competing definition which I found in..

2. Technology which is entirely in the public domain and does not have restraints or restrictions on its use.

I found this in Human Rights & Social Technology: The New War on Discrimination By Rainer Knopff, Thomas Flanagan. I don’t think this is a popular or even solid use of the term and better terms have come to descriptions various public licensing arrangements.

Now to make the case in Wikipedia.. Anybody with me?

In my last post I started to examine the claim of the cluetrain manifesto that a more networked audience is more intelligent or at least a better detector than an individual. The #Mumbai victim list twitter distribution illustrated 4 ways which a network can apply truth filters and 2 ways in which the network affects might work against detecting falsehoods over the short term.

One recent tweet from Deb Lavoy questioned whether crowdsourcing will always generate good ideas, because after all a mob is also a crowd. Mobs are famous for poor and emotionally driven decisions and actions rather than intelligence and innovation. So how do we prevent crowdsourcing from becoming mobsourcing? Do connections between audience members, which a mob seems to have, mean better decision making?

Mobsourcing vs Crowdsourcing
Of course this is dealt with quite well in James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds and I dont mean to say that these observations in any way change his conclusions. I am just using this blob as a scratchpad to prove it to myself by trying to understand the actual behavior in an audience which produce the effect.

First what is our working definition of intelligence? From the cluetrain theses, it seems they meant the ability to filter out inauthentic information. So basically, a networked audience is a lie detector in a way because it will filter out inauthentic sounding information which I talked about in the last post and came up with 4 elements which work in the networks favor of filtering out false information and 2 which can work against it in the short term. From a Surowieki analysis, we found 2 problems: Can you trust the aggregation mechanisms which are very informal in twitter? Are the contributors acting independently or does the emotions compel them to go along with the mob?

Of course the problem is as in the case of a lie detector, what if the originators of the lie, believe the lie to be true? If our audience is large and well networked, we hope it can confirm the factual nature through multiple sources and if there are differing views, we hope the network would prefer the one which is most aligned the individual members’ realty or partial knowledge as Surowiecki says. But the more emotionally relevant the information (as we saw in the case of the Mumbai list), the faster it spreads, even from a single source. So it seems the more emotionally compelling the information is to act on, the less likely it is to be verified by the network effects. The audience becomes a mob and acts as an amplifier for a single source which strikes a deep chord with the influencers in the network. So it seems a way to keep the crowdsourcing from becoming mobsourcing, is to slow it down and force deliberation while maintaining independence. I guess Surowiecki would say that the emotional element pushes people toward conformity or maybe as he quotes Arthur Schlessinger’s comment on the Bay of Pigs planning, it is urged to assume consensus. I wonder if the motivation to want to conform is because the need for belonging seems to rise in the face of many emotions such as fear.

Surowiecki also mentions the need for people to express their objective independently of others as a prerequisite for effective crowdsourcing as well as having a diversity of experience. So in the moment of an attack, the emotion felt by most in the audience would tend to give them a shared overwhelming experience which I would guess would seem to lesson the amount of diversity and independence in the audience though strengthen their common focus on the problem of finding out what is happening.

Of course the task of the Mumbai list of victim names seemed to completely authentic. Also the twitter seem to correct false information by outing a college student pretending to represent the indian government. So with these tenets of crowdsourcing working against, why did it seem to make the right decision?

The question before the audience was is the list authentic, and the shared emotion, need to conform etc actually seemed to heighten the need to pass truthful information about victims as well as not to be a source of inauthentic information. It also gave the normally busy audience motivation to spend time on the subject and try to be useful. So these normally problematic influences in crowdsourcing actually heightened the communities interest in verification in the list and is probably why the impersonator of the Indian government was investigated and quickly found out. Maybe the people needed to do something and couldn’t do anything else but work to discover more information. Is that why it worked.

OK so emotionally charged crowds are good ones to make decisions? Seems to depend on the question and the emotion. I wonder what the crowd in the moment would have thought an appropriate response would be? I think the answer to that is a strong case for inserting deliberation into decisions of actions in most cases.

So it seems to avoid mobsourcing, we need to increase the time it takes to make decisions on actions but in this case and may be others, the ability to spread the information quickly doesn’t seem to do harm when it comes to crowd based lie detection.

Side Note: I guess those guys who invented the US Senate had some insight into rules of callaboration, since they purposely made what at the time was considered almost lifelong terms in order to make the Senate a more deliberative body. (Watch for a future blog post on how the American Revolution was a social media product…Saw PBS Liberty recently and can’t shake the similarity to changes being brought about by modern social media experiences to those which made the revolution successful.)