Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Debatable Wisdom of Crowds

That the wisdom of crowds is debatable was illustrated for me today at Squidoo.

If you were to put Squidoo in a nutshell, you would get something like, "A website that shares what people think about what other people think they know."

Today, I noticed that Squidoo has introduced Plexo, a technology that enables Lens Masters to build Lenses made up of the self-selected items of other Lens Masters.

Delivering what people think about what other people think they know has never been easier.

For instance, suppose a Lens Master wanted to build a lens pointing to the greatest blogs in existence; a blog A-List of sorts. Then, suppose that a Lens Master wanted to enable other Lens Masters to add their favorite blogs to the A-List. Further, suppose that a Lens Master wanted other Lens Masters to rank the blogs in the A-List. Finally, suppose the Lens Master was Seth Godin.

The Squidoo-Plexo technology marriage enables a Lens Master to do just that. Of course, because Seth Godin is the Lens Master, it’s not an A-List, it’s a Z List.

So, what does this mean? It means we get to see how crowds work.

You see, if I were to put up a Z-List lens, perhaps calling it The Worst Stuff Out There, nobody would notice. Like a lot of you, I’m way out in the Long Tail where I’m lucky if I get 100 visitors per month. But Seth Godin, he is in the head, where he easily gets 100+ visits in an hour; probably a lot more. In other words, Seth is a crowd maker.

Combine Seth Godin’s crowd with Plexo on Squidoo and you get the Z-List; currently the Number Two lens on Squidoo, right behind Funky, Chic and Cool Laptop Bags.

If you’ve not gone over to Squidoo and looked at the Z-List, take a quick break and examine the list; pay particular attention to the ratings.

Go ahead, I’ll wait...

Okay, here is what I find amazing. The last time I looked at the Z-List, there were 339 entries. Entries 1-20 had one or more positive votes. Entries 21-22 had zero votes. Entries 23-339 had one or more negative votes. The lowest voted site, Marketing Online Live Podcast had negative fifteen (-15) votes.

Are 316 or 93.2% of the sites on the Z-List really worthy of negative vote status?

What’s going on here!?

Well, I have a thought; it’s the unbridled wisdom of the mob. Those with a vested interest in ranking high find a way to move up the list while everyone else slowly finds their way down.

By introducing Plexo into the rating equation, even if it is not part of the overall lens rating, Squidoo has cheapened their currency. Plexo turns the rating system into a game where the cost of entry is zero and anyone willing to rack up a bunch of Hotmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts can pick the winner of the Squidoo popularity contest where the rank/rating means nothing.

And, if the rating means nothing, why go there?

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